At that time I pleaded with the LORD . . . — Deuteronomy 3:23
The Torah portion for this week is Va’etchanan, which means “I pleaded,” from Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 40:1–26.
Just how powerful is prayer?
Most of us have already figured out that the answer to that question is very. Prayer has the power to save lives, reverse fortunes, and achieve forgiveness. But just how powerful is one prayer? Two prayers? One hundred prayers? How about just one more prayer than we have already said? For that answer, we will turn to this week’s Torah reading, Va’etchanan, meaning, “I pleaded.”
This week’s portion opens with Moses in prayer. He pleaded with God to let him enter into Israel. (Remember? In Numbers 20:1–13, Moses had disobeyed God’s command and was told he would not be the one to lead the people into the Promised Land.) Moses begged God over and over. In fact, the Sages teach that the numerical value of the word ‘va’etchanan’ is 515. They explain that Moses prayed the same prayer 515 times!
Why did he stop there?
A few verses later we read that the Lord said to Moses, “That is enough . . . Do not speak to me anymore about this matter” (v.26). When God told Moses to stop praying, the implication was that if he had continued, God would have relented!
God had good reasons – albeit reasons we can’t understand – for not allowing Moses to enter the land of Israel, so he put an end to Moses’ prayers. The Sages teach that if God had let Moses continue, the power of prayer would have “forced” the hand of God and upset His grand plan for humanity.
The incredible lesson that we can take from these verses is the power of just one more prayer. Often we pray for something and whatever we asked for doesn’t manifest itself. Sometimes we give up right then. Other times, we continue and maybe we pray a second time or a third. But how many of us have prayed 515 times for something? The Sages teach that when it comes to prayer, we have to be like children who continually nag their parents. We have to ask and ask and ask again. Eventually, if we ask enough, and our prayer is in our best interest, our Father in heaven will answer us.
But does this mean that God is like a pushover parent who gives in to whining and nagging?
Certainly not! It’s not that we get God to change His mind by our repetitive prayers. It’s that we change ourselves through our many prayers. We become closer to God and we learn to value what we pray for – be it health, peace, or sustenance. We change, and so God changes our situation.
Friends, if your prayers haven’t been answered yet, take heart. Pray, pray, and pray again. You never know – the next prayer you say may be the one that God answers.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President