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Parshas Voeschanan
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

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Parshas Vaeschanan begins with Moshe Rabbeinu imploring Hashem to reverse His decree and allow Moshe to enter Eretz Yisroel.

In his first commentary in this week’s parsha, Rashi takes note of the word that Moshe used to describe his prayer – ‘vaeschanan’ (and I implored [Hashem]). Rashi, quoting the Sifrei, points out that ‘chanun’ is one of the ten expressions used in Tanach to denote prayer. However, it is not one that is used often, and it would be fair to question why Moshe did not use a more common terminology for prayer – such as tefilah.


Rashi offers a profound analysis for the reason that Moshe selected the word ‘chanun’. He explains that Moshe, the most self-effacing of all men (see Bamidbar 12:3), did not wish to mention his considerable merits when pleading his case, but rather resorted to a humble plea – as if he was requesting an undeserved favor of Hashem. Rashi notes that Moshe learned this most effective form of prayer directly from Hashem during their encounter following the incident of the Golden Calf (see Shmos 33:12-23). Moshe had asked Hashem for a deep understanding of His ways – to “see His face.” Hashem responded by informing Moshe that no human can fully comprehend Hashem during his or her lifetime and his request was denied. Hashem did share with Moshe that he would be permitted to understand His ways on some level, to “see the back of Hashem”. (Please visit my website, go to Divrei Torah, Parshas Ki Sisa 5765 for a more detailed treatment of this issue.)

During that discussion (Shmos 33:19), Hashem informed Moshe “Vchanosi es asher achon (I will show favor/have mercy when I chose to show favor/have mercy). Our chachamim (sages) explain that this cryptic comment refers to the fact that Hashem often grants the requests of people who may be unworthy – when they pray to Him in the form of ‘chaninia’; this type of humble, undeserving request. (See Brachos 7a).

Rashi draws on this information to explain the word usage of Moshe when he implored Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel. Rather than relying on his own merits and engaging in a dialogue with Hashem about his worthiness to entering The Promised Land, Moshe chose to use the ‘chanina’ prayer and plead with Hashem as if he was undeserving of having his tefilos answered on his own merit.


Once we see that Moshe internalized the lesson of the effectiveness of a ‘chaniniah’ prayer, a question arises. Why did Moshe Rabbeinu not utilize this powerful form of prayer when he begged Hashem for mercy on behalf of the Bnei Yisroel after the sin of the meraglim (spies)?

When Hashem informed Moshe of His desire to punish the Jews for mourning the negative reports of the spies, Moshe did not use the ‘chanina’ prayer when he successfully defended K’lal Yisroel. If fact, it seems that he did not daven on their behalf at all, but rather informed Hashem of the negative impact that killing the Jews in the desert would have on the nations of the world. Even if Moshe felt that the Jews were undeserving of forgiveness on their own behalf, why did he not unleash the power of a ‘chanina’ prayer at that critical time?


I would to suggest that the highest level of the ‘chaninah’ prayer that Rashi referred to does not apply to an undeserving individual. This powerful tefilah is unleashed when a righteous person who does have zechusim (merits) humbly ignores them when davening to Hashem. When a tzadik presents his requests in the tone of an undeserving human being, Hashem’s mercy is aroused and he grants his or her request immediately.

This may explain the phrase used by Hashem to introduce this concept of ‘chaninah’ to Moshe – “Vchanosi es asher achon (I will show favor/have mercy when I chose to show favor/have mercy). Note that Hashem implies that not all who seek ‘chaninah’ will receive it. This would be in line with this concept that ‘chaninah’ is effective only when utilized by righteous individuals. Rashi’s words in the first pasuk of this week’s parsha seem to support this view. Rashi says that tzadikim, who do have merits, do not mention them when praying to Hashem.


This would explain the two diverse approaches to Moshe’s prayers.

At the time of the sin of the spies, Moshe realized that ‘chaninah’ would not be effective since the Jews were undeserving of forgiveness and would not withstand the scrutiny of Hashem’s middas hadin. He therefore defended Klal Yisroel to the best of his ability without the ‘chaninah’ prayer.

When praying on his own behalf, however, Moshe chose to use the ‘chaninah’ prayer, ignoring his myriad merits and offering his humble prayer to Hashem. This may explain a possible reason for Hashem’s request of Moshe that he cut short his chaninah (Devorim 3:26, see Rashi, others) and refrain from continuing his request to enter Eretz Yisroel. Perhaps Moshe’s ‘chaninah’ prayer was so powerful that it was about to be answered. Hashem therefore informed Moshe that it was not part of His master plan to have Moshe do so – and requested that he not continue with this ‘chaninah’ prayer.


Moshe Rabbeinu, ever the master rebbi, left all future generations of his children a format to follow when praying to Hashem.

Live a meaningful and spiritual life, filled with mitzvos and ma’asim tovim (good deeds). And, when davening to Hashem, approach Him with simple and profound humility.

May all our tefilos be answered in these trying times – b’rachamim u’vratzon (with mercy and favor).

Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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