Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller
Shacharit begins with the morning blessings that relate primarily to the world as we know it. Psukei D’zimra, a selection from Psalms, follows. These poems are meant to express who we are in a greater context. Next comes Shema and its blessings, which move us a step higher. Shema tells us that Hashem is one in the world and that the world has no existence without Him. We are totally dependent on His will for our present and continued existence. We are now ready for the pearl of prayer, the Shemoneh Esrei. Everything that is recited prior to this is only a preparation for this.
The Shemoneh Esrei consists of praise, request, and thanks. We begin with praise. On a human level, blessing is about letting the person know who they are. Praising Hashem means letting ourselves know in whose presence we are. The first blessing is called Avot because we attempt to see Hashem through the eyes of our forefathers. The Avot lived spiritual lives that were so vast that Hashem promised them that their spiritual message would endure with their descendants.
Each forefather had a different glimpse of Hashem, just as a circle of dancers see the same center from different angles. We describe Hashem as hagodol hagibor v’hanora, great, powerful and awesome. “Great” means that everything in the world has one source, Hashem. Avraham was the first to recognize this. Yitzchak continued where Avraham left off. He saw Hashem as powerful, as one who constrained himself within time, nature, and the possibility of distance. Yitzchak developed this strength within himself through self-control and overcoming his ego. Yaakov experienced Hashem as awesome. This does not mean scary, where one anticipates something bad, but rather overpowering.
The second blessing is Gevurat Hashem. It describes how Hashem conceals Himself within nature. He created death, which conceals His presence, and rainfall, which allows us to see life as seemingly continuing on its own.
The third blessing is Ata Kadosh, which depicts Hashem’s holiness. Holiness means above everything and not limited to the mundane. Hashem is transcendent. A person who recognizes Hashem and is grateful for all His goodnes will be happy all his life. This is because one naturally rejoices more in a gift received from a loved one rather than something received from someone he does not know. Likewise, if we recognize Hashem as the author of all our challenges, our responses change. If we learn to perceive Hashem as holy, we can see holiness in other people and ourselves. Our lives then become very different.
The blessings of requests are divided in four groups, spiritual, material, requests for meaning in our lives, and requests for the sake of the Jewish people. We first ask for consciousness and insight because without that, nothing Hashem gives us has value. Daat is the ability to know what to do practically. One should concentrate on asking Hashem for the intellect to make the right decisions.
In the next blessing we ask for redemption. The only way to change is by changing and many times we try but do not succeed. We ask Hashem for physical and emotional energy to effect change. Whether it is by meeting inspiring people or dealing with life altering situations, we need to take the first step. The rest is up to Hashem.
The third blessing deals with forgiveness. True forgiveness means that the damage was completely rectified and ultimately only Hashem can grant that.
In the next group of blessings we ask Hashem for material things. We ask Hashem to see our pain and redeem us. This is not about our collective exile but about our own personal pain and exile. Some of us are entrapped in difficult relationships, bad financial decisions, or corruptive desires and ego. We ask Hashem to release us from our individual prisons and help us confront our struggles.
We then pray for healing. We need to recognize that some effort must be invested to heal ourselves, but ultimately the results are up to Hashem. The Rambam teaches us that a person can relate to illness in three ways. He can say he is a victim and the illness just happened to strike. A different response is to think whether or not he recovers is up to the skill of the doctor. Alternatively a person could respond by realizing that if this happened to me it has something to do with me. Some people handle grave illnesses by becoming more humble and appreciative. Others become embittered, angry, or suicidal. A person must acknowledge that challenges are tailor made for us and the one thing one should not do is remain the same.