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.”
In something of a self-referential bracha, we pray that God accept our prayers.
We first ask that God hear our voice, which is odd, seeing that the Shemoneh Esrei is recited silently. Rather than the sound of our voices, this refers to the motivations underlying our prayers. We continue by requesting that He take pity and have compassion on us, and accept our prayers with desire and mercy. The different terms refer to different types of supplicants. One who is deserving might have his prayer happily accepted by God, i.e., out of a sense of “desire” (as far as such sentiments can be said to apply to God). A less-deserving supplicant might only have His prayer accepted because of God’s mercy.
The bracha continues that the reason we can ask for this is that God hears prayers, so we request that He not turn us away empty-handed. Even if we don’t get all the things we’d like, we are confident that He will give us what we need and not send us away with nothing. We conclude the blessing that God hears His people’s prayer and responds with mercy. We refer to “prayer” in the singular (as opposed to “prayers”) because each of us recites the same standardized text of Shemoneh Esrei. The result is that, while it is communal in nature, it is still a single prayer.
It is common to insert personal requests in this bracha; this is also the place where individuals insert the prayer Aneinu (“answer us”) on fast days. Kabbalas Tefillah is the last bracha of the middle section of the Shemoneh Esrei, which is only recited on weekdays. The last three brachos, like the first three, are also recited as part of the Shabbos and holiday Amidah.