Intercession and Judaism

Whereas Noah accepted God’s judgment on humanity, Abraham finally caves during episode of Sodom, Gomorrah, Moses persists in arguing God.

Moses_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Iam often faced with terminology Jews tend to avoid because of their Christian connotation, but the language and concepts are in fact quite Jewish.
Intercession is one of those words.
Judaism believes in intercessory prayer and looks to Moses as its model.
God informs Moses that the Jewish people are worshiping the Golden Calf. The Almighty strips away the title “My people” and replaces it with “your people” (Exodus 32:7), “for they have quickly turned from the way I commanded them” (v. 8). God then delivers a second message, asking Moses to “leave Me” to vent my anger to destroy them and make of you a great nation (v. 10).
It is at this time that Moses becomes the ultimate prayer master, a true intercessor.
Whereas Noah accepted God’s judgment on humanity and Abraham finally caves during the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah, Moses persists in literally arguing with God.
Taking a closer look at Moses’s intercessory prayer, the supplication can be divided into four parts: (1) Why vent Your anger on Your people? (2) Why let the Egyptians say… (3) Repent of the evil You intend against Your people. (4) Remember the forefathers…
Moses tells God that He cannot disown Israel, so He should make His peace with them. Instead of indulging in confession that the people have sinned, Moses begins his prayer with “Why.”
In essence, he is telling God: What did you expect? Did You not just take Israel, “with great power and an outstretched hand,” out of a country steeped in idolatry? Why do you become angry when they fall back on old habits that have become second nature to them? While the first “why” argument confines itself exclusively to God and Israel, the second deals with world opinion. If God is truly involved in human affairs, then any act of His or of His creatures must be weighed in terms of consecrating or desecrating His Name. Destroying the Jewish people would only reinforce the world’s idolatrous misconceptions.
Moses’s last two arguments reject God’s proposal to make a fresh start from him, by reminding the Almighty of His promise to the Patriarchs.
In verse 32 Moses again intercedes on behalf of Israel and asks God to forgive them: “If not, erase me now from Your book that You have written.” Moses rejects any suggestion of separating his personal destiny from that of the people.
Conventional wisdom might say talking back to God smacks of heresy, but this hutzpa kelapei Shmaya (spiritual audacity) is actually honored in the Bible. Moses challenges God in the name of God. It is a hutzpa that appeals to an authority within authority, to the conscience that is shared by divine believers and the Supreme Commander, and to the godliness within God.
God says to Moses, “Leave Me be” – but he does not. For in the Divine plan, a human being is not a robot but, rather, is endowed with dignity to defend the accused, even if it means going toe-to-toe with Him.
Moses not only intercedes on behalf of Israel but actually frees God from Himself. God has taken an oath to destroy Israel, but He is persuaded by Moses to override it.
But how can God violate the oath? He is bound by His own words! Using the scriptural section of oaths (Numbers 30), Moses – as the Midrash points out – reasons that while a person himself cannot nullify his own word (v.3), others (the Jewish court) can do it for him. Therefore, Moses asks God: “Do you regret Your vow?” “And the Lord reconsidered the evil with which He had threatened His people” (Exodus 32:14).
Intercession is more than just praying. It’s an ongoing commitment to remain in a position before God for a particular situation until the case has been solved. Inherent in the concept of intercessory prayer is the affirmation that God and human beings are intertwined and interdependent. God intervenes on behalf of humanity and vice versa.
Our intercession must be the willingness “to stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30).
David Nekrutman is the executive director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation in Efrat. Comments should be directed to