As we will see in Mitzvah #433, there is an obligation for us to try to get closer to God through prayer. To help us fulfill this, our Sages established a prayer to be recited thrice-daily, corresponding to the prayers of our Forefathers. This prayer is called the Amidah (because it is recited standing); the weekday version is also called Shemoneh Esrei, the Eighteen Benedictions (although a nineteenth has since been added). Once a week for nineteen weeks, we will review the contents of the 19 blessings of “Shemoneh Esrei.”
Until this point, we have asked God for our personal needs – health, sustenance, wisdom, forgiveness, etc. With this bracha, our focus transitions from the needs of the individual to the needs of Israel as a nation. Specifically, we ask that He gather us reunite us as one nation.
In the tenth benediction, we ask that God “sound the great shofar” and “raise the banner” in order to gather the exiled Jews from around the globe and to return all of us to the land of Israel. The use of the shofar and the banner to signal the return of those exiled are themes in the Book of Isaiah – see Isaiah 27:13 and 11:12, respectively. (The word for banner–neis–also means a miracle, which we could certainly use!)
We ask that God gather our dispersed from the “four corners of the Earth” –another quote from Isaiah 11:12. Israel is the place towards which we would have Him gather us. The Midrash Tanchuma describes Israel as the center of the world. Furthermore, Jerusalem is in the center of Israel, the Temple is in the center of Jerusalem, and the Holy of Holies containing the Ark is in the center of the Temple. Accordingly, the focal point of the “four corners of the Earth” is not only our land, but ultimately the Temple, the site of our service to God.
The blessing’s conclusion is that Hashem is “M’kabeitz nidchei amo Yisrael” – the One Who gathers the dispersed of His nation, Israel. The word nidchei–dispersed–is found in both Isaiah 11:12 (the verse about raising the banner) and 27:13 (the verse that refers to sounding “the great shofar”). The middle portion of 27:13 is familiar as the song “U’va’u HaOvdim,” in which we sing that God will collect those who were lost in Assyria and dispersed in Egypt. The referent is the ten “lost” Tribes. Even before those Tribes had been scattered by the Assyrians, the nation was divided by a civil war into two kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Not only do we wish for our lost brethren to be returned from exile, we long to be reunited with them ideologically, becoming again a unified Jewish people.
Looking at Isaiah 27:13, it is interesting to note the two nations named as examples of exile. Assyria–Ashur in Hebrew–suggests happiness and wealth. The name for Egypt–Mitzrayim–suggests “tzaros” (or “tzuris”) –that is, suffering. In some lands of exile, the Jews prospered and assimilated (“lost in a land of ashur”). In other lands, they suffered and were marginalized (“scattered in a land of tzaros”). No matter the circumstances, exile is exile and we pray to be reunited with all of our brethren, the children of Israel.