Vaeschanan – Archive

Parshas Vaeschanan


Parshas Vaeschanan

True Prayer


ואתחנן אל ה’ בעת ההיא לאמר (ג:כג).                       “I (Moshe) supplicated before Hashem…” (3:23).


The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah and Yalkut Shimoni) on this verse states that there are thirteen types of prayers which people can utilize when davening to Hashem. I would like to briefly explain them and then answer a noteworthy question. Considering all of his choices, what is the reason that Moshe begged Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael specifically utilizing the tactic of ואתחנן, supplication? Anyone wishing to get a fuller understanding of these beautiful prayer styles is referred to the Sefer Shearim B’tefillah by Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus zt”l which is the basis for the following list of explanations.


Thirteen Types

The thirteen types are found throughout Tanach and are in no specific order. Different ones are utilized by different people with varied situations and emotions. Many of them can be used together as well. As one reads through the outline one will see how these thirteen general categories cover all types of prayers and express many deep emotional chords of tefillah in one’s heart. Here they are in a nutshell:

1 בִיצוֹר – bitzor: To call to Hashem when in need.

2 שַעַוָה – shaavah: A hysterical yet verbally expressed cry to Hashem.

3 צְעָקָה – zaakah: A hysterical cry to Hashem without words.

4 נַאַקָה – naakah: A feeling of pain transformed into a vehicle to cry to Hashem.

5 רִינָה – rinah: Happiness and praise that we have Hashem to call to!

6 פְגִיעָה – pigiyah: A strong yet respectful demanding of one’s needs.

7 קְרִיאָה – K’riyah: A full recognition that Hashem is listening to me.

8 נִיפוּל – nipul: A cognizance that only Hashem can help me!

9 פִילוּל – pilul: A moment of true accounting and bonding with Hashem.

10 תַחָנוּנִים – tachnunim: A reliance only on Hashem’s mercy and not on personal merit.

11 חִילוּי – che’loy: An emotional plea reminding Hashem of the merits of our forefathers.

12 עַמִידָה – amidah: To wholeheartedly accept to follow whatever Hashem’s will dictates.

13 עִיתוּר – itur: To daven again and again and never give up!

This list is by no means a complete explanation, but I hope that it provided a general picture or reminder for those already familiar with these ever beautiful feelings and expressions.


Why ‘Vaeschanan’?

What remains is an explanation as to why Moshe chose type ten (תחנונים) as his mode of prayer to gain entrance into Eretz Yisrael. Additionally, why did the Midrash wait to bring down these thirteen categories only now, these words of prayer appear numerous times before the word ואתחנן which is at the end of the Torah?! I believe that one answer explains it all!


Moshe’s Request

Moshe was a great man who certainly had many merits of his own. Yet, when he came before Hashem to plead for mercy, he never mentioned his own merits! Rather, he begged Hashem to have mercy upon him as a free gift of kindness which Hashem gives to those in need! This is the greatness and modesty of Moshe Rabbeinu! The Midrash waited for this verse to lay out all of the prayer options in order to stress that Moshe had many choices. He could have focused on his pain or made strong demands. But he didn’t! Why did he choose the expression which he used? Because of his great humility. (This explanation is almost explicit in the words of the Midrash.) This is the foundation of all prayer, to stand before Hashem in humility. May Hashem answer all of our prayers for the best!



Secrets of Torah


“I (Moshe) supplicated before Hashem…” (3:23). ואתחנן אל ה’ בעת ההיא לאמר (ג:כג).


Moshe Rabbienu desired to enter Eretz Yisrael. He prayed 515 prayers, but Hashem told him that alas, he would not merit to enter the Land.

