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The sixteenth blessing of the Shmoneh Esrei says, שמע קולנו...וקבל ברחמים וברצון את תפילתנו: "Hear our voice...and accept our prayer with compassion and favor."

It seems redundant and circular to ask Hashem to answer our prayers. If he was not going to answer our prayers, why would he answer this one?

What does this blessing accomplish?

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isn't it more than that? It sums up (to counter balance "hashem sfatai tiftach" which asks that we will be enabled to ask properly) and asks not just that hashem hears, but that he responds favorably. We dont make a request and walk away -- we repeat the sentiment that we hope we did it right and even if we aren't inherently worthy, hashem will have mercy and help us out. –  Danno Jun 24 '13 at 22:52
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@Danno that sounds like an answer. Got a source (even, "I was taught...")? –  Seth J Jun 25 '13 at 1:55
    
@SethJ nope, that's why I left the comment. It just makes sense to me. –  Danno Jun 25 '13 at 3:19

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Here's one possible answer, from the commentary Maggid Tzedek on the siddur (link to page):

כדאיתא במסכת תענית (דף כה:): שמואל הקטן גזר תעניתא וירדו להם גשמים קודם הנץ החמה. כסבורין העם לומר שבחו של צבור הוא. אמר להם: אמשול לכם משל למה הדבר דומה, לעבד שמבקש פרס מרבו, אמר להם: תנו לא ואל אשמע קולו

As is related in Masekhet Ta'anit (page 25b): Shmuel HaKatan decreed a fast day [because of drought] and rain fell [in the early morning of the decreed fast day] before sunrise [and therefore before the public had even started offering their fast day prayers]. The people thought that this spoke to the merit of the community [i.e., the granting of their desire so quickly]. He [Shmuel HaKatan] said to them, I'll offer a parable regarding what has happened: a servant sought a boon from his master. He [the master] said: Give him what he wants but just don't make me have to hear his voice.

So too here, we express the desire that, outside of any actual granting of our requests, the voice of our asking itself be privileged to be desired and not obnoxious.... The commentator goes on to offer several other answers, all different and all interesting.

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But doesn't this anecdote imply that the prayer was answered so quickly specifically because their voice was obnoxious? It almost sounds like a benefit, not a detriment. –  Aaron Jun 25 '13 at 17:52
    
a benefit in a 'utilitarian' way, but the commentator's idea in juxtaposing the talmudic anecdote with 'shma kolenu' is to suggest a dimension to prayer that is different than or beyond the utilitarian... which constitutes the subject of this brakhah of the amidah. –  paquda Jun 25 '13 at 18:19
    
Reminds me of this quote: Rabbi Bunim of Peshiskhe asks, concerning the verse, "You shall go upon your belly, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life" (Bereishit 3:14): What kind of curse is this? The snake is being promised that its food will always be readily available; it will never have to search for it! The curse, he explains, is that since the snake will always have food, it will never feel itself to be in need of God's mercies, and will never have the opportunity to pray to Him. (vbm-torah.org/archive/sichot68/06-68toledot.htm) –  Adam Mosheh Jun 26 '13 at 18:07

Assuming we are referring to the requests we've made previously, there are still ways in which a request can be granted. Indeed we do not implore God "accept our prayers", but "pity us and accept our prayers mercifully and amiably". We could at very least be asking that our requests be granted in a nice way rather than a scornful one.

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I don't know the source, but I remember hearing a medrash that states that when a tefillah is not answered affirmatively, the tefillah is still "stored up" as a merit for the person or klal Yisrael. It's possible that we are not asking for Hashem to respond to our prayers, as we do not say "answer" or "respond" but just that they be accepted.

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