Torah for the Times    

Friday, August 3, 2012 - 15 Menachem Av, 5772

Torah Reading: VaEtchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11) 
Candle Lighting Time: 7:50 PM
Shabbat ends: 8:54 PM

Rich Man, Poor Man

Moses the Poor Man?

This week’s parsha recounts Moses’ heartfelt prayers to G‑d to allow him to enter the Promised Land together with the Jewish people. But G‑d was insistent that he remain behind.

The Midrash, in its inimitable cryptic and enigmatic style, characterizes the dialogue or “dispute” 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 describe G‑d as impudent? It is obvious that the Midrash embeds a deeper meaning in these anomalous words that are intended to teach us an important lesson in these challenging times.

The Two Pronged Approach

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

There are two ways a tzadik—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 tzadik is entreating the A-mighty 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 another approach. The Talmud tells us that a tzadik 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 tzadik’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. Moses came before G‑d in the most humble fashion.

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, the Midrash is not suggesting that G‑d acted impudently but rather that G‑d wanted Moses to act in this fashion. G‑d wanted to know why Moses did not act impudently and demand that He allow him to enter into the Promised Land.


G‑d, was in effect saying to Moses: If you ask me to allow you to enter the Land, my response is an emphatic no! The Torah, in this week’s parsha, records G‑d’s precise response: “Enough of your [requests]! Do not speak to Me anymore about this matter!” In other words, G‑d was telling Moses that if he insists on approaching this matter as a poor person who begs and pleads his case, then he will not succeed in achieving his goal.

If on the other hand, G‑d intimated, Moses would approach this matter as a rich man who employs chutzpah and Moses would demand entry into the Promised Land, then he would succeed in achieving his desire.

The Midrash is thus not referring to G‑d’s impudence, G‑d forbid, but rather to Moses’ ability to use chutzpah in getting what he wanted.

Why Didn’t Moses Demand?

This interpretation of the Midrash leaves two basic questions unanswered:

First, 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?

Second, what relevance does this have to us?

The answer to both questions hinges on the difference between the situation that existed in the days of Moses, and the situation as it exists today.

When we were ready to conquer the Land of Canaan, it was at the beginning of our journey. We had just been forged as a nation and entrusted with a mission to transform the world, one step at a time. The first step was to enter the Land of Canaan, conquer it, settle it and make the land a beacon of light that would ultimately transform the entire world into a G‑dly world. 

We are presently at the end of our historical journey. We are about to leave the period of galus—exile—and enter into the Messianic Age.

Why Did Moses Want to Enter the Promised Land?

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.

The Talmud seems to support this notion when it states that Moses wanted to enter the Land so he could enjoy the benefits of observing all of the Mitzvos associated with Israel. If he would not enter, he would lose the opportunity but everyone else would go forward and the mission would live on without Moses’ physical presence in the Land. To get going on the first leg of the journey, the people could still be inspired with Moses and by his spirit that is imbued both in the Torah and within the leaders of each subsequent generation.

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.

That, however, was not the case. His disciple Joshua would enjoy the same G‑dly support that Moses possessed and the Jewish people would take possession of the Promised Land notwithstanding Moses’ physical absence.

The Lesson

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 . Every day of delay and every additional moment that we tarry in exile with all of its negativity, is taking its toll on us. And we cannot afford to leave one person behind. Every Jew must be liberated from this exile. 

We cannot, therefore, afford to be like the poor man who begs for salvation. According to the Midrash, G‑d’s asking Moses to utilize his chutzpah was actually reserved for the present day and age. Now we must utilize chutzpah to not only implore but demand—as we do incessantly in our daily prayers—an end to galus and all of its attendant ills and we demand that the Redemption be brought about by Moshiach now!   When that will happen, another Midrashic source informs us, Moses will return to Israel with all of the resurrected bodies of the Jews that perished in the desert. Then, Moses prayer will be fully answered by G‑d in the affirmative. “Yes, you may enter, with all of the Jewish people, from the present and from the past.”

Moshiach Matters

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk was so strong in his faith in Moshiach that he literally awaited him every day and night. Every evening, before he went to bed, he set one of his disciples near him. In that way, if the disciple heard the sound of the shofar heralding Moshiach, he could be immediately awakened from sleep. When the pre-marriage contract was written for Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev's niece, he told them to write: "The wedding will take place, G‑d willing, with good mazal, in the holy city of Jerusalem. And if, G‑d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, the wedding will take place in Berditchev."(L'Chaim) 
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