There is a fascinating Gemara that compares the Babylonian Torah scholars versus the Yerushalmi Torah scholars. Kesubos (75a) states, “Abayeh says that one Yerushalmi scholar is equal to two Babylonian scholars. Ravah adds that, however, when one Babylonian scholar goes to Eretz Yisrael and learns there, he becomes greater than two Yerushalmi scholars!” The math is simple, a Babylonian that travels to Eretz Yisrael becomes worth four times his normal self had he remained in Babylon. What is being said in this most perplexing Gemara?

The Shlah HaKodosh (Toldos Adam [Chachma II:17]) sheds much insight upon this. He says that in Babylon the scholars focused on delving deeply into their Torah learning. They were involved in the deepest and most complex Torah discussions, taking days and weeks to dissect, analyze and determine the most brilliant facets of the Torah, and arrive at the most fundamental and thorough explanations of the Mishna.

The Yerushalmi scholars on the other hand, spent most of their efforts delving into the secrets of the Torah; they were experts in the Kabbalah. Both scholars studied both aspects of Torah, but each one specialized in their mastered department.

Shlah explains that Hashem desires for His children to delve into Torah as analytically and deeply as possible with the ultimate conclusion of then studying the secrets of the Torah (and applying the knowledge in both stages!). The secrets of Torah are the crown jewels. Thus, one Yerushalmi is worth two Babylonians, for he has reached the stage of Torah secrets. However, the ultimate combination is someone who is a true “lamdon”, proficient in logical constructs, who then takes those skills and applies them to his delving into the secrets of Torah. This is the scholar of Babylon who comes to Eretz Yisrael, he now has the best of both worlds and thus is worth two times the Yerushalmi scholar and four times his previous self!

Rabbi Chaim Vital zt”l tells over how important it is to realize that the Arizal, his illustrious Rebbe, besides being one of the greatest Kabbalists to ever live, was a brilliant Torah scholar. He says that he often saw the Arizal sweating over a page of Gemara to gain proper understanding. The Arizal stressed that one must master the Talmud and Halachah before moving on to the secrets of Torah. He also taught that the questions and confusion which proceed the epiphany of understanding, are the klipos, evil forces (literally, “shells”), which must be overcome to arrive at the sweet “fruit” of Torah.

With all of this in mind, perhaps this was part of the reason that Moshe desired so passionately to enter Eretz Yisrael, he wished to delve further into both aspects of Torah study.


Shema Yisrael


In this week’s Parsha, we find mention of the Shema. The custom is to cover our eyes when we recite the first verse of Shema (See Shulchan Aruch OC 61:5). Why is this?

1- The Gemara in Berachos (13b) mentions covering the face, and the Rosh explains that it is done for concentration purposes. The first verse mentions the most vital aspect of our Emuna, thus, we cover our faces so as not to be distracted and to enhance our concentration.

2- Another approach states that the hand over our face represents our willingness to die for Hashem. We cover out eyes to represent death. We symbolically strengthen our acceptance of the Unity of Hashem by showing that we live and are willing to die for this truth as well.

The Jewish mothers and fathers instill this mesiras nefesh, dedication, in their children when they teach them to cover their eyes and say Shema.



Zachor and Shamor


The fourth of the Ten Commandments is about keeping Shabbos. In our parsha it states, “Observe (“Shamor”) the day of Shabbos to sanctify it…” (Devarim 5:12). In Parshas Yisro (the first time the Aseres HaDibros are found in the Torah) it says: “Remember (“Zachor”) the day of Shabbos to sanctify it… (Shemos 20:8). What is the difference?

Rashi asks why the Torah switches off between the word “Zachor” and the word “Shamor?” He answers based on the famous Midrash that both Shamor and Zachor were spoken and heard simultaneously as one word (Mechilta 20:8). As we say in the opening verse of Lecha Dodi, Shamor V’Zachor B’Dibbur Echad, Both “Observe” and “Remember” were said in one utterance.” While this is certainly true, the question still remains as to why the phrase “Zachor” is used in Yisro and “Shamor” appears here?

The Meshech Chochmah (Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, 1843–1926) explains that Shabbos Kodesh has two distinct purposes.

