Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 24 October 2015 / 11 Heshvan 5776

Shemoneh Esrei: Seventeenth Blessing

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
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The seventeenth blessing marks the beginning of the third and closing section of the Shemoneh Esrei, where we offer up words of thanksgiving and departure as we take leave. Here is a passage from the Talmud elaborating on the essential nature of the three sections in our Shmoneh Esrei prayer:

Rabbi Chanina said, “In the first three blessings one is likened to a servant who offers praise before his master; in the middle blessings he is like a servant requesting an allotment from his master; and in the last three blessings he is like a servant who has received his allotment from his master.”

Of these three parts, the final section presents a difficulty. When saying this section it seems obvious that the worshipper has not yet received his requests, for he only made them a very brief time ago. As such, what exactly is he thanking G-d for? It is not possible to answer that the worshipper is thanking G-d for deciding to grant his request, since he does not yet know whether G-d has in fact decided to do so.

The answer is that one who prays to G-d must walk away from his prayer as if he has already been granted that which he has requested. But this appears difficult to understand. What if in the end the person does not get what he asked for? Would his words of thanks be uttered in vein?

No. When one prays, he is meant to be thankful, hopeful and understanding. On the one hand, he should display hope that his request will be granted. However, if in the end it isn’t, he must accept that outcome as well without regret. One must be grateful for the opportunity to have been able to approach G-d with his request, knowing that a decision not to grant his request is also for the best.

From the above we see that prayer is not merely about getting what we are asking for, since in many instances we are not granted our request, Rather prayer is about approaching G-d, displaying our total dependency and trust in Him to take care of our needs. Accordingly, we thank G-d both for giving us the opportunity to approach Him with our requests, and for the love and care that we receive from Him.

Based on this we can understand why we continue to beseech G-d over and over for the same thing. In each request there is merit. In fact, the more we persist and continue to ask, the greater is our display of trust in G-d. Accordingly, we can now understand why we are in fact encouraged to continue praying to G-d even if we do not see answers.

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