Amidah: From 4th Blessing to Teshuva
What does prayer usually mean? – Usually supplications and requests. When we say Baruch ata Hashem, etc. we associate it with praise, or thanks, or acknowledgement. Therefore, Tefillah and bracha are not the same. Actually, they are almost diametrically opposed in certain areas. Now what is the highest form of prayer? – The Shmone Esrei, the eighteen blessings. So here we have two ideas that are so different from each other, yet we find that the ultimate prayer is comprised of eighteen (actually, nineteen) blessings. It doesn’t seem to be consistent with our idea of what blessings are. Why would the siddur do that? I believe the answer may be found in the difference in structure between the fourth to the fifth blessing of Shmone Esrei.
In the blessing, Hashiveinu Avinu l’Toratecha – “Bring us back, our Father, to your Torah,” it begins with a request, a supplication. The sixth blessing also begins with a supplication. In fact, we say, S’lach lanu Avinu ki Chatanu – “Forgive us, our Father, for we have sinned against You unintentionally.” M’chal lanu Malkeinu ki phashanu – “Pardon us, our King, for we have rebelled against You.” After we have made this request, we say Ki Mochel v’soleach ata – “For You pardon and forgive.” If you look through the rest of the blessings they maintain that same structure.
What caused that change in structure? Why would we begin the section of requests by first acknowledging God, and only after that making our supplication, and then change by beginning with supplication followed by acknowledgement?
I believe that this parallels our first question as to why the ultimate prayer is comprised of blessings, which are so essentially different.
Many times people say that they hesitate to ask God for something because they feel that “they become most religious” only when they need something from God. (“When I need something, I daven.”) Remember that episode of Thirtysomething last year, when his wife was about to die? He had that prayer to God in the bathroom. It was so interesting that whenever we want or need things, we are prepared to pray. Many people are uncomfortable with that inconsistency, not hypocrisy. So people are hesitant to ask God for things.
And by the way, there is no better way to acknowledge God than by asking God for something and to feel that asking Him for something is meaningful. You don’t ask someone on the street for a major favor. If you need a lot of help you ask from a friend, or from someone you believe that there is a reasonable chance of getting something. Even in asking for the favor, there is a certain amount of connection. That’s how children begin their connection with their parents. As they begin to ask, they develop the feeling of being safe enough to ask. It hurts if you ask and you are refused. You feel trusting enough that this person can help you. And a connection develops knowing that this person has the ability to give it to you. All these things are expressed when a child asks a parent for something.
Similarly, all these things are expressed when we ask God for something. It isn’t the supplication that is important. It is the relationship that is forged in the making the supplication that is important.
Actually, when we make a supplication of God, we are giving God a blessing. Because that is the deepest acknowledgement that God is present, that God is interested, and that God is involved. The highest form of blessing is to make a supplication. And to believe there is a reason that you feel comfortable in making that supplication. It also means that in our prayers, the prayer itself is not of primary importance. It’s what develops from the Tefillah that is primary. The prayer only is as much as it is expressed as a result of the prayer.
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