This week’s Torah portion, Vo’eschanan, begins with Moshe saying that “I entreated Hashem at that time saying.” Moshe was begging Hashem to change His decree and allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel. Rashi offers two explanations for the Torah’s use of the word “Vo’eschanan – and I entreated.” He cites the words from the verse, “And I entreated,” and explains as follows. “The word חִנּוּן (and all words which are related to it, such as “Vo’eschanan”) signifies (requesting) a gift… Another explanation is that this (חִנּוּן) is one of ten terms which denote prayer.” We need to understand why Rashi needs to offer two different explanations for the word “Vo’eschanan.”
Rashi writes in the very next verse that Moshe Rabbeinu knew that “it had already been decreed (by Hashem)” that he would not be permitted to enter Israel. Nevertheless, Rashi writes that Moshe prayed that Hashem grant him entrance. In Rashi’s words, he thought that “perhaps G-d had annulled His vow.”
The Sages of the Talmud discuss whether prayer can change a decree which Hashem already issued. The Gemorah concludes that prayer will not help to change a decree which was issued against an individual. However, prayer does have the ability to change a decree issued against the community.
Based on this, we can understand the two opinions in Rashi regarding Moshe’s prayer to G-d. Some say that a decree against Moshe is the equivalent of a decree against the Jewish Nation. This is in keeping with what Rashi taught us earlier; “Moshe is Israel and Israel is Moshe. This teaches us that the leader of the generation is equal to the entire generation, for the leader is everything.” Based on this, Rashi’s explanation that “Vo’eschanan” means prayer is quite clear. Since Moshe is the community, even after Hashem ordained the decree against him, prayer can still help.
However, according to those who say that a decree against Moshe is as if it’s against one individual, prayer would not help. Praying could not affect. Therefore, we could not say that “Vo’eschanan” means prayer. According to this opinion, we must say that “Vo’eschanan” means that Moshe was requesting a free gift, i.e., something which he did not earn.
We can see from this how precise Rashi is. The fact that he explains one word in two different ways reflects a significant difference in the Sage’s opinion.
I wish one and all a good Shabbos and a healthy summer! May we merit the time of the complete and true redemption now!
Rabbi Shmuel Mendelsohn
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos Volume 24, Pages 28-35
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. Our Parshah, Devorim 3:23.
. See his comments further in this same verse.
. See Talmud Rosh Hashanah beginning with page 37, b.
. See Rashi’s comments to the words “and Israel sent,” Parshas Chukas, Bamidbar 21:21.