We are just prior to Tish’ah B’Av. May we see the salvation before this Tish’ah B’Av.
This week, we present Shemoneh Esrei 45 and 46 on the brachah of “R’tzei” followed by a segment on Tish’ah B’Av.
Tziyon b’mishpat tipadeh, v’shaveha bitz’dakah
Tzion shall be redeemed with justice,
and they that return of her with righteousness.
A Servant’s Plea
R’tzei, Hashem Elokeinu, b’amcha Yisrael u’vis’filasam
Be favorable, Hashem our G-d, toward Your people Israel and their prayer
We now address the last group of brachos in Shemoneh Esrei. In the Gemara in B’rachos (34a), Rav Yehudah says that one should not make requests in the first three brachos or in the last three brachos of Shemoneh Esrei. These are reserved for praising Hashem (the first three) and thanking Him (the last three).
However, when we look at the brachos of “R’tzei” and “Sim Shalom,” they seem to be full of requests. Tosafos explains that Rav Yehudah’s statement and limitation only pertained to requests on behalf of an individual. These brachos, however, contain requests for the entire klal Yisrael. The Avudraham (quoted in sefer Tal’lei Oros) explains that the requests contained in these last three brachos are actually requests for kavod to Hashem, because they relate to our avodah and shalom, which are “k’vod HaKadosh Baruch Hu.”
As we turn to the brachah of R’tzei, we are struck with a powerful question addressed by HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l (in sefer Tefilas Avigdor). He asks: We just completed the brachah of Shomei’a Tefilah, where we asked Hashem to hear and accept our tefilos. R’tzei, at first glance, seems to be exactly the same request?
HaRav Miller explains that the brachah of R’tzei is not asking Hashem to accept our tefilos, for we just, in fact, completed that request in “Shomei’a Tefilah.” Rather, we are now asking Hashem to accept our avodah of tefilah.
The key word in this brachah is the word “ratzon.” Rabbeinu Yonah (in shaar 1:42) explains that it is possible that Hashem forgives us for our sins and frees us of pains and decrees as a result, but He may still not desire us.
Imagine that someone wronged us. He asked our forgiveness so we forgave him, but since he hasn’t really tried to repair the relationship in a meaningful way, we don’t feel as close to him as we once did. We certainly won’t be inviting him to our home for a Shabbos meal.
Here, too, it is our “ratzon” to repair the relationship between us and Hashem to such an extent that we resume or even enhance our original relationship of warmth and closeness.
This brachah is all about expressing our intense desire for the close relationship between us and Hashem. The level of closeness will be determined by the intensity of our love and desire for that closeness.
Rav Miller points out that we mention the word “ratzon” three times in this brachah. This brachah was originally composed at the time of the second Beis HaMikdash (the words “v’hasheiv es ha’avodah” were added later on). The original intent, therefore, was for the acceptance of our avodah in the Beis HaMikdash. When we conclude the brachah with “Ha’machazir Sh’chinaso l’Tziyon,” that refers to the level of the Sh’chinah (meaning the closeness between Hashem and klal Yisrael) that was present in the first Beis HaMikdash but not in the second.
Next week, b’ezras Hashem, we will see how each phrase in this brachah asks Hashem to accept us and our avodah with “ratzon” (favor), because our ratzon (desire) and greatest joy is to serve Hashem with sh’leimus (perfection) and ahavah (love). We ask Hashem to grant us the ultimate pinnacle of closeness to Him in the place where Hashem’s presence and closeness can be felt to the greatest extent. May it occur hastily in our days.
There are various approaches to understanding this brachah, which affect the way the words are grouped and result in different meanings as well. We continue with our understanding of the brachah of R’tzei based upon HaRav Avigdor Miller zt”l in his work Tefilas Avigdor, and we present the nusach Ashkenaz because that is the nusach he presented there.
Rav Miller states that the primary intent of B’nei Yisrael in our service to Hashem is that our avodah (service) should find favor in the “eyes” of Hashem, as David HaMelech states: “To fulfill Your will, my G-d, do I desire” (T’hilim 40:9). Our greatest desire and our greatest simchah should be to perform the r’tzon Hashem, the will of Hashem.
