(A video version is also available)
On Shabbat Nachamu, right after Tisha BeAv we always read the Parasha of Vaetchanan, and that’s a wonder.
Because now begin the seven Consolation weeks which lead us to Rosh Hashana, weeks in which all the Haftarot have a message of consolation to the People of Israel. And we need it, because “every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is like a generation in which it was destroyed” (and you can read more about that – in my previous post).
But the portion of the Torah we now read seems not very reassuring.
Moshe prays to G-d to let him pass into the Land of Israel, and perhaps annul the verdict against him – to die in the desert. According to Haza”l, this was actually the last of 515 similar prayers previously made by him – all refused. 515, as it is the numerical value of ואתחנן.
HaShem tells him to stop and not speak about this again, as if He can’t bear it anymore… Indeed there’s a saying that were Moshe to pray that 516th prayer – HaShem “couldn’t” have refused him. So He “begs” him to stop. Moshe is told to order Yehoshua to take over, and lead the People in his place.
Anyway, there’s a big NO hovering over this, which seem to make it the Bible’s single worst prayer.
It is from this prayer that we learn major Halachot in Tefilla – rules for praying properly. So it mustn’t have been that bad…
And really – it was not bad at all.
Let us look more closely at what was asked, or “begged” by Moshe.
אעברה נא ואראה
Moshe asks to be allowed to pass, in order to see, the Land of Israel.
After “refusing”, Hashem tells him to mount the summit of Mt HaAvarim. There Moshe is granted supernatural eye sight, and beholds the whole of the Land of Israel. Furthermore, he has a vision, and he sees the history of the People of Israel – up until the end of times.
He had asked to see, and he saw.
Yet, one would say: You can’t say, in any case, that his request to enter the Holy Land was accepted!
But we are told by our Sages that the real reason for Moshe’s prohibition to enter the Land, was that when the dead rise, it will be Moshe Rabeynu himself who would lead those who perished in the desert, the Dor Hamidbar, to the Land of Israel. So he shall, indeed, pass too.
Every prayer is answered, and every prayer is useful. It is only we who find it sometimes hard to see.
Just think for a minute – What if Moshe hadn’t prayed his 515th prayer? Wouldn’t he have missed this miraculous vision? Perhaps he wouldn’t have been chosen to lead and unite all of Israel together on their Land, at the end of times.
If so this prayer was actually – crucial!
But let’s delve even further.
This paragraph in Vaetchanan has a curious repetition of the Hebrew root
…אעברה נא ואראה
…ויתעבר ה’ בי למענכם
…עלה אל הר העברים
(Incidentally, the word Ivrit-עברית, Hebrew, is of the same root also!)
אעברה נא, means “let me pass”.
הר העברים, means “Mountain of Sides”
עבר הירדן, where all this had happened, means “The Jordan Bank”.
And when Moshe tells us of Hashem’s refusal he says ויתעבר ה’ בי למענכם which means “And G-d had wrath upon me, because of you”.
But that’s not the only possible translation.
Embryo in Hebrew is עובר (ubar) – again, of the same root (and that’s probably because the embryo passes through its mother). Thus, another translation, weird as it may be, would go:
“And I bacame like an embryo inside Hashem, for your sake”.
That’s seems to fit well with Moshe being buried, entombed, enwombed, on the east bank of the Jordan River. Like an embryo, waiting for the right time to come forth and do his task in the world. So does he awaits the right time, to reunite two parts of the People at the End of Days: those who came into the Land, and those who remained outside.
It may also be, that it’s a symbol relevant to our days, of reuniting the whole of the People of Israel, those here, and those in the diaspora in the generation of when Mashiach comes.
All through that “refused” prayer by Moshe.
So, again, no prayer is in vain, and if it seems unanswered, it’s only because it’s like an embryo, planted in its mother’s womb, awaiting its time to be born.