Prayer with Legs to Stand On
Volume 26, No. 47
Sponsored by Aaron and Rona Lerner in memory of mother Faiga Reva bat
Yoel Aharon a”h (Fay Lerner)
Our parashah opens: “Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel.”
Where was Moshe “going”? R’ Mordechai Twersky z”l (1798-1837; the Maggid of
Chernobyl) explains as follows:
We read (Bemidbar 14:17), “And now, may the strength of my Lord be
magnified, as You have spoken, saying.” [Although the words “You have
spoken” literally refer to Hashem, it can be interpreted as if “you have
spoken” refers to man.] This alludes to the teaching of Kabbalists that
when a person speaks, i.e., prays, he magnifies the Name of G-d and has the
ability to elevate the souls of many Jews.
How does a person know if he is praying properly? The verse concludes, “You
have spoken, saying” — if, after a person prays, he wants to “say,” i.e.,
pray more, then he knows that he has prayed well. But if he is glad to be
finished, he has not prayed properly.
We also read (Kohelet 4:17), “Guard your legs when you go to the house of
Elokim.” Proper prayer stands on two legs, says R’ Twersky. One leg is
man’s belief in the holiness of the prayers, and the other is man’s trust
that Hashem accepts the prayers of even the least articulate person.
However, a person must always be truthful, as Chazal say that “falsehood has
no legs.” [As written in the Torah, the letters of the word
“sheker”/”falsehood” all come to a point on the bottom. Thus, they have no
“legs” and cannot stand.]
Moshe’s prayers undoubtedly stood on strong “legs,” and he was therefore
able to elevate the souls of the Jewish people. It was on those “legs” that
our verse says he “went.” There is also another way to elevate the souls of
Jews, R’ Mordechai concludes. Shortly, we will take the Four Species which
Chazal say symbolize four types of Jews. Even the aravah, which has no
taste and no smell--representing the Jew who has no Torah and no
mitzvot--can be elevated when it is bound together with the other species.
“My anger will flare up against [the nation] on that day and I will forsake
them; and I will conceal My face from them and they will become prey, and
many evils and distresses will encounter [the nation]. It will say on that
day, ‘Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come
upon me?’ But conceal, I will conceal My face on that day because of all
the evil that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.”
R’ Menachem Mendel Krochmal z”l (Poland; 1600-1661) asks: In verse 17, G-d
conceals His face once, and this concealment leads to “many evils and
distresses,” yet in verse 18, where He conceals His face doubly, no evils
He explains: The Gemara (Megillah 12a) asks, “Why were the Jews of Haman’s
generation worthy of destruction?” The Gemara answers, “Because they had
bowed down to Nevuchadnezar’s statue.” (See Daniel ch. 3.) The Gemara asks
further, “Then why were they not wiped out?” and it answers, “Just as they
bowed down only for show, not with idolatrous intent, so G-d’s decree that
they be destroyed was only for show.” We see, writes R’ Krochmal, that G-d
sometimes hides His face “for show,” but nothing bad happens as a result.
Sometimes, when G-d hides Himself, it leads to great pain and suffering,
while other times He hides Himself only so that we will search for Him.
The Gemara states that verse 18 contains an allusion to Queen Esther, whose
name means “concealment.” This is not merely a play on words, R’ Krochmal
notes. Rather, as we have just seen, our verse alludes to the way in which
G-d concealed Himself in Esther’s time – just for show, just so we would
search for Him. (Pi Tzaddik: Drush 48)
“But, conceal I will conceal My face on that day because of all the evil
that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.” (31:18)
R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (1772-1810) teaches: There are two levels of
hester panim / concealment of G-d’s “face”. When G-d merely hides Himself,
it is difficult to find Him, but it is possible if one looks hard enough.
And, since one knows that G-d is hidden, one can motivate himself to seek Him.
Sometimes, however, G-d conceals the fact that He is concealed. [In this
case, we do not realize that He is hiding and that He has abandoned us.]
This is a greater tragedy because, when we don’t realize that He is
concealed, we are not motivated to search for Him. (Likutei Moharan I 56:3)
“So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to Bnei Yisrael.” (31:19)
R’ David Hakochavi z”l (Provence; 13-14th centuries) writes: The received
tradition teaches that this verse commands each person to write a Sefer
Torah for himself. The purpose of this mitzvah is clear – the Torah is the
necessary tool in order for a person to perfect himself, and, surely, no
craftsman would attempt to practice his craft without his tools.
Chazal state that each person must write his own Sefer Torah, even if he
inherited one from his father. The reason, explains R’ Hakochavi, is that
it is human nature to value more that which one has made by himself. (Sefer
Ha’battim: Migdal David, Sefer Mitzvah No. 16)
“This song shall speak up before it as a witness. . .” (31:21)
“This song” refers to the song of “Ha’azinu” in the next parashah. To what
does it testify?
