"The average woman's facial expressions," Sharon read, "change remarkably in the course of a conversation, to reflect happiness, frustration, concern, anger, joy, sorrow, worry and bewilderment.... On the other hand," the report claimed, "men's facial expressions did not undergo the same degree of open change, and often remain nondescript or static."

Sharon wondered about this. Were women more openly demonstrative of their empathy? Had men perhaps learned, through nature or nurture, that the best way to help in a situation was to transcend it? Did "acting like a man" mean rising above the circumstances and viewing them objectively, from afar, while to be a woman is to see them empathetically, from within?

The theme of prayer is intertwined throughout this week's Torah reading, Va'etchanan, whose title itself means "I beseeched."

"I beseeched G‑d at the time saying... pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan." (Deuteronomy 3:23-25)

Prayer is called by ten names: cry, howl, groan, song, encounter, stricture, prostration, judgment and beseeching Our sages have said that prayer is called by ten names: cry, howl, groan, song, encounter, stricture, prostration, judgment and beseeching—the last of which is the name of prayer learned from Moses in this verse, va'etchanan.

We're also told that the Hebrew word vaetchanan is numerically equivalent to 515, which was the number of prayers that Moses prayed to be allowed to enter the Land of Israel.

The Midrash relates that when Moses saw that the decree against him entering the Land had been sealed, he drew a circle and sat inside it, and said: "I am not moving from here until You nullify the decree."

He then wrapped himself in sackcloth and covered himself with ashes and stood in prayer and supplication before G‑d until the heaven and the earth and the very laws of creation began to tremble.

What did G‑d do at that moment? He announced at every gate of every heaven and at every gate of every court that Moses' prayer should not be admitted, for the voice of Moses' prayer was like a sword that slices and rips and which nothing can stop.

Moses said to G‑d: "If You will not allow me to enter the land, allow me to enter as a beast of the field, who grazes on the grass and drinks water and sees the world that way — let my soul be as one of those!"

G‑d said: "Enough!"

Moses continued beseeching: "If You will not allow me to enter the Land, allow me to enter as a bird that flies in the air — let my soul be as one of those!"

G‑d answered: "Enough!"1

Moses then recited the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. G‑d was appeased but nevertheless refused his request saying, "I cannot listen to you for I took two oaths, either you die here in the desert or I destroy the Jewish people. Do you wish to live at the expense of your people's annihilation?"

"May Moses die, and a hundred like him, and not a fingernail of one of them be harmed!" Had Moses entered the Land of Israel, he would have built a Temple that would have such great sanctity, it could never have been destroyed. Had the Jews subsequently sinned, the nation—instead of the Temple—would have been destroyed.

When Moses heard this, he proclaimed, "May Moses die, and a hundred like him, and not a fingernail of one of them be harmed!"2

Later on in the Parshah of Va'etchanan, the theme of prayer is revisited with the recording of the entire text of the Shema prayer—the central prayer recited twice daily declaring our unwavering faith in the unity of G‑d.

Hear, O Israel: The L-rd is our G‑d; the L-rd is one.

And you shall love the L-rd, your G‑d, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means.

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart.

And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.

And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes... (Deuteronomy 6:4-8)

In one verse are contained two central commandments (mitzvot): to recite the Shema prayer and to study Torah.

The duty of reciting Shema involves reciting it twice daily, "when you lie down and when you rise up."

Torah imposes a transcendent vantage point on creation The obligation of Torah study is a single, ongoing obligation--"and you shall teach them to your sons" throughout the day and night.

While Torah clothes itself in material reality by dealing with physical matters, it remains spiritual, detached from physicality. Torah is likened to fire. Our Sages explain that "Just as fire is impervious to ritual impurity, so too Torah is impervious to contamination."3

The Torah views our world from its own perspective. Rather than becoming submerged within creation, it imposes its vantage point on creation.

This is why the blessing for Torah study is recited only once a day, since the obligation to study Torah is a single, constant and ongoing obligation that continues throughout the day and night. Torah defies the division of time and is not subject to the limitation of our world or of restrictions to particular times of our day and night.

The commandment of reciting the Shema prayer, on the other hand, is linked to time and the blessing for its recitation is said twice daily, in the morning and in the evening.

