David Walk

How do you talk to God?

No one in history had a more intimate relationship with God than Moshe Rabbeinu. He spoke to our Creator face to face, a unique connection. Usually, prophets get murky messages in the middle of the night or in some sort of trance. Not Moshe Rabbeinu! He was in close contact with God for 40 years, a remarkable, unique feat. So, I believe strongly that if we want to figure out how to address our Maker, we must follow the example left to us by our teacher and guide, Moshe Rabbeinu. 

Moshe addressed God both in last week’s Torah reading and again in this week’s, and these two statements are very revealing. First of all, they are very short. Last week we read, ‘God, please, heal her, please (Bamidbar 12:13). In Hebrew that’s also five words, a total of six syllables. Wow, that’s succinct. So, one might conclude that prayers must be very short. However, that person obviously never opened a SIDDUR. Why are our prayers so long? Simply because we spend most of our time getting us in the proper state of mind to address God. Moshe was already there. 

In this week’s parsha, Moshe again gets right to the point: And now, please, magnify the power of God (14:17). This is the core statement in a longer request for God to forgive the sin of the scouts’ report and the reaction of the nation. This pithy statement shares one element with last week’s prayer for Miriam, and that is the word NA or please. 

What is so important about the word NA? Saying ‘please’ is an act of humility. Unlike when my children were young and they used the word ‘please’ like a bludgeon to beat me into submission. The word NA and its more poetic ANA mean ‘I’m begging for something which you have the power to grant, but I have no right or power to demand it.’ Remember, as Joyce Carol Oates said, ‘When you said ‘please’ to those who had no option but to obey, what were you really saying?’ 

But what else is going on in this curious request of God? How can God ‘magnify’ that which is infinite? The Ohr HaChaim suggests that the increasing of God’s power means in the minds of the observers. Moshe has just pleaded with God not to destroy the Jews, because the world might perceive God’s ‘inability’ to bring the Jews into Eretz Yisrael as a lack of Divine power. But bringing the Jews successfully into Israel now that the Canaanites are considered very powerful would greatly enhance the perception of God’s power. 

There is another approach, also in the Ohr HaChaim. The true power of God is seen in the realm of TESHUVA. Since even a perfect ZADIK can’t stand where a BA’AL TESHUVA stands, then by God granting forgiveness to the generation of the desert, BA’ALEI TESHUVA have been produced and much greater spiritual power has been spread throughout the world. Many of us have experienced how difficult it can be to forgive. So, we see a concrete example of God’s great power manifest in our world. 

There’s one more way of looking at the problem which I want to discuss. This verse appears in a fascinating AGGADATA, Talmudic story, Tractate Shabbat 89a. Moshe ascends to heaven to receive the Torah while the Jews are below surrounding Har Sinai. God is attaching the crowns onto the letters in the Sefer Torah. After a short exchange, God says to Moshe, ‘You should assist Me!’ Then, completely out of context in this story from the time at Har Sinai back in Shmot, Moshe says his line from here in Bamidbar, ‘And now, please, increase the power of God.’ What’s going on? 

According to this story, presented by Reb Yehoshua ben Levi, the power of God is increased in this realm when the Jews participate in the promulgation of Torah in our world. The infinite doesn’t increase, but more of this unlimited power can be perceived in this realm if the Jews do their part making the Torah manifest in the world. We’re not quite God’s junior partners, but we can do our bit to make Torah more visible in this realm. 

I love that last approach because now in Moshe’s plea to God we have a beautiful paradox. Moshe says ‘please!’ to God, because we are nothing compared to the infinite power of God. We can only beg for God’s gracious assistance in our problems. On the other hand, we can bring Godliness into this realm, and, in some feeble way, grow God’s Presence and power in this world. Amazing! 

So, how do we talk to God? 1. politely with ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, 2. clearly with a succinct statement of our need, and 3. with humble recognition of our role to play in God’s plan for this world. Moshe taught us that God listens to us and sees us as Divine representatives. It is simultaneously daunting and exhilarating, and just a little cool.

About the Author
Born in Malden, MA, 1950. Graduate of YU, taught for Rabbi Riskin in Riverdale, NY, and then for 18 years in Efrat with R. Riskin and R. Brovender at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Spent 16 years as Educational Director, Cong. Agudath Sholom, Stamford, CT. Now teach at OU Center and Yeshivat Orayta.
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