Moshe Rabbeinu did not have the “fairy-tale” ending that we would have all imagined,
of marching into Eretz Yisroel as the sun set. Instead, after Moshe davened 515 unique teffilos begging Hashem for the opportunity to enter Eretz Yisroel (as per the Midrash; hinted by the fact that Va’eschanan’s numerical value is 515), in our Parshah, Hashem declines his request.
How could it be that Moshe Rabbeinu, the one who went up for 40 days and 40 nights to shamayim, who personally learnt Torah with Hashem, the greatest Navi in history, the one who Hashem regularly answered even when it came to forgiving the most iniquitous of sins, etc. – did not have his teffilos answered, despite asking for such a virtuous request, and even after davening over 500 times???
There was once a very secular Jew living in Tel Aviv, who had absolutely no interest in anything related to yiddishkeit. He was a self-proclaimed leftist, anti-religious, type of fellow. One day he was walking passed a shul in Tel Aviv and there was a Yid standing outside the shul yelling "Mincha! Mincha! We need one man”. The fellow continued walking. The Yid ran after him and explained that they needed a tenth man for the minyan. He replied, "I'm not interested." But the yid was persistent (perhaps he had Yahrtzeit). He kept begging and begging, until finally, against his better judgment, the secular Jew allowed himself to be pulled into the shul for Mincha.
As hard as it is to believe, unfortunately, there are many yidden in Eretz Yisrael who have never ever witnessed, let alone, participated, in a minyan; they never even witnessed other people praying. This Jew was one of them. He grew up in a very secular home. His grandfather was observant, however, his parents had become completely secular and they never even took him to a shul.
The fellow sat in shul watching people say Ashrei, Kaddish, and then everyone stood up to daven Shmoneh Esrei. Shul-goers have seen this all our lives, and think that it is no big deal to see people standing, "shuckling", quietly reciting the standing prayer. But the first time a person sees this, it can be an amazingly inspiring sight when suddenly a large group of Jews, stand in silence, sway back and forth, and talk to G‑d.
This secular Israeli was taken aback by what he saw during those 15 minutes of praying Mincha in the Tel Aviv shul. He left the shul immediately after Mincha, but he decided that he would have to look into the matter further; His curiosity was struck and it could not be silenced. He began studying yiddishket seriously, and ultimately, got very involved in Torah life and observance.
The story began circulating in town. One friend was scoffing about it to this man’s father. “What happened to your son? He is a clever and educated man. How did he get brainwashed in just 15 minutes?”.
The father, himself a very secular Jew, responded that there was much more to the story than what meets the eye.
“You see”, he said, “my own father, the boy's grandfather, was a deeply religious European Jew. He came to Tel Aviv many years ago, and lived his life as an observant Jew in Tel Aviv. I, like many of my generation, abandoned Jewish observance completely. We were determined to form a new generation of Jews, good Zionists, but completely secular. Nationalism replaced spirituality”.
“But, you see, my father davened every single day in a specific shul in Tel Aviv. He davened with lots of devotion and concentration, with all of his heart, while we mocked his sincerity and faith which was inconsistent with the modern age. Do you know in which shul he davened? It was the very shul that was lacking one man for a minyan for Mincha, the day that my son passed by and was pulled in”.
“I know that it was the intense prayers of my father which called his grandson back to this very same shul… it was not only 15 minutes that he spent in a shul; it was 15 minutes in a shul soaked with my father’s years and years of prayers for his son to come back to Yiddishkeit so that his progeny/offspring would be frum for generations to come.
When my father passed away, he probably thought his prayers were not answered. But what do you know? His prayers did not go to waste – they affected my son and it looks like he got his wish after all. I guess prayers are always answered, just not always the way we would have expected - and we don’t always get to see it in our lifetime”.
Sometimes we pray for something, and we get it; and sometimes, we pray for something, and we think that we’re not getting it. But no prayer goes unanswered*. It just might not be answered in your lifetime or the way you expected it, but at the same time, it always accomplishes something.
