From a Traditional perspective, when we recite the Amidah prayer, we remind God of the merits of our ancestors and the blessings that they earned for us. This is the essence of Avot v’Imohot prayer. We do not pretend that we have earned God’s blessings ourselves, but that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel earned them for us. We present ourselves humbly before God and hope that by mentioning them God will apply the blessings that our ancestors earned to us.
Then having reminded God of those blessings that they earned, we remind God of the form that those blessings may take. God grants life, including prominently in the Traditional blessing, eternal life in the form of resurrection at the time of the coming of the messiah. God lifts the fallen, heals the sick, and feeds the hungry. In essence, we hope that our prayers will remind God to do those things.
My professor at Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Moshe Ziberstein called this audacious covenant theology. It is as if we said, “God, remember our ancestors whose descendants you promised to bless and agreed to do so through covenants? Here we are! Bless us!”
As I have taught many times in the past, as modern Jews we believe that when we talk about God lifting the fallen or feeding the hungry, when we talk about these things, it is we who do them. God acts through us.
Looking at the Amidah from this perspective, when we recite Avot v’Imahot, while we may be remembering our distant ancestors, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our people, we also remember the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our families. We should remind ourselves about all that we owe to those who came before us, those who suffered through times of trial and tribulation, those who ventured forth from places known to unknown, who came upon these shores often with little more than what they could carry, so that their descendants, us, could live in freedom and prosperity.
While Traditionally, we remind God of the blessings that they earned for us. In essence, we remind ourselves of the responsibility we have to their memory and the responsibility that we have to others. Because of them, because of those who came before us, the fallen have been lifted, the captives freed. Our people, suffering persecution and subjugation were often impoverished. They lifted themselves up, fought against grave odds, and granted us the blessing of living in this country, in freedom.
While Traditionally, we pray that God owes US for the merits of our ancestors, in essence we pray that we may have the strength do what we owe THEM, to work for the betterment of others, to improve the lives of those who come after us.