The Shema exemplifies how prayer works from the perspective of our world, our daytimes and nighttimes The connection of the Shema prayer with the periods of day and night emphasizes how prayer works from the perspective of our world, our daytimes and nighttimes. This is the central component of the Shema, crowning G‑d on our world by revealing His light and Oneness ("G‑d is one") within our physical world.

Connecting the Shema to periods of the day and night emphasizes the unification of light and darkness, physicality and spirituality, in revealing G‑d's unity within creation.

Torah is the revelation of G‑d's wisdom. Studying the Torah imbues us with a higher consciousness and G‑dly wisdom. Torah study is a transcendent force, empowering us to stretch the parameters of our perception and grow beyond the here and now.

The prototype of a man's service of G‑d is depicted by Torah study, which takes precedence over all of the Jewish male's other duties and obligations.4

Prayer is the prototype of a woman's service of G‑d Prayer, (as exemplified by the Shema,) on the other hand, comes from within. Prayer is a supplication from our innermost selves, from the very depths of our hearts, raising us to higher plateaus of the spirit. It is our source of comfort, the solacing embrace assuring us that nothing we experience is meaningless, that G‑d is here with us, holding our hand, in every time of darkness and distress.

Prayer is the prototype of woman's service.

In truth, prayer is a paradoxical activity. On the one hand we declare our unconditional faith that everything comes from Above. In doing so, we acknowledge that as the origin of everything is ultimate Goodness, so, too, everything that happens to us must be entirely good.

Yet, in tandem with that, the commandment of prayer is to express our spiritual and material needs and wants. Anytime we feel something is amiss in our lives, we are commanded to pray to G‑d and ask Him to correct those things which, from our perception, have gone wrong.

Yet, if everything originates from G‑d who is the ultimate of Goodness and He knows far better than us what is good for us, how can we be asking Him to change His plan?

The mystics explain that what we experience as pain is the expression of such a sublime form of goodness that it lies beyond the grasp of our world Moreover, the mystics explain that when our situation appears painful, in truth it is an expression of such a sublime form of goodness that it lies beyond the grasp of our world and therefore cannot be perceived in our world as good. Yet, we do not ask for an "ultimate" goodness, from His perspective, but for a palpable rectification of our earthly situation to a goodness that we can see and feel, within the reality of our world. So why are we asking Him to change this sublime goodness to a lower goodness that we can recognize?

Because prayer is G‑d allowing us to tell Him how things look from our perspective.

When you pray, G‑d is saying, show Me how things look from your viewpoint, from within your world. Tell Me how you are feeling, how things look from your side, within the organism of the physical world. Tell Me, ask Me, entreat Me for what is important to you, and I will consider creating a reality for you that you, too, will be able to see as openly positive.

That is why prayer is the prototype of a woman's service.

prayer is G‑d allowing us to tell Him how things look from our perspective Torah study, the masculine perspective, tells us to rise above our situation, to take our pain or grief "like a man." Torah study imparts us with the consciousness that ultimately our trouble, and our entire world, is small. In due course, we will realize its insignificance, in the grand picture of things.

Prayer, the feminine archetype, on the other hand, is empathetic. It shares our pain, and cries together with us. Prayer doesn't tell us that our sorrow is meaningless. It sees the pain from the perspective of our world and consoles us, promising redemption from within our circumstances.

Perhaps this is the connection of the portion of Va'etchanan to its famous haftorah (reading from the Prophets), always read the Shabbat following Tisha B'av, the saddest day on our national calendar. This Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Consolation, after the words of the haftorah that begin with the words, Nachamu, nachamu ami--"Be comforted, be comforted, My nation."

The double comfort hints to us, in this time period when solace is most needed, that G‑d will eventually console us doubly—with a comfort that can be felt both from a transcendent and an immanent perspective.

In the era of redemption, G‑d will comfort us like a transcendent father, by showing us how the exile that we endured was ultimately necessary and a miniscule prelude for the eternal time of unity and bliss in the era of Redemption.

But G‑d will also empathize with us like an imminent mother, retroactively from within exile, to console us for the many painful tears that we shed and the numerous agonizing hardships that we endured. He will affirm these sorrows and, in retrospect, allow us to feel their palpable, actual benefits.

Be comforted, be comforted, My people, G‑d consoles us. Rest assured, your pleas, entreaties and supplications are not in vain, but will lead you in to the Promised Land.