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.
This week's portion begins with Moses' impassioned plea to be allowed to enter Israel despite God's decree that he would not. Even though the request is not granted - although the Jewish sages teach that it was almost answered - we learn a tremendous amount about prayer from Moses' entreaty.
The key word in the first verse of this reading is va'etchanan, which means "I pleaded." Interestingly, this is the only occurrence of that word in the entire Jewish Bible. It is a unique word, and it is chosen for this verse for a reason. There are several reasons suggested why this word was chosen, but here, I'd like to focus on one.
The root of the word va'etchanan is the word chen, which means "grace." Incidentally, the name Chana, also pronounced Hannah, is the Hebrew equivalent of the name Grace. And not coincidentally, the biblical Hannah, mother of Samuel, is also a figure from whom we learn much about prayer.
So what can we learn about prayer from the word va'etchanan and the concept of grace?
The answer is that Moses prayed to God as though he were asking for a favor; he was asking for grace. There was no sense of entitlement and no anger toward God.
So many people pray with the feeling, even if not verbalized, that they "deserve" certain things in life. They may even be angry at God if their request is not granted. But Moses prayed with the proper mind frame; he realized that everything is a gift from God. We aren't entitled to anything. It's enough that we are given life! Moses prayed with complete humility and grace.
Moses could have approached God with a list of accomplishments that he had achieved in his lifetime, from finding God in the burning bush, to leading the Israelites out of Egypt, to bringing down the Ten Commandments, to faithfully shepherding God's people through the desert. However, that was not Moses' way. He didn't say, "Give it to me; I deserve it." He came with the approach, "I don't deserve it, but if it be Your Will, God, I'd really appreciate this favor."
This is the same approach that King David took in his passionate prayers in his own lifetime. In Psalm 86:1, David prayed, "Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy." Now, David was the king of Israel. Certainly, he was not poor. But David meant, as Moses did, that he had nothing to boast about and asked that God hear his prayer simply out of grace.
I want to bless us all that we should pray with grace, live with grace, and that God will answer us with grace, "For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 136:1, NKJV).
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President