There is no more common a phrase in the Torah as, “Vayidaber Adonai El Moshe Le’mor,” which translates roughly to, “God spoke and Moses listened.” This phrase is so common that if you chose to memorize it and chant it when reading almost any Torah portion in any book outside of the book of Genesis, you will automatically look like a pro. The verse tells us of the truly unique and beautiful relationship between God and Moses. But, there is a catch: the relationship is completely one-sided. What if the circumstances were reversed? Would God listen to Moses?
This is the situation described at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, when Moses describes when he approached God for a very specific request, one he wanted with his whole being, but was unlikely to have validated: the request to enter the Promised Land. You may remember back in the book of Numbers when Moses was told by God to talk to a rock to provide water and, in a fit of anger, hits the rock instead.
It is for this small act of disobedience that his dream of completing his life’s mission is taken away. Countless times Moses requests leniency from the Almighty and countless times he is denied. Here, in Vaetchanan, we hear his final plea and God’s final answer, “Let it suffice for you, bring this matter up no more” (Deuteronomy 3:26).
Ouch! The words hover over the Torah like dark clouds over Moses’ otherwise unblemished legacy. After all the listening he had done of God, the one time he needed God, he was let down.
But, perhaps, what he was asking for was beyond even God’s ability to grant. At 120, after forty long years of wandering the wilderness, his time on earth was coming to an end. It was not just the Promised Land he wanted, it was immortality. Listening to someone does not mean being able to grant their request, especially an impossible one, it simply means being present. Yes, Moses’ relationship with God was one-sided, but who can deny God’s presence in his life, we hear about it each time those five words are mentioned in the Torah: “Vayidaber Adonai El Moshe Le’mor,” “God spoke and Moses listened.”