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.”
The last statement in the last mishnah in the last tractate in Shas (Uktzin 3:12) tells us that the only vessel God could use to contain all His blessings for Israel is peace. The author of this statement, Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta, bases this idea on Psalms 29:11, “God will bless His nation with peace.” Accordingly, the final bracha of Shemoneh Esrei is for peace, which is the vessel that contains all other blessings.
We ask that God instill peace of mind, along with a recognition of and appreciation for His goodness, grace, kindness, blessing and mercy, all of which are subject to our perceptions. (“Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has” – Avos 4:1. God’s gifts are as much about making ourselves aware of them as they are about receiving them in the first place!)
We continue by asking God to shine on us with the light of His metaphorical “face.” This is the method He has used to give us such blessings as Torah and a love of performing acts of kindness, as well as righteousness, blessing, mercy, life and peace. Finally, we request that God find it good to bless us with His peace at all times.
At the afternoon and evening prayer services, instead of “Sim Shalom” (“Instill Peace”), we recite “Shalom Rav,” that God should establish abundant peace upon us because He is the Master of all forms of peace. We ask for “abundant peace” at night, since that is a time of great uncertainty for people.
In the morning service, and in the afternoon service on fast days, the shaliach tzibbut inserts Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, in this bracha. This is the series of three benedictions that the kohanim would recite daily in the Temple, culminating in a blessing for God’s peace.
Following Shemoneh Esrei, we recite a series of personal supplications composed by Mar the son of Ravina (Brachos 17a). These include requests that Hashem help us to refrain from speaking evil, that we be able to be silent in the face of those who curse us, and that we become humble like the dust underfoot (which is not harmed by those who walk on it). We wish to open our hearts to God’s Torah and pursue His mitzvos. Therefore, may those who plot against us be thwarted in their schemes even before they get started. We ask that God answer our prayers not for our sakes but so that we can further His mission for us in the world.