Parashat Vaetchanan begins with Moshe recalling his impassioned plea for God to allow him the privilege of entering the Land of Israel: “Va-etchanan el Hashem ba-eit ha-hi” – “I pleaded with the Lord at that time…” Ba’al Ha-turim makes a curious remark commenting on this opening verse, noting that the gematria (numerical value) of the word “va-etchanan” is the same as that of the word “shira” – “joyous song.” To explain this connection, Ba’al Ha-turim writes that Moshe “sang before Him so that his prayer would be answered.” As Moshe prayed for his lifelong wish to be fulfilled, he also engaged in “shira” – joyously song.
How might we understand the meaning of this concept – festive singing as a necessary accompaniment to prayer? Is Ba’al Ha-turim suggesting that we sing joyously when pleading to the Almighty for something we need?
The answer, perhaps, is that Ba’al Ha-turim here teaches of the need to maintain a degree of joy and gratitude even as we desperately plead to God to fulfill our needs and wishes. We are certainly allowed, and encouraged, to turn to God for help when we face some problem or have unfulfilled wishes. In fact, the Gemara in Masekhet Berakhot (32b) teaches that if a person prayed for something and his request was not fulfilled, he should pray again. Whereas in requesting favors from human beings it would be inappropriate to repeatedly make a request that was consistently denied, we are encouraged to beseech God repeatedly for what we desire. And thus, for example, the Midrash (Devarim Rabba 11:9) tells that Moshe prayed over 500 times to be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael, until God told him to stop praying. However, Ba’al Ha-turim perhaps alludes to the fact that even as we plead for our wishes to be fulfilled, and focus our attention on what our lives lack and what we still need, we must also express “shira” – joy and contentment over what we do have. The process of “va-etchanan” – praying for what we want – must be accompanied by “shira” – genuine joy and gratitude over what we have already been given. Rather than focus exclusively on what our lives are still missing, we should be ever mindful of what our lives already have, even as we plead for all our wishes to be fulfilled.