Question: May one add one’s own personal requests into the Amida prayer? What is the correct custom regarding this matter?
Answer: Our Sages (Berachot 34a) discuss whether or not one may add personal requests into one’s Amida prayer and said, as follows: “One may never ask for one’s personal needs during either the first three blessings or the last three blessings of the Amida.” This means that personal requests may not be inserted into either the first three or the last three blessings of the Amida. However, one may add one’s personal requests into any of the other blessings of the Amida when it relates to the context of that specific blessing. The Tur and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 112) rule accordingly.
The reason why may not ask for any personal requests during the first or last three blessings of the Amida is because these blessings are meant as praise to Hashem or requests for the entire Jewish nation’s needs which is also included in the praises of Hashem. Indeed, when one comes before a king to request something, one must begin by speaking the praises of the king and only then can one ask for one’s request. Thus, we begin the Amida prayer by praising Hashem in the first three blessings. It is certainly not appropriate to insert personal requests while praising the king. Similarly, during the last three blessings which are meant as praise to Hashem through requesting certain things for the entire Jewish nation, i.e. that Hashem accept their prayers and service, that He accept our praise and thanks, and that Hashem bestow peace upon us, it is likewise inappropriate to insert any personal requests at this time.
Nevertheless, according to the letter of the law, one may add personal requests during the other blessings which make up the Amida prayer based on the subject matter of that specific blessing: For instance, during the “Hashivenu” blessing, one may request that Hashem help him to repent fully, during the “Refa’enu” blessing, one may request that Hashem heal an individual who is ill, and during the “Barechenu” blessing, one may pray for one’s livelihood. During the “Shema Kolenu” blessing, one may request anything one needs, for this blessing includes all prayers. Similarly, one may request anything one needs after reciting the “Yihyu Le’Ratzon” verse.
The proper way to insert a personal request into the blessings of the Amida is by first reciting the blessing until just before the conclusion of the blessing, insert one’s personal request, and then proceed to conclude the blessing. For instance, one should begin reciting the “Refa’enu” blessing until one reaches the words “Ve’Ha’aleh Arucha U’Marpeh Le’Chol Tachalu’enu Ulchol Mach’ovenu Ulchol Makotenu,” one should then insert a prayer for one to heal the ill individual, and only then should one proceed to conclude the blessing with the words “Ki El Rofeh Rahman Ve’Ne’eman Ata Baruch Ata Hashem Rofeh Holeh Amo Yisrael.”
Nevertheless, one should take care not to carry on lengthily with one’s personal requests during the Amida prayer so that one does not, G-d-forbid, say meaningless or improper things while praying; rather, one should take care to ask for one’s requests in a precise, eloquent, and concise manner.
We must point out that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l would advise individuals who were ill and came to request his blessing that the most preferable part of the Amida prayer to pray for them is within the “Refa’enu” blessing as opposed to the “Shema Kolenu” blessing.
Once, a member of Maran zt”l’s family was going through a complicated medical manner. Maran zt”l instructed the family to pray for her within the “Refa’enu” blessing. They nevertheless prayed for her within the “Shema Kolenu.” A few days later, Maran zt”l called over a family member and asked him, “Why are you not praying for her in the ‘Refa’enu’ blessing?” He replied that he was indeed praying for her in “Refa’enu.” Maran zt”l, in a moment of Ru’ach Ha’Kodesh replied, “No you are not! You are praying for her in ‘Shema Kolenu’; If you would pray for her in ‘Refa’enu,’ the prayer will be accepted!”
In another instance, Maran zt”l was informed that a certain young man was in a downward spiral in his spiritual life. Upon standing next to Maran zt”l while he was praying, we heard him praying for this young man after the second “Yihyu Le’Ratzon” at the end of the Amida prayer. For about half a minute or so, Maran zt”l beseeched Hashem that He infuse this individual with a spirit of purity so that he may repent fully before Hashem. Maran zt”l would actually pray for several individuals as this point of the Amida. Once, in passing, we mentioned a certain individual that was suffering from a mental illness and Maran zt”l immediately replied, “I pray for him every day and his name is so-and-so.” This individual was not necessarily someone close to Maran zt”l but his situation touched Maran’s heart and he prayed for him every day.