The brachah begins with “R’tzei” and ends with “Ha’machazir…–Who restores His Presence to Zion.” Our connection to Hashem expressed here as “Sh’chinah,” which was strongest in the first Beis HaMikdash, is dependent upon the strength of our ratzon to serve Hashem. The word R’tzei is rooted in the word “la’rutz,” to run. One who has a strong desire for something either runs to attain it or at least has a strong desire to run towards it.
By engaging in tefilah, we display our passionate desire to attain closeness to Hashem and to perform Hashem’s avodah with love. We therefore ask Hashem to desire us and our avodah.
This brachah was originally composed at the time of the second Beis HaMikdash, when B’nei Yisrael were lacking in our connection to the Sh’chinah. This tefilah is asking for the intensity of the Sh’chinah of the first Beis HaMikdash to return. (Asking for the avodah to return in this brachah was later added after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash.)
R’tzei, Hashem Elokeinu, b’amcha Yisrael u’visfilasam
We ask Hashem to desire us, His nation, and to desire our tefilos in place of the avodah of the Beis HaMikdash. We desire and seek closeness to Hashem and, in that merit, we ask that Hashem grant us that closeness (Sh’chinah).
v’hasheiv es ha’avodah li’dvir beisecha
We ask for the avodah of the most inner part of the Beis HaMikdash, the Kodesh HaKodashim (“d’vir”), to return. We ask for this first because it is the primary place of the Sh’chinah.
This refers to the avodah of the korbanos on the outer Mizbei’ach. The avodah of the korbanos brought closeness (the word “korban” means to come close) to Hashem.
u’sefilasam b’ahavah s’kabeil b’ratzon
We ask Hashem to accept the avodah of our tefilah (we already asked for the actual tefilah to be accepted in the previous brachah) with desire, because our tefilah is offered with love.
u’s’hi l’ratzon tamid avodas Yisrael amecha
We ask Hashem to help us perform our future avodah consistently with “sh’leimus” so that it will be “desired” by Hashem.
Ha’machazir sh’chinaso l’Tziyon
We conclude by asking Hashem to return His Sh’chinah to Zion, thereby granting us the ultimate closeness to Hashem, where Hashem’s presence and closeness can be felt to the greatest extent. May it occur speedily in our days.
The Gemara in Makos tells us that a person who had accidentally killed a fellow Jew was in danger of losing his life, unless he fled to a city of refuge – an “ir miklat” – and remained there. These “prisoners” were released from the arei miklat upon the death of the Kohen Gadol. The Gemara asks: What did the Kohen Gadol do wrong that caused him to be in the position where these people are waiting for him to die so that they can go free? The Gemara answers that he should have davened more for his people so that nobody would kill another person, even unintentionally.
We see two crucial points about tefilah from this Gemara. HaRav Shlomo Wolbe focuses on the responsibility of one to daven for those who rely upon that person. He quotes another Gemara where Eliyahu HaNavi told Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that he was responsible for the lion that killed his neighbor, because he should have davened harder for those around him. HaRav Wolbe mentions that he felt that whatever he accomplished was only because his mother davened for him up to ten times a day.
HaRav Henoch Leibowitz focuses on another crucial aspect of this Gemara. We know that all that happens is totally just, and calculated with exact precision. We see here that, although Hashem decreed that one person should fall off of a ladder and kill another person, had the Kohen Gadol davened harder, the death would not have happened, despite the decree! HaRav Leibowitz shows from the end of the 19th perek of M’silas Y’sharim that this is true not only for a Kohen Gadol or gadol ha’dor, but for each and every one of us. The M’silas Y’sharim says that each of our tefilos has the power to bring Mashiach! There are other reasons why Mashiach has not come yet, but in potential, any of our tefilos has the ability to even bring Mashiach.
When we combine these two aspects of tefilah, we see the tremendous responsibility Hashem has placed upon us, and the power that Hashem has bestowed upon us to daven for those who look to us for support of any kind. I recall one amazing high school rebbe who told me how he davens for the children in his shiur. Parents, grandparents, friends, therapists, doctors, etc. all would seem to have this opportunity, responsibility, and power.
May we be zocheh to daven for each other, for klal Yisrael as a whole, and for the close connection with the Sh’chinah to return speedily in our days.
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You can direct any questions or comments to Eliezer Szrolovits at 917-551-0150.