Parshas Vayeilech – Does Your Prayer Have Legs?

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The kever of R’ Mordechai Twersky z”l (1798-1837; the Maggid of Chernobyl)

By: Rabbi Shlomo Katz

Our parshah opens: “Moshe went and spoke these words to all of Israel.” Where was Moshe “going”? R’ Mordechai Twersky z”l (1798-1837; the Maggid of Chernobyl) explains:

We read (Bemidbar 14:17), “And now, may the strength of my Lord be magnified, as You have spoken, saying.” This alludes to the teaching of Kabbalists that when a person speaks, i.e., prays, he magnifies the Name of G-d and has the ability to elevate the souls of many Jews.

How does a person know if he is praying properly? The verse concludes, “You have spoken, saying”—if, after a person prays, he wants to “say,” i.e., pray more, then he knows that he has prayed well. But, if he is glad to be finished, he has not prayed properly.

We also read (Kohelet 4:17), “Guard your legs when you go to the house of Elokim.” Proper prayer stands on two legs, says R’ Twersky. One leg is man’s belief in the holiness of the prayers, and the other is man’s trust that Hashem accepts the prayers of even the least articulate person. However, a person must always be truthful, as Chazal say that “falsehood has no legs.” [As written in the Torah, the letters of the word “sheker” / “falsehood” all come to a point on the bottom. They “have no legs” and cannot stand.]

Moshe’s prayers undoubtedly stood on strong “legs”; therefore, he was able to elevate the souls of the Jewish people. It was on those “legs” that our verse says he “went.” (Likkutei Torah)

“My anger will flare up against [the nation] on that day and I will forsake them; and I will conceal My face from them and they will become prey, and many evils and distresses will encounter [the nation]. It will say on that day, ‘Is it not because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have come upon me?’ But conceal, I will conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.” (31:17-18)

R’ Menachem Mendel Krochmal z”l (Poland; 1600-1661) asks: In verse 17, G-d conceals His face once, and this concealment leads to “many evils and distresses,” yet in verse 18, where He conceals His face doubly, no evils follow! Why?

He explains: The Gemara (Megillah 12a) asks, “Why did the Jews of Haman’s generation deserve to be destroyed?” The Gemara answers, “Because they had bowed down to Nevuchadnezar’s statue.” (See Daniel ch.3.) The Gemara asks further, “Then why were they not wiped out?” and it answers, “Just as they bowed down only for show, not with idolatrous intent, so G-d’s decree that they be destroyed was only for show.” We see, writes R’ Krochmal, that G-d sometimes hides His face “for show,” but nothing bad happens as a result. Sometimes, when G-d hides Himself, it leads to great pain and suffering, while other times He hides Himself only so that we will search for Him.

The Gemara states that verse 18 contains an allusion to Queen Esther, whose name means “concealment.” This is not merely a play on words, R’ Krochmal notes. Rather, as we have just seen, our verse alludes to the way in which G-d concealed Himself in Esther’s time – just for show, just so we would search for Him. (Pi Tzaddik: Drush 48)

“But, conceal I will conceal My face on that day because of all the evil that [Yisrael] did, for it had turned to the gods of others.” (31:18)

R’ Nachman of Breslov z”l (1772-1810) teaches: There are two levels of hester panim / concealment of G-d’s “face”. When G-d merely hides Himself, it is difficult to find Him, but it is possible if one looks hard enough. And, since one knows that G-d is hidden, one can motivate himself to seek Him.

Sometimes, however, G-d conceals the fact that He is concealed. This is a greater tragedy because, when we don’t realize that He is concealed, we are not motivated to search for Him. (Likutei Moharan I 56:3)

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“So now, write this song for yourselves, and teach it to Bnei Yisrael.” (31:19)

R’ David Hakochavi z”l (Provence; 13-14th centuries) writes: The received tradition teaches that this verse commands each person to write a Sefer Torah for himself. The purpose of this mitzvah is clear – the Torah is the necessary tool in order for a person to perfect himself, and, surely, no craftsman would attempt to practice his craft without his tools.

Chazal state that each person must write his own Sefer Torah, even if he inherited one from his father. The reason, explains R’ Hakochavi, is that it is human nature to value more that which one has made by himself. (Sefer Ha’battim: Migdal David, Sefer Mitzvah No.16)

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“This song shall speak up before it as a witness. . .” (31:21)

“This song” refers to the song of “Ha’azinu” in the next parashah. To what does it testify?

R’ Chaim of Friedberg z”l (16th century, brother of the Maharal of Prague) explains that there are many prophecies that do not have happy endings. Most notably, the horrible curses which were read last week in Parashat Ki Tavo end without any mention of a brighter future.

Not so the song of “Ha’azinu,” which ends with the verse, “He will bring retribution upon His foes, and He will appease His land and His people.” This is a promise of the long-awaited redemption. Says our verse: write the song of “Ha’azinu” as a testimony and reminder to yourselves that the redemption will come.

Why do so many prophecies end without consolation? Why do many chapters of the Prophets leave us with unanswered questions about our faith? R’ Chaim explains that this was done intentionally so that we should not think that the prophets served G-d only because they understood His ways. No, they too had unanswered questions, but this did not diminish their love for Hashem or their service of Him. (Sefer Geulah Vi’shuah ch.6) –

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