Answers to Prayer

Parshah Vaetchanan begins with:rock-cleft

And I pleaded with Hashem at that time, saying, ‘O Lord Hashem, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ But Hashem was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And Hashem said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes westward and northward and southward and eastward, and look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan[1].

Look at Moshe’s methodology. First he exalts Hashem and then he asks Hashem to take a fresh look at future events by reconsidering his decree against Moshe. This passage is used as the Jewish model of prayer. The Amidah, for instance, participates in this methodology as well; for instance, it’s not until the fourth blessing before we petition Hashem for wisdom, insight, and discernment. When giving instruction on how to pray, Yeshua likewise weaves a similar pattern in his prayer:

When you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray… that they may be seen by others… …when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret… …when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words… Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts [Shem Tov Hebrew Matthew uses the word our sin], as we also have forgiven our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil[2].

This passage in Deuteronomy 3:23 presents a real problem for us. Herein it states Moshe is pleading with Hashem and asking for permission to enter the Land of Israel. And Hashem answers his prayer by saying, “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again.” Is it possible to irritate G-d with our supplications?

In the Talmud, the rabbis take up this concept and study it. R’Meir says, “If one prays with enough emunah (faith) [or prays a complete prayer, or concentrates properly], G-d will listen and act upon our prayers.” R’Elazar, on the other hand, says, “Every prayer can be fulfilled until G-d settles the matter [or issues the decree]. Once settled, there is no changing G-d’s mind.[3]

Moshe was the Man of Faith. He prayed for us time and time again, and each time, we gained the benefit of his kavanah[4] and his emunah[5], and the decrees and sanctions levied against us were truncated or removed… even the verdict we received because of the Golden calf. Two, however, were not changed, and these were:

  • The decree that the generation who were counted in the original census, would die in the desert, having never seen the Land of Promise.
  • The verdict against Korah, Datan, Aviram, and the 250 elders remained; they all perished.

However, Moshe never interceded on behalf of anyone during those issues.

How is it Moshe was successful in interceding on our behalf but not here? Is it because he was praying for himself?

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to Him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And Hashem said to Moshe, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moshe said, “Please show me your glory.” And He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘Hashem.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy…[6]

He prayed to see Hashem’s glory and that was answered. We get insight into the 13 Attributes of G-d from this encounter. Therefore, praying for one’s self is not a bad thing, and G-d can and does answer those prayers as well.

I submit that Moshe was not primarily praying for himself, but for the people as well. The key is in these words:

But Hashem was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me[7].

The Rabbis teach that if Moshe had entered the land, we would have marched to Jerusalem, he would have built the Temple, and it would be a permanent structure; it never would have been destroyed. Unfortunately, we lost our ability to not only go into the land but we lost the ability to build the Temple. We, simply, were not ready. Our proclivity to worship the works of our hands would have destroyed us had we entered the land and built the Temple so soon. Therefore, our propensity to play with idolatry caused Moshe to be denied the one thing he so desired: to enter the Land. Instead, he was given a glimpse of the Land shortly before his death. Instead, we received a Mishkan (the Tabernacle) and it took 400 or so years before we built the Temple.

Earlier, I mentioned two ways to view the answer of prayer:

  • If one prays with enough emunah, G-d will listen and act upon our prayers.
  • Every prayer can be fulfilled until G-d settles the matter. Once settled, there is no changing God’s mind.

There is a third view, one held by R’Yitzchak. This view says, “Crying out in prayer benefits the person before and after a decree is issued.” In other words, there is still hope.

There is always hope. We worship the G-d of peace, life, and second chances. He listens to our prayers and will always choose the best for us, even when our paths falter and even if we stray and we have no idea how to return.

[1] Deuteronomy 3:23-27

[2] Matthew 6:5-14

[3] b.Rosh Hashanah 18a

[4] Nearness to Hashem

[5] Faith

[6] Exodus 33:13-19

[7] Deuteronomy 3:26

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