R’ Chaim of Friedberg z”l (16th century, brother of the Maharal of Prague)
explains that there are many prophecies in the Torah and the Prophets which
do not have happy endings. Most notably, the horrible curses which were
read last week in Parashat Ki Tavo end without any mention of a brighter future.
Not so the song of “Ha'azinu” which ends with the verse, “He will bring
retribution upon His foes, and He will appease His land and His people.”
This is a promise of the long-awaited redemption. Says our verse, write the
song of “Ha'azinu” as a testimony and reminder to yourselves that the
redemption will come.
Why do so many prophecies end without consolation? Why do many chapters of
the Prophets leave us with unanswered questions about our faith? R’ Chaim
explains that this was done intentionally so that we should not think that
the prophets served G-d only because they understood His ways. No, they too
had unanswered questions, but this did not diminish their love for Hashem or
their service of Him. (Sefer Geulah Vi'shuah ch.6)
“When Moshe finished writing the words of this Torah onto a book, until
their conclusion, Moshe commanded levi’im, the bearers of the Ark of the
covenant, saying, ‘Take this book of the Torah and place it at the side of
the Ark of the covenant of Hashem, and it shall be there for you as a
Our Sages relate that Moshe wrote 13 Torah scrolls on the last day of his
life, one for each tribe and one which he gave to the levi’im (see our
verse). The reason one Sefer Torah was placed at the side of the Ark was so
that if, at some future date, someone tried to falsify the words of the
Torah, a master copy would be available with which to rebut the falsifier.
This Torah was entrusted to the levi’im, for they are the keepers of the
tradition, as it is written about them (Devarim 33:10), “They shall teach
Your ordinances to Yaakov and Your Torah to Yisrael.”
R’ David Lifschutz z”l (the “Suvalker Rav”; rosh yeshiva in Yeshivat
Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, New York; died 1993) explains further: It is
human nature that one who no longer wishes to observe the Torah’s laws will
not simply abandon them; he will create a new religion or a new philosophy
which he will claim is the Torah. [This phenomenon can be seen many times
throughout our history, beginning with the Golden Calf, when the Jewish
people declared, “This is your god, Yisrael.”] Moshe was afraid that
someone would take out his Sefer Torah and, for example, erase the words “Do
not” from the commandment “Do not murder” or “Do not steal.” As long as the
Torah remains untouched, one or two generations may stray, but their
descendants will return. Once the Torah is tampered with, however, all is
lost. (Tehilah Le’David p. 18)
R’Tzaddok Hakohen Rabinowitz z”l (1823-1900; rebbe of Lublin) related:
I was once traveling when I saw a father and son walking together. Their
appearance bespoke extreme hunger, and they clearly were near the end of
their strength. Suddenly, the father saw a glint in the mud of the road.
It was a small coin. He asked his son to bend and lift it, but the son
thought it was too little to bother with. He did not want to use his last
strength to bend over for such an insignificant sum.
Having no alternative, the father bent down. Then, he struggled to clean
and polish the coin. He realized that this coin might buy enough food to
save their lives. Having cleaned the coin, he bought 13 fruits with it.
Seeing that his son was starving to death, the father commanded his son to
eat the fruits. “No,” said the son. “You used your last strength to lift
the coin and polish it, while I was too lazy. You eat!”
But the father could not bear his son’s suffering, and he devised a strategy
to get his son to eat. He told his son, “I have to go to such-and-such a
place. You stay here and rest and follow me in about an hour.” The father
then headed down the road and, once he was out of sight, he began dropping
his fruits along the road. By the time he had gone some distance, all of
the fruits were half-buried in the mud on the road.
An hour later, the son came along. Seeing a fruit along the way, it never
occurred to him that it was his father’s fruit. Instead, he assumed that
another traveler had dropped it. Gathering his strength, he bent down to
reach the fruit and he cleaned it of the mud that encased it.
A little farther down the road, he saw another fruit. Again, it did not
occur to him that it was his father’s fruit. And again, he gathered his
strength to bend down and to clean the fruit.
Eleven more times, this scene was repeated. If only, said R’ Tzaddok, the
boy had bent down once to pick up the coin, he would have felt entitled to a
share of the coin that his father found and he would have shared his
father’s fruit. Then, he would not have had to bend down 13 times to pick
up the fruit. From this I learned, R’ Tzaddok concluded, that if one would
only overcome his laziness and deal with the challenges that face him
initially, he would save a lot of trouble down the road when the challenges
are multiplied. This applies as much to serving Hashem as it does to
gathering fruit from the road. (Hakohen p.19)
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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