The Torah portion Vaes’chanan derives its name from its first word, Vaes’chanan, which according to the Midrash1 is a derivative of both chinun or “supplication,” and chinam or “free” — something done freely and not from any sense of obligation.

According to the Midrash , the opening verses of the Torah portion thus consist of Moshe’s plea that he be permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael , a petition that he based not upon his own merit, but which he sought as a matnas chinam , a gratuitous gift from G‑d.

The Midrash goes on to state that, since even Moshe found it necessary to supplicate G‑d for an unearned gift, and did not ask that his request be granted in view of his many achievements, we can conclude that no created being has the ability to make demands of his Creator.

Why should we pray as if we have no merits upon which to base our requests?

There are two factors involved in asking that G‑d fulfill a request or provide something that is needed: The manner in which the request is made — supplication or demand; and the reason that G‑d should fulfill the request — that the person is deserving, or as a free gift.

Since G‑d is the Creator of all beings, it is reasonable to assume that He also has a moral obligation to provide them with their needs, especially so since He is “merciful unto all His creatures.”2 The Jew especially, filled as he is with good deeds and accomplishments, is deserving that G‑d provide him with all manner of good.

Accordingly, yet another question may be posed: Why is it even necessary to pray for the fulfillment of one’s needs, when man is also one of G‑d’s creations, and thus inherently entitled to have his needs met? And this question seems pertinent if one possesses merits and accomplishments that stand him in good stead.

The reason is as follows: Even when G‑d provides for a person’s needs because that person is deserving or because He is merciful, He is in no way obligated to do so. The verse expresses this explicitly when it states:3 “Unto You, G‑d, is kindness, for You repay each individual according to his actions.”

This informs us that, even if an individual’s good deeds make him worthy of G‑d’s blessings, Divine beneficence must still be considered a kindness, for nothing can compel G‑d to act in a certain manner; His answering of a need or granting of a request is ultimately an act of kindness.

This also explains why it is necessary to petition G‑d; one can demand nothing from Him, but must instead plead that He grant any request as an undeserved gift.

This is also in accord with the saying of our Sages4 that one should not make the fulfillment of his prayer dependent upon his merits, for even when G‑d fulfills a request as a result of a person’s meritorious deeds, “no created being can rightfully make demands of his Creator,”5 since man’s actions are wholly insignificant in relation to G‑d. Thus, one must always petition G‑d for a matnas chinam , a gratuitous gift.

In a more profound sense, Moshe wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael so as to draw down upon the Jewish people a level of G‑dliness far loftier than that which is generally drawn down through man’s service — a boundless, free gift from Above far beyond man’s supplications.6 Moshe was unsuccessful in his quest, for G‑d’s intent is that holiness be drawn down as a result of man’s service.

Although the denial of Moshe’s petition resulted in the possibility of further exiles, G‑d still desires man’s service, for it is this service that draws down an unsurpassed degree of G‑dliness — a level even greater than that of a matnas chinam.7

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, pp. 28-35