Moshe's Lesson of Acceptance
We all believe in the power of prayer. There have been controversial but yet
seemingly proven studies that have shown that somehow prayer and being
prayed for are of definite physical help to the sick, the bereaved and the
troubled. Yet prayer oftentimes leaves us unfulfilled and unanswered. Prayer
does not seemingly avert disasters, sadness and even tragedies.
All of us face the challenge of unanswered prayer, when our hopes and
requests are apparently ignored and refused by Heaven. Many times this fact
of life causes a crisis of faith and belief within a person. King David in
his Psalms reflects on this issue many times. The book of Iyov deals with it
as well. And to a certain extent it is the main issue raised in this week’s
Moshe’s prayers are not answered. In fact the Lord instructs him to stop
raising the issue of his entry into the Land of Israel with Heaven. There is
a finality to Heaven’s refusal to answer or even deal with Moshe’s prayers
any longer. Moshe’s prayers, which have saved his people, his brother and
sister and others from Heavenly wrath, are now of no effect regarding his
own personal request.
The rabbis of the Talmud phrased it succinctly: “The prisoner himself cannot
free himself, by himself, from his own confinement.” Moshe will not lead his
beloved people into the promised Land of Israel. His time has ended and his
prayer will forever remain unanswered. There is therefore a note of
inevitable sadness that hovers over this parsha.
Over the millennia of Jewish commentary and exposition of the Torah many
reasons have been advanced as to why Moshe’s prayer was so finally and
flatly rebuffed. Among the ideas advanced is that the time for Yehoshua’s
leadership had arrived and that “the dominion of one ruler cannot overlap
the dominion of his successor even by a hair’s breadth.”
Another thought advanced is that Moshe’s generation would not enter the Land
of Israel so it would be an apparent unseemly favoritism for Moshe alone to
be able to do so. A third idea is that Moshe would appear to the new
generation entering the Land of Israel as a supernatural figure, a type of
god in a world of pagan belief that regularly deified humans, especially
national leaders. Therefore, for the sake of Israel itself, he could not be
allowed to lead them into the Land of Israel.
As valid as all of these ideas are, the blunt truth is that we cannot read
God’s mind, so to speak. Living human beings, the finite, can never grasp
the Infinite One. So we must be satisfied to remain unsatisfied in our
search for the reasons for unanswered prayers.
Our true refuge lies in faith and acceptance of the unknowable. This in no
way weakens the resolve and necessity to continue praying. It merely lowers
our levels of expectation and tempers our hubris that somehow Heaven must
follow our wishes and dictates. Moshe accepts the fact that his prayers will
now go unanswered. His example serves as a lesson for all of us.
Rabbi Berel Wein