Why the righteous do not rely on their merit when requesting blessings from the Divine. * On Parshas VaEs'chanan.
In Jewish tradition, Moses is revered as the foremost prophet and leader, celebrated for his abundant merits and righteous actions. However, at the heart of the Jewish theological perspective lies a profound truth: even the most righteous individuals approach God's presence with profound humility, seeking His grace and mercy. Despite their exceptional virtues and deeds, they recognize that their connection to God is not solely based on their own merits, but rather on His boundless benevolence and loving-kindness:
Moshe said, "I entreated the Lord at that time, saying" (Deuteronomy 3:23). Rashi, the classic commentator, explains that the word used for "entreated" signifies requesting a free gift. Despite the righteous having the option to base their requests on the merit of their good deeds, they choose to seek God's benevolence as a gift. This understanding stems from God's own words to Moses, "I will favor when I wish to favor" (Exodus 33:19). Therefore, Moses employed the term when he spoke to God, emphasizing the request for divine favor as a free gift. Another interpretation suggests that the term is one of ten words denoting prayer (Sifrei).
SEEKING GOD'S GRACE: THE HUMBLE APPROACH OF THE RIGHTEOUS IN PRAYER
This theme of seeking God's grace is a common thread in Jewish thought:
The Talmud Sage Rabbi Elazar teaches that the righteous approach God with the understanding that they are recipients of divine gifts. Quoting from Psalms 29:11, "The Lord will give strength to His people, the Lord will bless His people with peace," the Talmud emphasizes that even the blessings and strength bestowed upon the righteous are ultimately a result of God's graciousness. (Berachot 32a)
Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair highlights Moses' humility, noting that despite his exceptional merits, he sought only God's compassion. Quoting from Deuteronomy 3:23, "I entreated the Lord at that time, saying," the Midrash emphasizes Moses' plea for God's favor, underscoring his reliance on divine mercy. (Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy 11:13)
The righteous, including great figures like Moses, understand that their petitions to God are grounded in God's grace and compassion. While they may possess significant merits, they never forget their dependence on God's benevolence.
The Zohar, the central texts of Kabbalah, illuminates the attitude of the righteous towards their merits and God's grace. In Parashat Terumah 162a, it states: "The righteous do not rely on their own merits; they rely on the blessed Holy One, blessed be He, to guide them with loving-kindness and mercy." This passage highlights that the truly righteous understand that their connection to God is grounded in His mercy rather than their own deeds.
Likutei Torah, a collection of discourses by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidism, expounds on the nature of prayer and the relationship between God and the righteous. In Parashat Pinchas, 13b, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains: "Even when a person prays based on their merits, it is still a form of requesting a free gift from God, as all blessings ultimately come from God's benevolence." This teaching underscores that the righteous recognize that their prayers are essentially requests for divine gifts, regardless of their merits.
Moreover, in Tanya - Chapter 38, also authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the essence of divine service is explored. He writes: "Even the completely righteous, whose every desire is for the sake of heaven, and whose soul clings to God... even they cannot demand reward according to the letter of the law; they, too, must regard themselves as indigent and dependent on divine charity." This passage emphasizes the humility of the righteous, who understand their own inadequacy and their dependence on God's charity for blessings.
THE DIVINE GIFT OF REDEMPTION
The concept of Moshiach (the Messiah) in Jewish tradition is deeply connected to the idea of seeking God's grace and redemption as a divine gift. Moshiach is envisioned as a future, anointed king who will bring about the ultimate redemption, leading to a time of peace and prosperity for all of humanity. Unlike a reward based on individual merits, the arrival of Moshiach is viewed as an act of divine grace and mercy.
One source supporting the notion of Moshiach as a manifestation of God's free gift can be found in the Midrash Rabbah - Lamentations 1:16. This ancient collection of Rabbinic teachings discusses the future redemption through Moshiach and declares, "Happy are we, for God will have compassion upon us; though the redemption may tarry, the Holy One, blessed be He, will ultimately have mercy on us." This verse emphasizes that the redemption through Moshiach is rooted in God's merciful nature, highlighting its divine nature as a gift.
Another source that reinforces the idea of Moshiach as a divine grace is Tanya - Chapter 37, written by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. In this work, Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains that the ultimate redemption is not dependent on individual merit but is rather an expression of God's infinite love for the Jewish people. This boundless love transcends any calculations based on merit, affirming the understanding of redemption as a divine gift.