We begin this Parsha with something a bit surreal, Moshe, the leader of Klal Yisrael, is pleading to HaShem to let him in to the land of Israel. But just when his prayers were about to topple over HaShems decree that Moshe would not enter the land, HaShem told him to cease his prayers – so that He would not have to change his decree. Ve’Eschanan means, ‘and then I pleaded…’ and this state of pleading is how we found Moshe. Ve’Eschanan is the story of one man’s prayer as he prayed with all his heart and soul to enter Eretz Yisrael. Moshe’s pleas are an example of one of the ten ways of expressing prayer, but why did he choose this specific type of prayer for this moment?
The Gemara in Brachos tell us that we actually learned how to pray from a woman. From Chana, whose story is told in Shmuel Alef, and even though Halacha shows that only men are obligated in prayer we took our cues from a woman. What happened was, Chana was praying quietly – so quietly that Eli, the Cohen Gadol, thought she was drunk and unable to speak for all he saw were her lips moving. But Chana answered him, “No, I am a woman of difficult words…” meaning that she was so overwhelmed with awe of G-d that her words came to her with difficulty. Eli answered her, “lechi l’shalom – go in peace”, so it seems like her explanation was excepted by Eli, even though, as the story implies, she was praying in an unusual manner and that the normal way of Tefillah is to pray audibly. But as the Shem MiShmuel tells us there are two contrasting types of prayer, one comes from the heart, the other from the mind. Prayer that originates from the heart is coming from a place of pain, suffering, and emotions. Whereas prayer that is from the mind is purely intellectual, that when we finally tap into and realize the true power and greatness of HaShem with our mind we arrive at the second type of prayer; prayer that is of understanding, and awe of G-dliness.
Prayer coming from the heart is accompanied by crying, audible expressions and raw emotions. Whereas prayer that comes from the mind is quiet; being based upon a meditation and contemplation of HaShems greatness. There were many great Tzaddikim who would pray quietly – unmoving, at least here on earth but their prayers certainly shook the Heavens. During world war one the Ostrovtzer Rebbe would on a regular basis daven a four or five hour Shemonah Esrei, standing motionless with tears pouring down his face. He would cry so much during his tefillos that the wooden floor beneath him began to grow moss from the moisture of his tears.
This too is the difference between the prayers that were authored for us in the siddur and the prayers we say spontaneously, outside of the siddur, that stem from our heart. Although it may seem that the prayers that erupt from our heart in a frenzy of emotion and pain are much more worthwhile, since they come from our heart they are us, those prayers are really your prayers and are not you just reading along. These tefilos are the original words spilling out from our heart, certainly that which is from our heart is more valuable. But perhaps the intentions of the Anshei K’neses HaGedolah (the rebbes who wrote the siddur) was not that we would have a generic script to read three times a day, but maybe they figured that one day, we would reach a point of true understanding of HaShems greatness, and there, we would be at a loss for words, speechless in the presence of our Creator, standing unmoving and dumbfounded, dumbfounded yet with the greatest amount of clarity. Once we have a deep understanding of HaShems power and involvement in our life there is no more pain, suffering and raw emotion for we will then see that all is from Him and all from Him is good. So from this state of clarity and speechlessness, where our words are “difficult” how do we begin to pray? We look into the siddur and see the holy pure words that were arranged for us, for this exact moment. Words that only further deepen our connection and raise us up even higher. Now we pray.