Thursday, August 18, 2016

va'eschanan -- matnas chinam and the gift of Eretz Yisrael

Al zeh ha’ya daveh libeinu…” (Eicah 5:17) D”VH = gematriya 15, the corruption of the midah of hod=15. Like an algebraic equation, if something happens on one side of the scale, it has to be balanced on the other side. “Lo hayu yamim tovim k’T”u b’Av” (Ta’anis 26) = 15 Av, gematriya of K-h.

If the seesaw tips to one side, it eventually will tip back the other way, and like a seesaw, the greater the dip in one direction, the greater the movement back the other way. It’s davka after cheit ha’eigel, a tremendous low, that Moshe asks, “Hareini na es kvodecha” and “V’niflinu ani v’amcha.” It’s davka after the low of 9 Av that we have the greatest of yamim tovim, 15 Av.

(For more on 15 Av, see my wife's Times of Israel blog piece.)

On to the parsha...

Of the many possible words to use for prayer (the Midrash tells us that there are 10), the Torah uses the not very common term “va’eschanan” in describing Moshe’s tefilah. Rashi interprets “va’Eschanan” as related to the term “matnas chinam,” a free gift. Rashi tells us that even though tzadikim have a right to stake a claim for rewards based on their zechuyos, they don’t do that – they instead ask for and view what they receive as a gift, not as something they’ve earned.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks: but don’t we find by Chanah (Shmuel I 1:10), “Va’tispalel el Hashem?” Don’t we find by Chizkiyahu (Melachim II 20:2), “Vayispallel el Hashem?“ If tzadikim only ask for matnas chinam, a free gift, as Rashi says, then shouldn’t all the tefilos of tzadikim use the expression “va’eschanan?” Why is it only here, in connection with Moshe’s tefilah, here that the Torah uses this term?

Maharal answers that Moshe’s tefilah is the binyan av, the paradigm. One you know that tzadikim are only asking for matnas chinam, as we learn from Moshe, then all the other expressions of tefilah are simply additional icing on the cake. They complement the request for a matnas chinam, but do not supplant it.

The Sefas Emes connects the use of va’eschanan davka here with a gemara (Brachos 5a) quoting RsHb”Y that there are three gifts, matanos, which Hashem has given the Jewish people. One of the three is Eretz Yisrael. There are certain things that are so great and so holy that they cannot be earned -- there is no price in spiritual “currency” that can be placed on them. The only reason we have them is because Hashem chooses to bestow them as gifts.

Chazal compare Moshe Rabeinu to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. Moshe was the source of light – he was a giver. Yehoshua was the ultimate talmid, soaking up and receiving everything his rebbe could give him. When you are a giver like Moshe, by definition being on the receiving end of gifts is not in your character. It’s a contradiction to your whole essence.

The is the shakla v’terya between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe used the expression “va’eschanan” = matnas chinam davka here because he knew that Eretz Yisrael could only be received as a matanah. Hashem’s response was “rav lach…,” you are too great -- you are beyond receiving gifts and cannot assume that role. Yehoshua, the talmid, the mekabeil, he is the one who can fulfill that mission.


  1. I don't understand the SA. Because Moshe was the giver in the relationship with Yehoshua, he couldn't ask for a gift from the Ribono shel olam? Why is giving what you have a contradiction to receiving what you don't? Why is this giving characteristic fundamental to Moshe Rabbeinu's essence to the extent that receiving something would be wrong?

    1. I have been struggling with a way to formulate a good answer but so far have failed.

    2. איידי דטריד למפלט...

  2. משה קיבל תורה מסיני

    1. That was on behalf of Klal Yisrael and it was 40 years earlier