Parshas Va'eschanan is always read on Shabbos Nachmu, "the Shabbos of comfort," following the fast of Tishah B'Av.
The only comfort which we will accept for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the exile of our people of our people from Eretz Yisrael, and all the subsequent tragedies we have suffered is the geulah.
This was the object of Moshe's prayers mentioned in this Torah reading, and this is the ultimate object of all the prayers of the Jewish people.
But as the essay to follow emphasizes, prayer is not sufficient.
G-d desires deed.
And on numerous occasions, the Rebbe taught us the nature of the deed required: to "live with the Redemption," and appreciate a foretaste of it in our lives at present.
And by anticipating the Redemption in this manner, we can precipitate its coming.
11 Menachem-Av, 5754
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXII, pgs. 115-117;
Vol. XXIV, p. 28ff
The Rambam describes prayer as follows: 
The obligation [this] commandment entails is to offer supplication and prayer every day; to praise the Holy One, blessed be He, and afterwards to petition for all one's needs with requests and supplications, and then to give praise and thanks to G-d for the goodness that He has bestowed.
In particular, the fundamental dimension of prayer is to ask G-d for our needs.
The praise and thanksgiving which precedes and follows these requests is merely a supplementary element of the mitzvah. 
A person must realize that G-d is the true source for every aspect of sustenance and blessing he receives, and he must approach G-d sincerely, with heartfelt requests. 
Often, however, we do not content ourselves with asking G-d for our needs. We desire a measure of bounty that goes beyond our needs, and indeed, is far more than what we deserve.
We request a boon that reflects G-d's boundless generosity.
For every Jew is as a dear to G-d as a only son born to parents in their vintage years.  And because of that inner closeness, He grants us favor that surpasses our needs and our worth.
These concepts are reflected in the name of this week's Torah reading Va'eschanan.
Va'eschanan means "and he pleaded," and refers to Moshe's petition to G-d to enter Eretz Yisrael. 
Our Sages' interpretation of this term provides each of us with guidance with regard to the way we should approach G-d in prayer.
The Sifri states: 
[Moshe] could have depended... on his good deeds. Instead, [he] asked G-d for a gift.... How much more so, [lesser men] should make requests [of G-d in this manner].
Alternatively, [va'eschanan] is one of the ten terms used for prayer.
The Midrash communicates similar concepts, stating: 
[This] is one of the ten terms used for prayer. Of them all, Moshe adopted [this approach], one of supplication.
From this, we can learn that no created being can make demands from its Creator, for even Moshe [approached G-d] in a tone of supplication, [asking] for a free gift.
Although there is a similarity between the statements of the Sifri and the Midrash, in particular, the commentaries 
note a distinction between them.
For the Sifri sees the concept of prayer and that of requesting a free gift as two different interpretations, while the Midrash fuses the two concepts into a single understanding.
To focus on this distinction more closely:
G-d is "merciful to all His works,"  giving each his sustenance as required.
Moreover, when a person's deeds are worthy, he is assured:  "If you follow My laws... I will provide you with rain at the appropriate time."  Therefore, a person might have grounds to believe that he deserves G-d's assistance.
Nevertheless, even in such a situation, prayer is necessary as reflected by the verse:  "Kindness is Yours, for You render to every man according to his deeds."
Although a person's conduct may be worthy of Divine blessing, since G-d transcends the material realm entirely, for G-d's beneficence to be enclothed in a material form requires a unique measure of kindness. And this kindness is evoked by prayer.
Therefore, there is no way a person can demand favor from G-d. At all times, he must make requests of Him as one asks for a present.
This enables us to understand the interpretation of the Midrash mentioned previously.
Va'eschanan teaches us the manner in which we should make petitions of G-d.
When asking for His goodness, one should plead with humility, rather than demand; even when deserving, a person should not rely on his merits, but should ask G-d for generosity and kindness.
The first interpretation cited in the Sifri asks for a deeper commitment.
Not only should humility characterize the manner in which one approaches G-d, it should permeate one's being.
A person should genuinely feel that he is asking for favor which he does not deserve. For regardless of the virtue of his deeds, there is always a higher standard which could be demanded of him. Therefore, his request is for "a free gift," unearned kindness. 
This approach was personified by Moshe, whom the Torah describes  as "more humble than any man on the face of the earth."
Moshe realized his own positive virtues, but he also understood that these virtues were granted to him by G-d, and felt that had they been granted to another individual, that person might have accomplished more. 
There is a deeper dimension to the difference in interpretation between the Midrash and the Sifri.
Moshe was praying to enter Eretz Yisrael.
