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Prayerbook Vocabulary Studies
August 22, 2008
© Rabbi Jack Moline

The hiatus has ended, and it is time to return to building a vocabulary of prayer.

We have looked at the words that make up the first three blessings in the Amidah. Three blessings end every Amidah as well. Fewer people are familiar with them because we have not put them to memory, and they are the most likely to be skipped when we interrupt our personal prayers as we notice other people sitting down around us. But these words hold some important and inspiring meaning.

Of all the many emotions we have, "want" is the most magical. As opposed to need, desire, crave or any of the other words we use for a somewhat unavoidable yearning, "want" is a process inside of us that hopes to create a result by some internal direction of attitude. From within, we expect that our thoughts will have an effect on the outside world.

The word "R'tzei" is the command form (or, in this case, the pleading form) of the word for "want" in Hebrew. We are most familiar with it in other forms, including its overuse in modern Hebrew conversation as "rotzeh" and "rotzah." In payer, we hear it most often as "ratzon," which is usually translated as the noun "will." "Y'hi ratzon" is usually understood to mean "may it be [Your] will."

But what we are really saying when we direct this plea at God is that we hope and pray that God will use God's own internal process on our behalf. In a sense, it is the sacred version of the old rock and roll song from back in the day: I want you to want me. (By the way, after some research I confirmed that Cheap Trick sang that song Ė a piece of information a lot of people get wrong!)

Perhaps there is no more godly impulse within us than wanting. When God wants something to take place, it does. Modern charlatans would have us believe that thinking something in just the right way can make it happen, as if we were Dorothy coming home from Oz. Of course, that is nonsense. Only wanting without our actions it is mere wishful thinking. But the power to influence the world around us begins with wanting, just like the consciousness of God's desire for relationship with us begins with wanting God to want us.

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