Parashas Vaeschanan – The Power of Prayer
This week we have Parashas Vaeschanan which continues with the theme started at the beginning of the book of Devarim with Moshe giving over the Torah to the nation with reminders from their years in the desert and a review of the laws which would be most relevant for Israel's new life in Eretz Yisrael. We are overwhelmed this week with Moshe giving over prophecies on Israel's exile and return to the Land, the cities of refuge being re-outlined and of course the Ten Commandments and the Shema all given over in an action-packed sedra. There is therefore lots to discuss!

Following on from the recollection of the conquering of the mighty Sihon and Og in last week's sedra, Moshe recollects to the nation how he prayed to Hashem to let him... “cross and see the good Land that is on the other side of the Jordan...” [3:25]. It is brought down by Rashi that, now that he had conquered Sihon and Og , whose lands were amongst those given to Israel, Moshe hoped that this display of G-d's greatness and strong hand meant that perhaps he might indeed be permitted to enter the Land as well, so he prayed for the right to cross the Jordan at this point. There is a misconception that Moshe prayed to enter the land to guide the nation into it but according to the gemara in Sotah (14a), Moshe only prayed that he be allowed to enter the Land and walk its length and breadth... he didn't pray to enter as leader or even live there, he was content with Yehoshua to take over and succeed him. Hashem's response however was that of anger with Him stating that... “it is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter” [3:26]. Rashi determines that this statement was an assurance by Hashem to Moshe that an tremendously rich reward awaited him in the World to Come and therefore he should not be concerned about entering the land or not. So why the anger and the demand for Moshe not to pray any more to him concerning this matter? The Midrash explains (in Yalkut Shimoni, 31) that when Hashem decreed that Moshe wouldn't be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe prayed 515 prayers in order to try and reverse the decree. Hashem commanded him to stop praying at this point because with one more prayer, Hashem would have been obligated to rescind the decree. What we learn from this is that no matter what decree is set against us or however things are 'meant' to turn out, we have free will and the ability to pray which can always change these decrees. As long as we meet the required quota for prayer for a given request, the request is fulfilled... that is to say, the more dynamic our request the more prayers which are necessary in order to show Hashem the effort we are willing to put in to be granted this particular request or prayer. This is of course as long as Hashem doesn't command us to stop praying, we can and must continue to pray until our prayers are answered. The Midrash also uses the example of someone who has 'the blade of a sword touching his bare neck', even in this very hopeless situation someone might find themselves in, one shouldn't say “what purpose is there in my praying further?”. Moshe continued praying even though Hashem had clearly told him that he would not be entering the land, even though Yehoshua had already been appointed as his successor and even though Moshe had already made his last will, so to speak, with his final actions of distributing the east side of the Jordan amongst Reuven, Gad and half of Manasseh. Moshe therefore had, figuratively speaking, the sword against his neck with regards to entering the land of Israel yet he still didn't give up. No prayer is in vain for G-d does not ignore any creature's entreaty, even though the supplicant may not immediately see tangible results. The final things to note on Moshe's prayers is that despite a lifetime of dedicated service to Hashem, Moshe did not expect that G-d should fulfil his request as a form of repayment. Rather than demand his entrance into the Land on the grounds that he had been such a righteous person, Moshe presented his prayers in the form of entreaties and supplications. This teaches us the lesson that no matter how much we do to serve Hashem we deserve nothing in return as we could never repay Him for the miracles he produces every millisecond for us. Through analysing Moshe's words in his prayers we learn that the humblest of all men certainly realised that he remains always in the Almighty's debt. In gemara Berachos (29b) it states... “Do not pray in a demanding manner; rather, humbly entreat Hashem to have mercy on you, despite your shortcomings”, thus we see the concept of never being owed anything at play.

Continuing on the theme of prayer, as previously mentioned, this week's sedra contains the first paragraph of the Shema. We recite the Shema twice a day, morning and night as it is commanded... “while you retire and while you arise” [6:7] and additionally the bedtime Shema... so at least twice a day, usually three yet it is quite surprising when you try to think about it and analyse it there is an almost limitless amount of death to the small paragraph of the Shema. It says in the Mishnah Berurah [58:10] that “Our Sages tell us that the creation of the entire world is considered a worthwhile endeavour just for the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven that we enact during the daily recital of Shema”, such is it's value. Ramban also notes that the importance of the Shema is indicated by the fact that it is placed immediately after the Ten Commandments in the Torah, in this weeks Parasha. Although the belief in G-d's oneness which is declared in the Shema must be believed by a Jew everyday, this belief must be proclaimed and brought forth into the world verbally morning and night. This is why in a Torah scroll the letters ע and ד in the opening declaration of the Shema are enlarged; spelling out the word עד/aid which means 'witness'... the Jewish people were created to testify to the truth of G-d's oneness, which they proclaim twice a day. This oneness doesn't just mean disproving the Greeks or Hindu's with their multitudes of different G-d's but is a declaration that everything is from Hashem, the One, He is everything and everything is reliant on Him for existence. Another interesting reason brought down for the enlarged ד on the word אחד/echad is so that it will not be mistaken for a ר chas veshalom, which would spell out the word אחר/acher which means 'another'! The Torah therefore goes out of its way to make sure this mistake could never be performed. So with the first sentence of the Shema instructing us to believe in the Oneness of Hashem and accept him as the source of everything in existence we are then given the command to love Him in the next sentence... “and you should love Hashem your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources” [6:5]. The route of the Hebrew word for love 'אהבה/ahava' is the word 'הב/hav', which means 'to give'. In Judaism we believe that love is based on giving hence this root of 'giving' in the word for 'love'. You can not love someone unless you are willing to give 100% of the time to them in all ways, unlike the view in secular society, true love is giving for the sake of giving and not just giving so that you can receive back. A good example of this would be Arsenal fans who have loved a club that hasn't given anything back to them for over six years now, true love indeed ;-). So an important question to ask is how do we love Hashem, an immortal non-tangible being?... the answer is in the Torah... “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources”...
...With One's Heart- the implication of this type of love is that we are able to resist our yaitzer hara because of one's love for Hashem. Through subduing these outside temptations we are dedicating our heart fully to Hashem with no deviation. With One's Soul- chazal writes that when reciting the Shema one should have the intention of giving his life, such is his love for Hashem. A Jew is commanded to give up his life rather than commit idolatry or deny His existence and the Midrash writes that any Jew who relinquishes his physical life for Hashem's sake is assured that his soul will cleave to Hashem eternally. With All of One's Resources- Through using our money to give Tzedakah and perform Mitzvahs we can demonstrate this level of love. One is commanded to lose all his money rather than transgress a single Torah prohibition and a Jew is encouraged to spend a higher percentage of his income on Mitzvahs, for example buying expensive teffilin, esrogs, tsit-tsit etc.

May we all heed the words of the Shema in accepting and loving Hashem appropriately. Shabbat Shalom and Chatzlacha Rabba for the week ahead!!

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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