Shabbos Parashas Vaeschanan

This week’s parashah begins with Moshe describing his (unsuccessful) prayers to Hashem to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael. In connection with this, the Midrash presents a variety of teachings.  I present here the Maggid’s commentary on two of these teachings.
1. Our first Midrash relates specifically to Moshe. The Midrash expounds (Devarim Rabbah 2:2):
It is written (Tehillim 39:12): “You chasten man for iniquity by way of rebuke, and like a moth You wear away his desire; indeed, every man is futility. Selah.” On account of a single iniquity that Moshe committed – that he rebuked Your children [overly sharply] and said to them (Bamidbar 20:10), “Listen, now, O rebels” – You chastened him and rebuked him. The term “man” in our verse refers to none other than Moshe, of whom it is written (Bamidbar 12:3), “the man Moshe was very humble.” What does it mean, “Like a moth You wear away his desire”? You melted away all the desire that Moshe had to enter the land, like a moth that enters into clothes and causes them to rot. For Moshe, “his desire” was none other than Eretz Yisrael, of which it is written (Yirmiyah 3:19), “I shall give you a desirable land.” If such a fate befell the saintly Moshe, it is all the more so with other men, that they are destined for futility and destined for the day of judgment. Thus, “indeed, every man is futility.”
In truth, the Maggid says, this “all the more so” argument doesn’t seem valid, for the Gemara in Bava Kamma 50a teaches that Hashem is exacting with the righteous to a hairsbreadth. The Maggid explains the Midrash as follows. Hashem surely did not treat Moshe more strictly than he deserved. The reason we experience lighter treatment than Moshe is that Hashem treats us more leniently than we deserve on account of our lowly stature. The Maggid brings out the point through an analogy to how a creditor behaves. A creditor is aware of the financial state of the various people who owe him debts, and he modulates the degree to which he presses a given debtor for payment according to the debtor’s financial state. Suppose now that one of his debtors is a well-known pauper, and he doesn’t press him at all. And suppose that this pauper takes pride in the “special treatment” that the creditor is showing him. People would then chide him, saying: “What are you so proud about? The reason you are getting a break is your poverty and lowly stature.”
The Midrash interprets Tehillim 39:12 as speaking of Moshe. The verse describes Hashem’s chastening Moshe for iniquity. The intent here is that Hashem chastened Moshe to a degree exactly commensurate with his iniquity, and, far be it, not any more than he deserved. Now, if the saintly Moshe received such a severe punishment for such a small sin, then all the more so the rest of us, who are guilty of much more serious sins, deserve severe punishment. But, as the verse says, every man is futility – we all are of low stature – and therefore Hashem treats us more leniently than we deserve. This perspective should infuse us either with a feeling of fear or a feeling of humility and lowliness.
2. Our second Midrash deals with prayer in general. The Midrash expounds (Devarim Rabbah 2:11): “Said Moshe before the Holy One Blessed Be He: ‘Master of the Universe! When You see Your children in pain and there is no one to ask for mercy toward them, answer them right away.’” Moshe is asking Hashem to answer us on the day of distress itself, without any delay – along the lines of David HaMelech’s statement in Tehillim 20:2 that “Hashem will answer you on the day of distress,” which is expounded on in a nearby segment in Devarim Rabbah. The Maggid links Moshe’s request with David’s plea in Tehillim 143:7: “Quickly, Hashem, answer me. My spirit is failing. Do not hide Your face from me, lest I become like those who go down into the pit.” He brings out the idea with a parable. A person suffered from an illness that affected his appetite. Usually he had no desire to eat at all. Only occasionally did he feel a desire to eat, and then only for a few minutes. Once he visited a large inn where there was a large crowd of people waiting to be served a meal. He called out to the innkeeper, saying: “Quickly, please, serve me first. For soon I will lose my appetite and I won’t be able to eat anything.” The parallel is as follows. In Eichah Rabbah 3 (letter ס), R. Yose ben Chalafta teaches that we should aim to offer our prayers at times of Divine favor. But this teaching applies only to those who have a strong fear of Hashem and are spiritually whole, and are therefore able to pray at any time. It is not so with us. Our hearts are tangled with worries and our souls are immersed in ruminations, and we are aroused to pray only on rare occasions – a moment here and there, sparsely scattered, when the clouds of anguish temporarily clear. When we experience such a moment of spiritual arousal we have to grab the opportunity to approach Hashem and plead to Him to help us. And we have to beg Hashem to answer us quickly and not hide His face, for soon our urge to pray will fade away.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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