1- To testify that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on Shabbos. (Zachor)

2- To give people a day off work to allow them to dedicate their energy and attention to spirituality and the true purpose of life. Shabbos one is prohibited from working and thus can use his or her time learning. (Shamor)

In the desert, when Klal Yisroel did not have to work for a living because they received the Manna daily, they spent their time studying the Torah in great depth. For them, Shabbos was not needed as a day off to learn and connect spiritually, they had this opportunity every day. The main purpose of Shabbos for the, was to testify that Hashem created the world. This is why the Aseres HaDibros in Shemos, taught in the first year of Klal Yisroel’s sojourn in the desert, emphasizes Zachor, which means: remember that God created the world. Zachor is the positive aspect of remembering Shabbos that includes reciting Kiddush and Havdalah and focus on Hashem’s creation of the world.

In our Parsha, Moshe was reviewing the Mitzvos with the Jews weeks prior to their entry into Eretz Yisroel. Thus, the other reason for Shabbos had to be accentuated. The people were about to conquer the land, where they would begin a new life of agriculture and industry. They needed to appreciate that Shabbos would provide them with an opportunity to recharge their spiritual batteries, to energize themselves for the week ahead. The Torah therefore emphasized Shamor, meaning to observe the Shabbos prohibitions so that Shabbos becomes a truly spiritual encounter, without distractions.

It is fascinating to note that we light 2 Shabbos candles one for the man (Zachor) and one for the woman (Shamor). The two aspects represent each one’s specialty. Men are known to preserve the intellectual integrity of the Jewish tradition and women infuse the nation with deep emotional connection to Hashem. This is the power of Zachor and Shamor.



What’s Your Script?


Rabbi Akiva endured the greatest suffering and torture by the Romans as a punishment for him teaching Torah. Yet he remained strong and accepted it never questioning Hashem’s decree against him. The last words that Rabbi Akiva uttered while being tortured to death was the proclamation of “Shema Yisrael!” This verse is found in our parsha (Devarim 6:4) and deserves much thought.

Until What Point?

The Talmud (Berachos 61b) recounts that during the course of Rabbi Akiva’s painful torture his students heard and saw that he was accepting the kingship of Hashem to which they exclaimed in amazement, “how far must one go to exert himself to accept Hashem’s decree?!” Rabbi Akiva explained to them that we recite in Shema, “you should love Hashem with all your heart and soul…” This means that one must be ready to give up his life for Hashem. All of the days of my life I would contemplate this verse and I longed to fulfill it. Now that the opportunity has presented itself how can I pass it over?


Superhuman Strength

There is no question that Rabbi Akiva’s self-control and presence of mind was awesome. The Shlah points out how Rabbi Akiva really expressed a most powerful and practical lesson for all of us. Shlah explains that Rabbi Akiva was only able to maintain his presence of mind because of his prior practice throughout his life. Every time that Rabbi Akiva would recite Shema he would think, “my life is dedicated to Hashem. I accept His rulership unequivocally and I am ready to give up my life for Him if He so asks.” It was through this mantra that Rabbi Akiva was able to step up to the plate at his great moment of truth. His mental and emotional practice before this point are what allowed him to triumph. The lesson is that when one plans and thinks ahead he can make himself most successful.


In Practice

Psychologist have recently popularized this theory in numerous ways, buts its wisdom stems unsurprisingly from the Torah. Behavioral scripting means to practice a specific course of action before being faced with the situation in real life. For example, if one finds himself blowing up at his wife or children, he can do a role-play in which he imagines himself in the pressure-filled situation and he rewrites his reactions and expressions.


