Project: to daven the first bracha of the Amidah (Avot) with kavanah, to keep in mind that our successes and everything that flows into our hands are merited through the deeds of our ancestors and through the kindness of Hashem rather than our own strength and might.
Question: If a person loses kavanah during the Amidah, the Shulchan Arukh does not require that person to return to repeat the Amidah unless they did not have kavanah during the first bracha (Avot). What makes the first bracha special? Why would the Shulchan Arukh require a person to repeat the Amidah because of this bracha and not the others?
One possible answer (according to Rabbi Hirsch): when we delve into our family history, all of us can trace our lineage back to great tzadikim. Also, for many of us, our ancestors faced tragic events like the Holocaust or pogroms, where they perished while being mekadesh shem shamayim (sanctifying God's name.) These individuals have left behind a legacy of merit that we can tap into even today. From the time of Avraham and Sarah onwards, our forefathers and mothers have accumulated boundless merits for us to access.
So, during our davening, it is crucial to bear in mind that we seek God's response in the merit of our ancestors. This could be one of the reasons why the Shulchan Aruch instructs us to repeat the Amidah if we lack proper kavanah during the Avot blessing. Our prayers rest upon the incredible foundation of the merits bestowed upon us by our ancestors. Thus, our focus should be on the understanding that God answers our prayers not based on our own merits alone but also in consideration of the merits of our ancestors.
Another reason for this halacha could be the danger of forgetting this fundamental aspect, leading us to mistakenly believe that our requests will be granted based on our own merits. The Gemara discourages such an attitude, emphasizing that prayer must always be rooted in anavah/humility.
עיין בספר אור זרוע הלכות תפילה בשם מורו רבי יונתן, דתמה זכות אבות, שאינה עומדת מעצמה, אבל כשאנו מתפללים שיעמוד לנו זכות אבות אינה תמה, וכוונתו לומר, שע"י צירוף הבקשה והתפילה, כשאדם מביע את רצונו ושאיפתו להיכלל בזכות האבות, אזי זכותם עומדת לו....(מכתבי הגאון הרב אברהם שפירא זצוק"ל, רב הראשי לישראל לשעבר)
"...Refer to the Sefer Or Zaruah, Hilchot Tefila in the name of his teacher Rabbi Yonatan, [according to those who opine that] the merit of our ancestors has ended [this means} it cannot stand on its own. But when we pray in the merit of our ancestors, it does not end, by this he means to say that together with the request/prayer, when a person expresses his will and desire to include the merit of our ancestors, then their merit stands for him. (from the writings of Rabbi Avraham Shapiro zt"l, former Chief Rabbi of Israel.)
We can learn from this source that even among those opinions in the Gemara that suggest the era of our ancestors' merit has concluded, they are referring specifically to the notion that it no longer operates automatically to grant us merit. However, if we choose to pray in their merit, it is agreed among all opinions that the merit of our ancestors continues to work for us when we daven.
The Gemara, by presenting different opinions who say that our ancestors' zechut has come to an end might be why few people know about this concept. So, it seems like there is a big mitzvah to publicize this idea. Praying in the merit of our ancestors can serve to enhance the effectiveness of our prayers and fosters a deeper concentration during tefillah, whether we're praying alone or with others at shul.