Although G-d had previously decreed that he would not enter the Holy Land, after the conquests of the land of Sichon and Og, Moshe thought that perhaps G-d would relent and therefore, turned to Him in heartfelt prayer. 
There is a difference of opinion among our Sages  whether prayer can have an effect after a negative decree has been issued from Above or only beforehand.
The Midrash follows the view that prayer can avert a harsh decree even after the decree has been issued. Therefore, Moshe was able to approach G-d through one of the accepted forms of prayer.
The first opinion in the Sifri, by contrast, follows the view that ordinarily, prayer can only help before a decree has been issued, but not afterwards. Therefore, Moshe had to go beyond the commonplace approach to prayer and ask for a free gift. 
Chassidic thought explains Moshe's request for "a free gift" as follows:
Had Moshe been permitted to lead the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, he would have been able to draw forth a level of G-dly revelation which our ordinary Divine service cannot reach.
For there are limits to the spiritual peaks man can reach through his efforts; the highest levels are dependent solely on G-d's initiative.
These levels cannot be reached by the standard approach to prayer. For prayer centers on man's efforts to refine himself and his environment, and therefore Moshe asked for "a free gift."
G-d did not grant Moshe's request, because even the highest levels of revelation are not given as "free gifts," but instead must be realized by man through his Divine service.
The service required to draw down these levels, however, is not one that man can conceive or plot out on his own. It was beyond even Moshe's conception. Instead, it is G-d who charts this pattern of service and with this intent He has led the Jewish people on their odyssey through history.
For this reason, Moshe's prayer was not accepted, and it was Yehoshua and not Moshe who led the Jews into Eretz Yisrael.
Although this brought about the possibility of the Jews being driven into exile, this is part of the Divine plan to enable mankind to carry out the service necessary to bring about the Redemption. For it is the Divine service of ordinary men, confronting everyday experience which will make the Redemption a reality.
Parshas Va'eschanan is always read on Shabbos Nachamu, "the Shabbos of comfort."
The true comfort for the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile is the realization that these are only phases guiding us to the ultimate Redemption.
Leading us on a course above mortal understanding, G-d enables man to become His partner in creation,  and make the world a dwelling which they will share.
- (Back to text) Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 1:2.
- (Back to text) This is reflected in the wording used by the Rambam, and the interpretation of his position by the Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 233). Note, however, the wording of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 185:2 which refers to "the recitation of G-d's praise as the fundamental element of prayer."
- (Back to text) In this vein, we can understand the connection to the Rambam's opening statement in Hilchos Tefillah 1:1 that prayer is "the service of the heart," i.e., shaping one's feelings. For what affects most people most are their material needs, and appreciating and asking G-d for these matters requires a re-definition of one's inner feelings.
- (Back to text) Keser Shem Tov, Hosafos, sec. 133.
- (Back to text) Deuteronomy 3:23.
- (Back to text) Commenting on the above verse, quoted (with slight changes) in Rashi's commentary to the verse.
- (Back to text) Devarim Rabbah 2:1; Midrash Tanchuma, Vaeschanan, sec. 3.
- (Back to text) Chizkuni on Deuteronomy 3:23; Levush on Rashi's commentary to that verse.
- (Back to text) Psalms 85:1. Note Kesubos 67b, Bava Metzia 85a.
- (Back to text) In particular, a unique measure of Divine beneficence is assured the Jewish people as reflected by our Sages' statement (Bava Metzia 83a): Since they are the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, even the feasts of King Shlomo at the height of his opulence are not sufficient recompense for them.
- (Back to text) Leviticus 26:3. In an expanded sense, rain includes all our material needs. Geshem, Hebrew for "rain," shares the same root as Gashmiyut, "material substance."
- (Back to text) Psalms 62:13.
- (Back to text) In this context, the Sifri's statement that Moshe could have depended on his good deeds must be interpreted to mean that, according to the mankind's prevailing understanding, Moshe could have depended on the virtue of his deeds. Moshe himself, however, had deeper knowledge, and therefore, greater humility, and made his requests as a petition for a present (Maharik).
- (Back to text) Numbers 12:3.
- (Back to text) See Maamarei Admur HaZakein 5562, p. 51, and the explanation of this concept in the essay in this series entitled "Pride that Runs Deeper Than Self."
- (Back to text) Rashi, commenting on Deuteronomy 3:23.
- (Back to text) Rosh HaShanah 17b.
- (Back to text) See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVI, p. 277, which explains that when individuals who possess merit appeal to G-d's kindness without depending on their virtues, they evoke a measure of Divine favor which surpasses the natural order.
- (Back to text) Cf. Shabbos 10a.