Everyday Life

When we think about it deeply we will realize that the truth is that in every situation we are in we have accustomed and scripted ourselves to act a certain way. Sometimes it is hard to admit it, however, we really can overcome our feelings and emotions of the moment. Take for example an experience which I just had today. I went to drop off clothing at the cleaners and as I opened the door a mother was leaving with her two young daughters of 6 and 8 and she was screaming at them in an intense, aggressive and scolding way. Now, if I were to ask her why she was doing this she would explain to me that I have no idea how frustrated she is, she had a long day, she was fed up and they were not following directions. The truth is that what is really happening is that she has a script. That script reads: “When dealing with my daughters, I begin by talking nicely, when this doesn’t work and I’m fed up, then I scream and I get immediate results!” Asking her to change this script would be humanly impossible, right? How could I ask her to stay calm at that trying moment? This assumption is wrong and I can prove it.



As I opened the door to the cleaners this woman was hollering at her two daughters. However, she quickly realized that she had screamed rudely in my face. She stopped, put on a big smile and said to me in the sweetest and apologetic voice, “I’m sorry, I’m yelling like someone crazy, my apologies.” Again, her script reads, “be polite to strangers.” My suggestion is that she can practice re-writing her other scripts. For example, she can have a new motto and credo when dealing with her daughters. “I want them to feel loved, respected, heard and empowered at all times. I will talk to them in a manner that reflects this.” She could then practice some of the stressful situations that arise. Say calmly, “girls, we are running late to bring you to ballet lessons, can you please hold my hand and walk with me to the car so that you stay safe.” This will take much practice but it can be done.


Another Example

This one is one of my pet-peeves. As a teacher I see many challenging classrooms. Some teachers have an antiquated script card that causes them to be despised by the students and ineffective educators. Their card reads the following, “The teacher is always right. The student’s job is to obey, sit quietly, pretend to be enamored by the boring teacher, follow all directions immediately upon receiving them and never have any personal needs such as hunger, tiredness, moods or the need for the restroom.”


The effective teacher has the following script. “The student will be taught to love learning through care, respect, empowerment, understanding and practice. The teacher ensures that the student’s physical needs are met so that he or she is best prepared to learn. This includes addressing the student’s comfort, security, confidence and outlook. The student is a precious and special person who can be nurtured and helped to achieve greatness.”

Two Points

Firstly, I like to express this idea by stating that we live life with prompt cards in front of our eyes. These cards are the scripts that we follow for dealing with people. Often we lose sight of the correct scripts and we keep the faulty ones by habit. A wise man once quipped, “The only man who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew every time he sees me, while all the rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”


Secondly, we do have the power to change the prompt cards. Begin by recognizing that we are viewing and treating someone with a script card, then rewrite it the way that you feel it should be written. Last and most importantly, practice it ahead of time and toss the idea and concept around in your mind. Rabbi Akiva taught us how to write healthy scripts that lead us to closeness to Hashem and others and to the ultimate success in life!


One Source


Throughout the Torah there are various uses of Hashem’s name. Each name represents a different aspect of how He runs the world. In our parsha we find (Devarim 4:35), “Adon-ai hu haElokim, the Merciful is the Judge.” The names “Adoshem” and “Elokim” are the two most common used for God. Rabbeinu Bechaya points out that we find the phrase “Adon-ai hu haElokim” many times in Tanach but we never find it reversed with Elokim mentioned first. What is this all about?


The Answer

Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that the name of Adnus refers to the open and blatant miracles that God performs in this world which show us His existence and power. This refers to the Ten Plagues, the Exodus, the giving of the Torah and the like. The name Elokim refers to God’s hidden orchestration of the world events through natural means. If God controls open miracles then he certainly can cause hidden ones. Thus that is exactly what the verse means to convey, “The same God (Adon-ai) who performs open miracles also controls the world with the trait of “Elokim” hidden miracles.


His Control

The Ramban writes about the importance of recognizing Hashem’s miracles because through the cognizance of Hashem’s kindness and guidance one can grow to deeper closeness and higher recognition. When one contemplates the small things that Hashem does for us this serves as a springboard for greater recognition and appreciation.

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