Shemoneh Esrei has 3 sections:
1. 1st three – Praising Hashem
2. Middle 13 – Requesting things from Hashem
3. Last three – Thanking Hashem.
Question: Modim, the middle brochah of the last three is clearly a thank you, but the 1st seems to be a REQUEST to restore the avodah, presumably of the Bais HaMikdosh, and the 3rd also appears to be a REQUEST for peace – Why, then, are they included in the section of Thanking Hashem? Clearly, they must, but it’s not readily apparent?
You are asking a very good question.
The Radvaz in fact answers that the first and last of these three brachos are indeed not talking about thanking Hashem, rather they are the “order of thanks” in which Modim is the main bracha. These three brachos are one order in the sense that if someone made a mistake during these three brachos (i.e. forgot to say yaaleh v’yavo) he has to start the order of brachos again.
Avudraham (Tikun Hatefilos V’inyinihem pg.6) asks this question and he answers that since all three brachos are relating to the praise of Hashem, they are considered saying thanks to Him. To explain this a little more specifically, R S. Shwab on Tefilla explains why this bracha is not a bracha of requests. He brings what R’ S. R. Hirsh says that our tefillos are a representation of the different parts of the korban tamid, (daily sacrifice) that was offered in the Bais Hamikdash, and that the bracha of Ritzei represents the mincha offering given together with the actual korban. He explains that the purpose of this offering or present was simply given in order to please Hashem, the same way give another a present in order to show that you feel close to the person and to make the other person feels good. So too, the bracha of Ritzei is not like the other brachos, where we are asking Hashem for our physical or spiritual needs, in this bracha, says R’ Schwab, we have a different goal. We are praying not for ourselves, but for Hashem’s benefit (as it may), and our prayer is simply that Hashem should find favor and pleasure in our prayer, not in order that he give us anything, but specifically because we want Hashem to “gain” from it. (Even though in truth we can’t really “give” Hashem anything because whatever we have is His creation, nevertheless, we mean here to give without the intention of receiving something in return.) This is similar to the verse (Tehillim 115-1) “Lo lanu Hashem lo lanu, ki l’shimcha tain kavod” It is not for us Hashem, rather for your holy name…
Therefore, he explains the bracha as the following. Hashem please find favor in us and our prayers, (why? so you will be pleased). And return the real service to the Bais Hamikdash, and then the prayers and sacrifices will really find favor and love in your heart. And may the time that you will return to your Holy glory to the Bais Hamikdash should happen soon, and we should merit to see your glory. According to what R’ Schwab is saying, this bracha is not another request that Hashem bestow us with something, rather a gift for Hashem, that His name should be uplifted.
Regarding “Sim Shalom” which is essentially asking for all of our needs, there is a different idea that will help us understand this. The Posuk says (Bereishis 29-35) “And Leah said, “this time I will thank Hashem” and she called him Yehuda, and she stopped having bearing children”. The meforshim ask, what is the connection between Leah thanking Hashem and her stopping to have more children. Is this what happens when we thank Hashem? The answer that is given, is that when we thank Hashem for anything, it is different than when we thank anyone else for anything they have done for us. When we thank someone for a favor that they did, the thank you is essentially closes a circle, the person gave to us and now we are paying them back by thanking them. Now the favor in a way is done, paid for and we can continue on in life.
When it comes to Hashem that is not the way it works. We are always dependent on Him, we always needed Him, and without His constant benevolence, we would instantly cease to exist. Therefore, to merely say “thank you Hashem” is falling short, with our thank you. We are never close a circle with our thanking Hashem. In fact, part of the way of thanking Hashem is by saying that we are always indebted to You, because no matter how much He gives us we will always be dependent on Him, because we will always have other needs. Therefore, the correct way to thank Hashem is specifically by adding, a request that although He helped us until now, but please Hashem continue to help us. This is what we say in Nishmas “until now you have helped us and you haven’t left us” and then we ask “and please Hashem don’t ever forsake us”. This is also what we do in Birkas Hamazon, when after we thank Hashem for the food that He gave us, we beseech Him with the prayer “Rachem”. This is also what we do every time we daven, after Modim we continue to ask Hashem to continue to help us. Therefore, the last bracha is also part of the thanks. Therefore, we tell Hashem, not only is whatever we got until now from you, but we will always rely on you for all of our needs, peace, goodness, blessing, life and everything else is all only from, and always will be only from you.
Therefore, this bracha is also an unbelievably strong form of saying thanks. In fact, it is a stronger way of thanking that is reserved only for Hashem.