Parshat Vaetchanan - 5759 "The Righteous One Decrees
and the Holy One Enacts"
At the beginning of this week's Parshah, Moshe pleads with G-d for the right to enter Eretz Yisrael and uses the unusual word, "Vaetchanan," loosely translated as "I pleaded," a word which does not appear elsewhere in the Tanach. The word appears to be derived from, or related to the word "chen," meaning grace or favor. Moshe is basing his plea on the fact that he has found favor in the eyes of G-d, as the Torah tells us, "For you have found 'chen' in My eyes and I have made My Name known to you." (Shemot 33:17) There may be in the use of this word also an echo of a time when Moshe abused his relationship of "chen," and wishes here to make amends.
Moshe also refers here to the "Mighty Hand" of G-d, the power of which has begun to be revealed to him, the most recent evidence being the miraculous defeat of Sichon and Og. Since their lands were to be given to the Jewish People, Moshe sees an opening for the possible revocation of the decree against his entering the Holy Land. He begs HaShem to use that awesome power to be "maavir al midotav," to act "out of Character," so to speak, and rescind His decree. There seems to be in this also a hint that Moshe once doubted the power of the "Yad Hashem," and is here engaged in an act of "Teshuvah," or Repentance, for his past breach of faith.
When and where did such things occur? Perhaps we can see the abuse of "chen" in the events which took place at Kivrot HaTaavah, recorded in Parshat Behaalotecha, when the Jewish People were complaining about the absence of meat in their diet. Moshe "Rabbeinu," our great Teacher, who had spent forty days and forty nights with G-d on Mt. Sinai doing nothing but study the Torah, is extremely frustrated. Seemingly, he is no longer interested in the job of leading the Jewish People, if all they are interested in are food and drink, and are not so much interested in spirituality as in the satisfaction of their materialistic needs.
And here Moshe makes a fateful error. He complains to G-d with these words, "Ve'im cacha at ose li, horgeni na harog," "And if You continue to do this to me, then kill me, I beg of you," "im matzati chen be'einecha," "if I have found favor in Your Eyes." Moshe is here asking to be killed (!) by G-d, if, as if he doesn't know, he has found favor in His Eyes.
Moshe attempts to undo here the negative force of that request by alluding, when he pleads "E'bra na," "Let me pass over, I beg of you!" to another time when he pleaded for Hashem's mercy using the term "na," when he prayed successfully for the life and health of his sister, Miriam, whom Hashem had punished with "Tzaraat," "Kel, na; Refa na lah," "L-rd, I beg of You; heal her, I beg of You!" And another time, when Hashem wanted to do away with the Jewish People, and create a new and holier people from Moshe, his response had been, "V'ata im tisa chatatam; v'im aiyin, mechani na mi'sifrecha asher katavta," "And now, if You will forgive them, fine and dandy, but if not, erase me, I beg of You, from the Book which You have written."
At Mei Merivah, the issue of "Yad Hashem" also came up, when Moshe seemingly questioned, unbelievably, considering what he had seen of Hashem's infinite might, but perhaps out of the same mental and spiritual exhaustion mentioned above, the logistical possibility of providing meat in the desert for a nation of 600,000 men! To which G-d responded sharply, "HaYad Hashem Tiktzar?" "Is the Hand of G-d too weak to accomplish that task?"
When Moshe asked to be killed, might not this be an instance of "Tzaddik gozer, V'HaKadosh Baruch Hu Mekayem," "The righteous one decrees, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, carries out his decree?"
The rationale for this principle in a case such as this is that the Tzaddik knows himself very well, both his strengths and his weaknesses. Moshe may have realized subconsciously that his unique mission was to uplift his People, indeed the entire world, to higher spiritual levels, and he had succeeded in that mission to a degree far greater than he realized, but when it would come to the grinding, mundane, day-in-and-day-out trials and tribulations of dividing and settling the Land of Israel, perhaps he was not the best man for the job.
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU