“I pleaded with God at that time, saying…” Va’etchanan 3:23 (Deuteronomy 3:23)
“A song of ascents. When the Lord returns the returnees to Zion, we shall be like dreamers. Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of praise; then they will say among the nations, “The Lord has done great things with these.” Tehillim 126:1-2 (Psalms 126:1-2)
In Parshat Va’etchanan, Moshe Rabbeinu explains that he beseeched Hashem in prayer. Rashi says that va’etchanan (I pleaded) comes from chinun (related to chein, or graciousness) and signifies an undeserved gift. Moshe knew this because the Almighty had said to him: I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. (Shemot 33:19)
Rashi teaches us that the righteous technically could claim a reward based on their good deeds, they ask Hashem only for a “free gift.”* In Likutey Moharan 20, Rebbe Nachman tell sus that when we want something from Hashem, we should pray to receive it solely as an unearned, undeserved gift, and definitely not as a reward for our good deeds.
Why does the Rebbe encourage us to ask only for an undeserved gift from Hashem? We must never press the issue and demand what we want, the Rebbe tells us. We must not think we “deserve”. The consequences of asking for (let alone expecting or demanding) a reward can be unforeseen and calamitous as we aren’t privy to the ways in which Hashem measures and evaluates what is deserved and what isn’t. We are taught that Hashem treats us with love and mercy and gives us far more than we deserve, certainly far more than our good deeds merit. We aren’t held to strict measure for measure with Hashem, and therefore aren’t able to calculate our reward. Relying on Hashem’s lovingkindness, graciousness, and mercy is the best possible course of action.
This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, and on this Shabbat, we are comforted after the constrictions and mourning of Tisha B’av, the Nine Days, and the Three Weeks. Through our tears we prayed for the end to exile and the Redemption. Soon, God willing, we will receive the ultimate comfort from Hashem: He will open His treasury, so to speak, and reveal Mashiach, restore us to our Holy Land, and establish the third Beit Hamikdash, Amen.
*The Midrash (Shemot Rabah 44) tells us that Hashem has an Otzar Matnat Chinam, a treasury of unearned gifts, which the tzaddikim may take and distribute.
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