D’Var Torah

Emor, 5784 (May 18, 2024)

Rabbi Micah Friedman

     One of the most fundamental needs of each and every human being is to be wanted – for our life to be not only appreciated by others but for others to actively desire that we should live and be well. 

     Our daily liturgy emphasizes this deep need of our hearts in the 3rd to last blessing of the Amidah when we say:

רצה ה׳ אלקינו בעמך ישראל ובתפילתם 

Desire – Eternal One Our G-d – your people Israel and our prayers. 

     In this prayer, we articulate a deeply rooted yearning that we may feel wanted by our Creator and Sustainer and that our prayers will not only reflect our emotions and needs but also satisfy a need on the part of G-d.

     This deeply rooted desire to be desired by G-d is celebrated within our tradition and repeated within our liturgy.

     How can we know when we have been successful? Where can we turn to for guidance in our effort to live our lives in a way that satisfies our desire to be desired by G-d?

     This week’s Torah portion, as it outlines many sacrificial offerings to be brought in the Mishkan, repeats again and again a word which has to do with this desire.


All of the sacrifices are described as L’Ratzon

This word is of the same root at רצה and is often translated as will.

We often begin and end prayer by invoking G-d’s Ratzon 

We say יהי רצון מלפניך 

Then we say כן יהי רצון 

What does this word mean? What does it mean for us to bring our sacrifices לרצון?

     On one level – the level of technical legal meaning – this word L’Ratzon is understood to communicate the requirement that we bring our offerings with consent and desire. In order for our offering to satisfy G-d, it must be an offering that is brought from our own free-will and eagerness to contribute something of value. 

     There is, however, a paradox here. We are commanded to bring offerings of our own volition and free will. But, if our offering is a response to a command, an instruction, can it truly be a gift of our own volition and volunteerism?

     The answer is “yes.” Even when we do something because we are asked to or expected to, we can still do this action with our own consent, volition and eagerness. 

     I imagine we all have had experiences of this in the context of relationships. When someone asks us to do them a favor, we can leap up to eagerly and gladly do that favor. The fact that we were explicitly asked to do so does not necessarily take away from our sense that it is indeed, a favor, a gift, an act that expresses our valuing of the relationship.   

     Sometimes, when someone we are in relationship with asks us to do something, this can even transform a chore into an act we do with gladness. To give a personal example, when I wash a dish because my partner asks me to, I often feel like washing the dish is not simply a chore, but an opportunity to perform a meaningful act of love and care. 

     There is a way in which my own personal desire becomes transformed into a desire to satisfy another’s need.

     According to the first Ashkenazei Chief Rabbi of Israel Rav Avraham Yitzhak haKohen Kook, Jewish prayer is all about this paradoxical dynamic.

     Through prayer we clarify our own Ratzon – our will – our desires. At the same, through prayer we work to align our will with the will of the Holy Blessed One. When we use the words of the tradition and the siddur to articulate our hopes for peace, justice, freedom, a good life, healing or any of the other ideals which our tradition teaches us to pray for, we allow our own sense of what we desire to be transformed through relationship with G-d.

     This involves both our need to creatively interpret and adapt for contemporary circumstances

  • What we envision when we pray for a rebuilt Jerusalem, for example, may be different from the visions of earlier generations of Jews.

     This also involves some humbling of ourselves – acknowledging that our tradition may have what to teach us about what is worth praying for. 

     Rav Kook, in his commentary on the siddur in which he expounds upon this idea, emphasizes that this process of aligning our own will with the will of the Holy One is an ongoing, constant process that we should not expect to complete.

     Rather, when we engage in it willingly – opening our hearts to pray in a way that is both true to our own desires and in conversation with the aspirations of Jewish tradition – we can trust in the knowledge that G-d will accept our prayers.

     This is to say – when we pray honestly – we can have faith that we are deeply wanted and accepted by the Creator of All Life.

     May we each be strengthened in our efforts to pray with honesty, authenticity, and integrity. 

Ken Yhi Ratzon