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.”
We thank God for all He has done and continues to do for us, as He has always done. He is the immovable Rock upon Whom we can always rely and the impenetrable Shield that protects us in every generation. We praise Him and tell everyone about His greatness because of our very lives and souls, which are entrusted to His care, as well as for His miracles and wonders, which are all around us at all times. His mercy and kindness know no bounds, and we have always placed our trust in Him.
The blessing continues that all living things will thank God forever and sincerely praise His name. We conclude that God’s Name is “The Good” and that it is fitting for us to thank Him. We bow at the start of this blessing (“Modim Anachnu Lach”) and again at the conclusion, when we say “Baruch Atah Hashem.” The Talmud in Baba Kama (16a) compares one who refuses to bow in Modim to a snake. Just as the serpent of Eden refused to subjugate his will before God and needed to be permanently humbled, one who refuses to humble himself before God must ultimately be broken.
During the public repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, when the shaliach tzibbur recites this bracha, the congregants each recite “Modim d’Rabbanan,” a variant form of the prayer composed by the rabbis for this purpose. While the shaliach tzibbur can adequately represent the congregation in prayer, each person really must express his own gratitude to Hashem for all the good in his or her own life.
This bracha is where the prayer Al HaNissim is inserted on Chanukah and Purim. It is only fitting that we thank Him for these miracles in the blessing dedicated to thanks!