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Kosher Chutzpah
by Rabbi Heschel Greenberg
This week’s parshah, Vaetchanan, recounts Moses’ heartfelt prayers to G-d to allow him entry into the Promised Land. But to no avail. G-d was insistent that he remain behind.

The Midrash in its cryptic style characterizes the dialogue between Moses and G-d by quoting a verse from the Book of Proverbs: “The poor speaks entreatingly, but the rich responds impudently.”

The Midrash comments:

“The poor speaks entreatingly” refers to Moses. “…but the rich responds impudently” refers to G-d.

How can the Midrash speak about G-d in such seemingly irreverent terms? How can one impute impudence to G-d?

The following attempt at deciphering this Midrash is based on the Chassidic work “Imrei Mordechai” by pre-war Polish Rabbi Mordechai Shpalter, with some modifications.

There are two ways a tzaddik—righteous person—can come before G-d with a request: The first is a humble prayer, pleading with G-d to grant him his request. The fact that the tzaddik is entreating the Alm-ghty for something suggests that he is giving G-d the “option” to say no. We don’t always get what we ask for. This is known as the poor person’s approach.

There is, however, another approach. The Talmud tells us that a tzaddik has the power, conferred on him by G-d, to decree that G-d accede to his request. In this mode, G-d has guaranteed that the tzaddik’s demand will be accepted.

This then is the meaning of the application of the verse in Proverbs contrasting the poor with the rich to Moses and G-d.

When the Midrash states that “The poor speaks entreatingly” refers to Moses, it means to describe Moses’ decision to petition G-d with prayer and supplication.

G-d’s response to Moses was, “Why don’t you utilize the power I gave you to decree your entry into the Land of Israel?” By applying the phrase “but the rich responds impudently” to G-d, it is not suggesting that G-d acts impudently but rather that G-d wanted Moses to act in this fashion.

So, if Moses had the ability to demand his right to enter into the Land of Israel, why did he not take G-d up on His offer to do precisely that?

When Moses requested to go into the Land of Israel, he knew that if he did not enter, it would not prevent the Jewish nation as a whole from entering the Land and carrying on their mission to transform the world by first transforming the Land of Canaan into a Holy Land. Moses’ prayer to enter was a humble request to also be permitted to enjoy the challenge of conquering the land and observing all of the commandments associated with it. Moses loved serving G-d and he cherished and craved the opportunity to serve Him in ways that were not possible in the desert.

Moses would therefore not utilize his G-d given power to make demands if it was just for his own material and even spiritual benefit.

Had Moses’ inability to cross the Jordan prevented the nation from entering as well, Moses would certainly have used holy chutzpah and would have demanded to take the Jewish people with him into the Promised Land.

The lesson for our day and age is now becoming clear.
We are now at the very end of the journey. We are at a point where we cannot afford to endure one extra moment of galus. We cannot, therefore, afford to be like the poor man who begs for salvation. Now we must utilize chutzpah to not only implore but demand—as we do incessantly in our daily prayers—an end to exile and all of its attendant ills and we demand that the Redemption be brought about by Moshiach now!
 

 


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