The “Burden” of Prayer

Eichah esa levadi tarchachem u’masa’achem v’rivchem (Devarim 1:12)

In Parashas Devarim, Moshe reviews the episode that led to the appointment of judges to assist him (Shemos 18:13–26), explaining that he was unable to carry the burdens and quarrels of the Jewish people single-handedly. However, although the word masa is normally translated as “burden,” in this case the Ramban writes that it is a language of prayer, as we find in II Melachim (19:4), “v’nasata tefillah — you offer a prayer,” and in Yirmiyahu (7:16), “v’al tisa ba’adam rinah u’tefillah — do not lift up a cry or prayer (for the Jewish people).” The Ramban explains that Moshe was expressing his inability to be solely responsible to pray for the entire nation and all of its needs. Nevertheless, Harav Simchah Zissel Broide points out that it is difficult to understand why prayer is described as a burden, especially when there are many other mitzvos that are more difficult and physically taxing than prayer.

Rav Broide explains that when we pray for another Jew who is suffering and in pain, it is not sufficient to merely petition Hashem on his behalf. We are expected to actually feel his hurt, and to call out to Hashem to alleviate not only his agony, but ours as well. Along these lines, the Gemara (Brachos 12b) teaches that somebody who declines to pray for Divine mercy on behalf of a Jew who needs it is considered a sinner, and the Gemara adds that a Torah scholar is expected not only to pray for the other Jew, but to make himself physically ill through his entreaties and petitions. Accordingly, Moshe complained that when he prayed on behalf of the nation, he felt their collective pain, and he described it as a masa — heavy burden to be carried.

As a practical application of this concept, Harav Yisroel Reisman recounts that when Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam returned home in the morning, he was unable to eat breakfast right away. After the morning prayers in yeshivah concluded, Rav Pam met with people seeking his advice and assistance. Invariably, they would share their plights and difficulties with the Rosh Yeshivah, who took their suffering to heart to the point that when he came home, he first needed time to calm down, as he was so agitated that he was unable to eat. Just like Moshe and every great leader, he personally felt the pain and anguish of other Jews in distress.

Q: In his rebuke for the sin of the spies, Moshe mentions (1:37) that as a result of this incident, Hashem became angry with him and decreed that he may not enter the Land of Israel. Where is this mentioned in Parashas Shelach, where the episode of the spies is recounted, and how can this be reconciled with the verse (Bamidbar 20:12) which states that it was only at the (later) time of Moshe’s sin in bringing forth the water at Mei Merivah that it was decreed that he couldn’t enter the Land of Israel?

Q: There are five blessings which — in the Diaspora, where Yom Tov is observed for two days — are recited exactly once annually, one of which is associated with this time of the year. How many of them can you identify?

A: The Ramban explains that just as the sin of the Jewish people at the time of the spies prevented them from entering the Land of Israel, so, too, did they continue to sin afterward to the point that Moshe was also denied entry. The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh challenges this explanation, arguing that since Moshe continued after this verse to rebuke them for the sin of the spies, he would not have digressed on a tangent to refer to other sins that they committed subsequently. Instead, he explains that the sin of the spies resulted in the destruction of the Temple on Tishah B’Av.

However, if Moshe had entered the Land of Israel and built the Beis Hamikdash, it would have been indestructible. Had Hashem been “unable” to take out His wrath against the inanimate Temple, He would have had to do so against the Jewish people directly. As a result, the sin of the spies and its accompanying decree of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash prevented Moshe from entering Israel and building it.

If so, why does the Torah imply that it was Moshe’s sin at Mei Merivah which prevented him from entering? Had Moshe acted properly and sanctified Hashem’s name, the Jews would have returned to the level of purity they possessed prior to the sin of the spies, and there would no longer have been a need to destroy the Temple for their future sins. As a result, Moshe would be permitted to enter Israel and build the Temple.

The Maharil Diskin suggests that the decree against Moshe is indeed contained in Parashas Shelach. The Torah initially spells out the decree against the spies (Bamidbar 14:27), then details the punishment for all of those over the age of 20 (14:29), and finally states (14:30) that “you,” a reference to Moshe and Aharon, will also not be permitted to enter Israel. This was also part of the nation’s punishment, as their leaders would no longer be on the same level.

A: The blessing which is said at this time of the year is Nacheim — console — which is added to the blessing for the rebuilding of Yerushalayim in Shemoneh Esrei during Minchah on Tishah B’Av. The other four blessings are those which are said prior to lighting candles before Yom Kippur, when reading the haftarah on Yom Kippur, before performing the mitzvah of searching for and destroying any remaining chametz on the night before Pesach, and when seeing fruit trees in blossom during the month of Nisan.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email