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I am somewhat new to the shmoneh esrei. Here's the first of a series of questions:

There's the three main prayers and the kedusha, followed by 14 (?) further requests that an individual davening the shmoneh esrei asks of the Creator. Are there any categories by which the requests can be grouped? Is there any common thread throughout all of the requests?

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for bringing your questions here! I edited out the second and third questions from your posts, since there's unlikely to be one answer that addresses all three of these questions. I encourage you to post them separately; you can get the text from the edit history. Finally, I suggest that you edit your profile and give yourself a name! – Isaac Moses May 27 '15 at 21:26
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The Gemara in Megillah 17b lays out the reasons for the order of the middle blessings. Some are based on verses, some on number associations, and some on proximity to other blessings. A summary:

The blessing for understanding is after the blessing of G-d's sanctity based on the verse והקדישו את קדוש יעקב ואת אלהי ישראל יעריצו (sanctity) being juxtoposed with וידעו תועי רוח בינה (understanding).

The blessing for repentance is based on the verse ולבבו יבין ושב ורפא לו (understanding followed by repentance).

The blessing for forgiveness follows repentance based on the verse וישוב אל ה' וירחמהו ואל אלהינו כי ירבה לסלוח (repentance followed by forgiveness).

The blessing for redemption follows that of forgiveness in order that redemption be the 7th blessing, as redemption will begin in the 7th year (of a shemitta cycle).

The blessing for healing follows in order that it be 8th, as bris mila, which requires healing, is on the 8th day.

The blessing for sustenance follows in order that it be 9th, as it corresponds to King David's prayer to foil the attempts of those who inflate prices in the markets, which King David did in the 9th chapter of Tehillim.

The blessing for ingathering the exiles follows that of sustenance as per the verse ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל כי קרבו לבוא.

The blessing for justice follows, as once the exiles are gathered in, justice will be reinstated, as per the juxtaposition of the verses אשיבה ידי עליך ואצרוף כבור סיגיך and ואשיבה שופטיך כבראשונה.

The blessing for the end of evil follows, as once justice is reinstated, evildoers will cease, as the verse two after the above verses is ושבר פושעים וחטאים יחדיו.

The blessing for the righteous follows, as once evil is vanquished, the righteous will be uplifted, based on the verse וכל קרני רשעים אגדע תרוממנה קרנות צדיק.

This will center around Yerushalayim, based on the verse שאלו שלום ירושלם ישליו אוהביך, and therefore the blessing for rebuilding Yerushalayim follows.

The blessing for the emergence of Moshiach follows, as after Yerushalayim is reestablished, Moshiach will come, as the verse says אחר ישובו בני ישראל ובקשו את ה' אלהיהם ואת דוד מלכם.

Once Moshiach comes, prayer will be heard, as the verse says והביאותים אל הר קדשי ושמחתים בבית תפלתי, and therefore the blessing for listening to prayer follows.

That takes us through the requests.

Some Rishonim give other explanations for some of the blessings. The Seder HaYom, for example, explains that redemption precedes health, and health precedes sustenance, as that is the order of prevalence of the needs - one cannot be concerned about the relatively long-term concern of their health when they are in imminent danger, and one cannot be concerned about their livelihood when their very life is not on certain footing.

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I read that the first 6 requests are all for individuals (meaning, even though they are requested in plural and on behalf of everyone, they are for individualistic needs) whereas the following requests are all communal (end of evil, redemption, re-institution of monarchy, etc.)

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The basic structure of Shemona Esrei is the first three blessings, the middle blessings and the last three blessings.

All Amidas on every day of the year have that structure, but on Shabbos and Holidays there is (generally) one blessing in the middle.

The first three are about recounting the praises of Hashem.

The middle is about requests for personal needs. On Shabbos and Holidays it is not considered appropriate to ask for specific personal needs, so the focus is switched to mentioning the content of the day.

The last three are to praise and thank Hashem for the good that He bestows.

The Rambam (Tefila 1:2) defines this as the basic required structure of biblical prayer.

In terms of how the blessings in the middle are structured, the general explanation given is that there is an order and logical progression between one and the next. You can read Shemoneh Esrei: The Depth and Beauty of Our Daily Tefillah by Zev Leff for a long discussion. In this book, he goes into the progression of the middle blessings as well, starting with in order to pray, one needs understanding (the 4th blessing). Once one has understanding, one needs to repent (the fifth blessing) and so on, giving various opinions about the exact relationship of one blessing to the next.

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