The Reason Why the Blessing of “Ata Honen” Was Instituted as the First of the Series of ‘Blessings of Requests’
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 115) writes: “Since the advantage of human beings over animals is understanding and intelligence, our Sages instituted the blessing of ‘Ata Honen’ as the first of the ‘Middle Blessings’ of the Amida prayer” (the first three blessings of the Amida deal with praising Hashem followed by a series of blessings dedicated to requesting certain things from Hashem, such as, wisdom, repentance, atonement, redemption, health etc.).
In his Sefer Birkei Yosef, Maran Ha’Chida quotes the Mekubal, Rabbeinu Binyamin Ha’Kohen as saying that the reason for this is based on the idiom of our Sages that one may not pity a person who does not have intellect. For this reason, we beg Hashem to have mercy on us and bestow us with intellect so that we may be worthy of Hashem’s mercy regarding the other things we request during the Amida prayer.
The Proper Text of This Blessing
Regarding the text of the blessing, some say that the proper version is “La’Adam Da’at” (with a “Kamatz” under the “Lamed”) while others say the correct version is “Le’Adam Da’at” (with a “Sheva Na” under the “Lamed”). We customarily follow the latter opinion and there is no reason to change the pronunciation of this word.
Some say that one must say, “Ve’Honeinu Me’Itecha Chochma Binah Va'Da’at” with a “Vav of Conjugation” while others customarily omit the “Vav” and just say “Honeinu Me’Itecha”. The reason for the latter opinion to omit the “Vav” is because this phrase is not a continuation of the beginning of the blessing, “Ata Honen Le’Adam Da’at”; rather, it is the beginning of the request. Nevertheless, our custom is to recite “Ve’Honeinu,” for this is a continuation of the praise mentioned before it.
One May Add One’s Own Personal Requests in the Blessing of “Ata Honen”
One may add personal requests into the Amida prayer in an articulate and concise manner based on the specific content of the various blessings of the Amida. Thus, if one is not so successful in one’s studies because one forgets what he learns or because one is not so quick to understand, one may request to be granted wisdom in this blessing, for it is the Blessing of Wisdom.
Therefore, before one concludes the blessing by saying, “Ve’Honeinu Me’Itecha,” one may insert the following prayer: “May it be Your will, Hashem my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, that you bestow me with wisdom and understanding so that I may be able to grasp the deep secrets of Your Torah and grant me the privilege to remember my Torah study so that I may learn, teach, observe, and perform [your Torah and Mitzvot].” Similarly, one may add into his prayer, “And grant me the privilege to remember whatever I learn so that I may serve You,” if one is studying secular studies.