Parshas Vaeschanan begins with Moshe Rabbeinu imploring Hashem to reverse
His decree and allow Moshe to enter Eretz Yisroel.
In his first commentary in this week’s parsha, Rashi takes note of the
word that Moshe used to describe his prayer – ‘vaeschanan’ (and I implored
[Hashem]). Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, points out that ‘chanun’ is one of
the ten expressions used in Tanach to denote prayer. However, it is not
one that is used often, and it would be fair to question why Moshe did not
use a more common terminology for prayer – such as tefilah.
A HUMBLE PLEA
Rashi offers a profound analysis for the reason that Moshe selected the
word ‘chanun’. He explains that Moshe, the most self-effacing of all men
(see Bamidbar 12:3), did not wish to mention his considerable merits when
pleading his case, but rather resorted to a humble plea – as if he was
requesting an undeserved favor of Hashem. Rashi notes that Moshe learned
this most effective form of prayer directly from Hashem during their
encounter following the incident of the Golden Calf (see Shmos 33:12-23).
Moshe had asked Hashem for a deep understanding of His ways – to “see His
face.” Hashem responded by informing Moshe that no human can fully
comprehend Hashem during his or her lifetime and his request was denied.
Hashem did share with Moshe that he would be permitted to understand His
ways on some level, to “see the back of Hashem”. (Please visit my website
www.rabbihorowitz.com, go to Divrei Torah, Parshas Ki Sisa 5765 for a more
detailed treatment of this issue.)
During that discussion (Shmos 33:19), Hashem informed Moshe “Vchanosi es
asher achon (I will show favor/have mercy when I chose to show favor/have
mercy). Our chachamim (sages) explain that this cryptic comment refers to
the fact that Hashem often grants the requests of people who may be
unworthy – when they pray to Him in the form of ‘chaninia’; this type of
humble, undeserving request. (See Brachos 7a).
Rashi draws on this information to explain the word usage of Moshe when he
implored Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel. Rather than relying
on his own merits and engaging in a dialogue with Hashem about his
worthiness to entering The Promised Land, Moshe chose to use the ‘chanina’
prayer and plead with Hashem as if he was undeserving of having his
tefilos answered on his own merit.
A LOGICAL QUESTION
Once we see that Moshe internalized the lesson of the effectiveness of
a ‘chaniniah’ prayer, a question arises. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu not
utilize this powerful form of prayer when he begged Hashem for mercy on
behalf of the Bnei Yisroel after the sin of the meraglim (spies)?
When Hashem informed Moshe of His desire to punish the Jews for mourning
the negative reports of the spies, Moshe did not use the ‘chanina’ prayer
when he successfully defended K’lal Yisroel. If fact, it seems that he did
not daven on their behalf at all, but rather informed Hashem of the
negative impact that killing the Jews in the desert would have on the
nations of the world. Even if Moshe felt that the Jews were undeserving of
forgiveness on their own behalf, why did he not unleash the power of
a ‘chanina’ prayer at that critical time?
I would to suggest that the highest level of the ‘chaninah’ prayer that
Rashi referred to does not apply to an undeserving individual. This
powerful tefilah is unleashed when a righteous person who does have
zechusim (merits) humbly ignores them when davening to Hashem. When a
tzadik presents his requests in the tone of an undeserving human being,
Hashem’s mercy is aroused and he grants his or her request immediately.
This may explain the phrase used by Hashem to introduce this concept
of ‘chaninah’ to Moshe – “Vchanosi es asher achon (I will show favor/have
mercy when I chose to show favor/have mercy). Note that Hashem implies
that not all who seek ‘chaninah’ will receive it. This would be in line
with this concept that ‘chaninah’ is effective only when utilized by
righteous individuals. Rashi’s words in the first pasuk of this week’s
parsha seem to support this view. Rashi says that tzadikim, who do have
merits, do not mention them when praying to Hashem.
TWO DIVERSE APPROACHES
This would explain the two diverse approaches to Moshe’s prayers.
At the time of the sin of the spies, Moshe realized that ‘chaninah’ would
not be effective since the Jews were undeserving of forgiveness and would
not withstand the scrutiny of Hashem’s middas hadin. He therefore defended
Klal Yisroel to the best of his ability without the ‘chaninah’ prayer.
When praying on his own behalf, however, Moshe chose to use the ‘chaninah’
prayer, ignoring his myriad merits and offering his humble prayer to
Hashem. This may explain a possible reason for Hashem’s request of Moshe
that he cut short his chaninah (Devorim 3:26, see Rashi, others) and
refrain from continuing his request to enter Eretz Yisroel. Perhaps
Moshe’s ‘chaninah’ prayer was so powerful that it was about to be
answered. Hashem therefore informed Moshe that it was not part of His
master plan to have Moshe do so – and requested that he not continue with
this ‘chaninah’ prayer.
OUR OWN TEFILOS
Moshe Rabbeinu, ever the master rebbi, left all future generations of his
children a format to follow when praying to Hashem.
Live a meaningful and spiritual life, filled with mitzvos and ma’asim
tovim (good deeds). And, when davening to Hashem, approach Him with simple
and profound humility.
May all our tefilos be answered in these trying times – b’rachamim
u’vratzon (with mercy and favor).
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.