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Why are you supposed to repeat shmoneh esreh on certain days if you forgot to say the special insertion pertaining to that day? If, for example, you realize at the end of shmoneh esre during aseret yemei tshuva that you forgot to say hamelech hakadosh, why does that warrant a repetition of the entire shmoneh esre?

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What if you skipped a bracha? (I think you're trying to ask as opposed to something else. You should clarify that.) –  Double AA Mar 9 '12 at 15:03
    
I'm with @DoubleAA, the question is not clear. Are you asking why by a hamelech hakadosh mistake we go back to the first bracha, or why if you mess up an addition and finish tefilla you go back to the beginning instead of to the mistake? –  YDK Apr 16 '12 at 5:18
    
@YDK the latter. I just added the example because the site wouldn't let me post the question otherwise –  Ari A Apr 16 '12 at 23:46
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In general, as explained in Shulchan Aruch Horav Siman 114:8 if one changes the start and end of any Beracha from the way the Anshei Keneses Hagdolah established, then the Beracha is invalid hence the person did not fulfill his/her obligation. Now, the first 3 Berochos are considered one unit and the last 3 Berochos are considered one unit, therefore, if one made a mistake in one of them (meaning: 1 of the 3 first or 1 of the 3 last Berochos) then all 3 are invalid. However, the other 13 Berochos are separate units. In short, when one makes a mistake, and did not yet finish Shmone Esrei, s/he goes back to the beginning of that unit, i.e. if one forgets Tal Umatar they go back to the Borech Aleinu unit; if one forgets Hamelech Hakodosh they go back to the first 3 Berochos unit. But once s/he finished SA there is no way to go back to a unit without starting over from the beginning. Besides the beginning and ending of Berochos there are certain phrases which the Anshei Keneses Hagdolah ordained that they must be said and if they were not said then that unit is invalid and one has to go back to that unit as explained above.
[Edit:] Besides the beginning and end of Berochos there are other factors as well like the lack of mentioning the uniqueness of the day which is said of the recognition of the day given to us by HKBH, like Rosh Chodesh, calls for a repeat. The lack of mentioning Gevuras Geshamem is as important as Techiyas Hameisim (but it can't be mentioned in the winter because at that time of the year it's a curse) and therefore the lack thereof calls for a repeat. Asking for rain in Bareich Aleinu is very important because we are asking HKBH to keep us alive by giving us food (rain causes food to grow), lack of asking for our livelihood straight from The Source of Life calls for a repeat.(In the winter we don't ask for rain because then it's a curse.) By Hamelech Hakodosh (and also Hamelech Hamishpot according to those who apply the same rules) it's because we must be aware and cognizant of the fact that HKBH is judging the world and lack of this recognition calls for a repeat.

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Okay, but then why, for example, do we need to go back for saying משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם in the wrong season, or the same with ותן טל ומטר, or missing Yaaleh Veyavo? None of these are the beginnings or ends of their respective berachos. –  Alex Apr 12 '12 at 4:40
    
@Alex I edited my answer to include your concern –  Meir Zirkind Apr 12 '12 at 5:40
    
MeirZirkind, so basically your answer is that it is all arbitrary. –  Double AA Apr 12 '12 at 6:08
    
@DoubleAA Instead of "arbitrary", I prefer to say "fixed by the Anshei Keneses Hagdolah". I have used the idea of approaching even a constitutional monarch where there are rules of behaviour (see here) to understand that there are rules when seeking audience with HaShem (lehavdil). –  Avrohom Yitzchok Apr 12 '12 at 13:31
    
@DoubleAA: We always approach any teaching of the Chachamim as having a sound (non-arbitrary) basis, even if at the outset of the question, it appears inconsistent. To dispel the perception of arbitrariness, one needs to study each insertion separately, to understand the reason for why it does/does not require repeating the Shmonah Esrei. –  Sam Goldberg Apr 12 '12 at 21:22
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