Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. (Hadas Parush/Flash90) (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Kotel Temple Mount

As the Talmud says, “Prayer is one of the highest deeds in the world, but people underestimate it.”

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

The week’s Torah portion is “Va’etchanan” (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 711), and in it we read about how badly Moses desired to enter the Land of Israel.

Moses was punished with not being able to enter the Land after he disobeyed God at the episode of the rock. Instead of speaking to the rock in order to bring forth water, he hit it. God then decreed that Moses would die in the wilderness and Joshua would be the one to lead the Jewish people into the Promised Land.

Decree or no decree, Moses was not ready to give up his right to enter the land – not just yet.

Our sages teach us that Moses recited 515 prayers in order to try and overturn the decree. In fact, the name of this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, means to “beseech.” It also has the numerical value of 515.

Finally, after the 515th prayer was recited, God told Moses to stop praying because he will not be permitted to enter the land.

The question is asked: If God made up His mind despite Moses’ intense prayer, why did He not say so earlier? We didn’t He tell Moses that it was a lost cause after he recited 10, 50, or 100 prayers? Why did God allow him to continue praying 515 times?

The answer, we are told, is that all prayers have value. Just as parents cherish the moments when their children talk to them, so too God cherishes the moments when His children speak to him. We may not realize how much God loves our prayers and how valuable they are. As the Talmud says, “Prayer is one of the highest deeds in the world, but people underestimate it.”

It is true that in Jewish tradition prayer is very repetitive and predictable, and yes, familiarity and repetition bring boredom. Therefore, we have to work hard to focus on our prayers and give them the attention and concentration they deserve.

Many people mistakenly believe that unanswered prayers are useless, but that, too, is a terrible mistake. We tend to “give up” when we are not answered, but that is the wrong attitute.

Let us use the “Moses example” to remind ourselves that every prayer is special and that God is right up there listening to every one of us. Make no mistake, God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer just has to be no.

For more insights on this week’s Torah portion, click on the following links.