It may look to us like Moshe’s tefillos were not answered. However, Moshe did not want to enter Eretz Yisroel because he wanted to have an enjoyable trip; that is not what he was davening for. Moshe wanted to enter so that he could ensure Klal Yisroel’s long-term success**(see Sotah 14, Ga’on Yaakov). His tefillah was answered:
the Midrash (Yalkut Sh’moni) explains that Moshe was allowed to look at Eretz Yisroel & daven for Klal Yisroel, and by doing so, it strengthened Klal Yisroel and gave them future success and Bracha for generations and generations to come; which is exactly the result he was looking for. Furthermore, had he been allowed to enter Eretz Yisroel, he would have built the Bais HaMikdash, and then, when we would ultimately sin, instead of Hashem destroying the Bais HaMikdash, He would have been “forced” to destroy us, as a Bais HaMikdash built by Moshe Rabbeinu would be spiritually flawless and “indestructible”**. This was of course not a result Moshe would have been happy with.
Moshe wanted to enter in order to help Klal Yisroel. Hashem answered that desire – Moshe had the opportunity to and successfully helped Klal Yisroel by being given the opportunity to daven from a distance; furthermore, had Moshe entered, it would have been to Klal Yisroel’s detriment, not to their success.
Moshe’s wishes were granted*** - it was just not in the way we expected or with a result that was visible at that time.
There are probably many reasons why Hashem taught us the above valuable and timeless lesson, right before we entered Eretz Yisroel. What lesson we can draw from it?
This event took place right before we entered Eretz Yisroel, which was ultimately climaxed by the building of the Bais haMikdash.
So too, during the years of galus right before we enter Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Bais HaMikdash, we will need to remind ourselves to strengthen ourselves in tefillah. We can do so by utilizing the powerful lesson that Hashem is teaching us in this week’s parshah: our tefillos are ALWAYS heard by Hashem, He is always listening to us and focusing on us, and all of our tefillos will ALWAYS have results****; They just may not be answered the way that we expect or in our lifetime, but no tefillah ever goes to waste or unanswered.
We should also learn from Moshe to persist in davening, even if it feels like you are not being answered and, in the words of Chazal, “even if the blade of the sword is already touching your neck” (Yalkut Sh’moni).
May we remember this vital lesson during these final years of galus, as we too work towards the ultimate ge’ulah and towards ultimately rebuilding the Bais HaMikdash with the coming of mashiach.
* - It is important to note that even with sincere prayer, Hashem will only give us what is good for us. Imagine if a multibillionaire’s seven-year-old son asked him for $1,000. If the father is a responsible parent, he would not grant his child’s wish. It’s not because he doesn’t love his son, nor because he didn’t hear his request. Rather, just because he wants it and thinks it is good, does not mean that it’s beneficial for him to receive it.
Similarly, life is like a gym. Our purpose in this world is to grow, and that can only be accomplished through constantly being challenged and tested. Often, what we ask Hashem for will impede the journey for spiritual perfection that He has charted out for us, and therefore we don’t always see our prayers answered the way we would like them to be. However, although Hashem won’t always grant us “easy street” and everything we ask for if it is detrimental for us, He will always soften the challenge when we pray to Him.
**- See Yalkut Shemoni Chelek Alef, Sifsei Kohen, and Aderes Eliyahu. See also Midrash Tana’im, Sifri.
***- In fact, chazal teach us that each one of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tefillos where answered and not a single one was wasted, albeit not in the way he intended. Each one of Moshe’s 515 tefillos has been instrumental in saving klal yisroel throughout our history in galus, when all our zechusim failed. Hashem not only gives us His audience, He pays close attention to what we say and utilizes each and every word of tefillah that we utter.
****- The Sefer HaChinuch writes that prayer is one of the greatest gifts Hashem ever gave to mankind. Although Hashem usually treats every person according to his actions, when sincere prayer is involved, everything changes. He explains that Hashem wants even those who do not have any merits to still have the opportunity to receive His blessing. Therefore, He created the concept of heartfelt prayer. Sincere prayer, for all intents and purposes, is life’s “shortcut” to receive even what we don’t deserve, as long as it is done with absolute sincerity and is the result of truly relying on our Father in Heaven (Mitzvah 433). It is noteworthy that the Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 17) comments that Hashem urges us to take advantage of the opportunity of prayer while we can, while we are still alive: She’Ani notel shochad ba’olam hazeh — “Because I take bribes in this world.” Tefillah, the Midrash teaches us, is called “bribery.” Like a bribe, it enables a person who deserves nothing to receive everything. Tefillah can help a person even after a decree from Heaven has already been issued. The Gemara states (Berachos 10b), “Even if ‘the master of dreams’ tells a person that he will die the next day (which can be considered like prophecy), he should still pray for his life to be spared, because prayer can override any decree.”