Learning Chaburah Hilchot Tefilah

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.

יתפלל דרך תחנונים כרש המבקש בפתח ובנחת ושלא תראה עליו כמשא ומבקש ליפטר ממנה:

One should pray in a manner of supplications, like a homeless man who asks [for something] at [someone's] entrance. And [one should pray] at a relaxed pace, so that it should not appear as a burden from which one is seeking to be exempted.

אל יחשוב ראוי הוא שיעשה הקב"ה בקשתי כיון שכיוונתי בתפלתי כי אדרבה זה מזכיר עונותיו של אדם (שעל ידי כך מפשפשין במעשיו לומר בטוח הוא בזכיותיו) אלא יחשוב שיעשה הקב"ה בחסדו ויאמר בלבו מי אני דל ונבזה בא לבקש מאת מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא אם לא מרוב חסדיו שהוא מתנהג בהם עם בריותיו:
One should not think "It is fitting that the Holy One Who is Blessed should fulfill my request, since I concentrated well during my prayer", because on the contrary: this recalls a person's sins (since by doing so, they scrutinize one's deeds to say one's merits are certain). Rather, one should think that Holy One Who is Blessed will fulfill [one's request] because of His kindness, and one should say in one's heart "Who am I, lowly and despised, [that I would be allowed to] come to request from the King of the Kings of Kings, the Holy One Who is Blessed if not for His tremendous kindnesses - that He is accustomed [to doing] them with His creations".
שצריך לכוין בכל הברכות ושיכול להתפלל בכל לשון. ובו ד סעיפים:
המתפלל צריך שיכוין בכל הברכות ואם אינו יכול לכוין בכולם לפחות יכוין באבות אם לא כיון באבות אע"פ שכיון בכל השאר יחזור ויתפלל: הגה (והאידנא אין חוזרין בשביל חסרון כוונה שאף בחזרה קרוב הוא שלא יכוין אם כן למה יחזור) (טור):

That One Must Direct One's Intention For All The Blessings and That One Can Pray In Any Language, containing 4 s'ifim.
One who prays [the Amidah] needs to direct one's intention for all the blessings, but if one is not able to direct one's intention during all of them, one should at least concentrate on the blessing of the forefathers [the first blessing of the Amidah]. If one didn't direct one's intention while saying the blessing of the forefathers, even if one directed one's intention for the rest [of the blessings], one needs to return [to the beginning of the Amidah] and pray. Gloss: (Nowadays we do not return [to repeat the prayer when it is] due to a lack of intention, because [there's a fair chance that] even in the repeating [of the Amidah] it is likely that one will not direct one's intention [again]; if so, why should one return?) (Tur)

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.