The Reason Why the Blessing of “Ata Chonen” was Instituted as the First of the Series of ‘Blessings of Requests’
Maran HaShulchan Aruch (Chapter 115) writes: “Since the advantage of human beings over animals is understanding and intelligence, our Sages instituted the blessing of “Ata Chonen” as the first of the ‘Middle Blessings’ of the Amidah prayer (the first three blessings of the Amidah deal with praising Hashem followed by a series of blessings dedicated to requesting certain things for Hashem, such as, wisdom, repentance, atonement, redemption, health etc.).
In his Sefer Birkei Yosef, Maran HaChida quotes the Mekubal, Rabbeinu Binyamin HaKohen 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 Amidah 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 “LeAdam Da’at” (with a “Sheva Na” under the “Lamed”). We customarily follow the latter’s opinion and there is no reason to change the pronunciation of this word.
Some say that one must say, “VeChoneinu Me’Itecha Chochma Binah VaDa’at” with a “Vav of conjugation”, while others customarily say to omit the “Vav” and just say “Choneinu Me’Itecha”. The reason for the latter’s opinion to omit the “Vav” is because this phrase is not a continuation of the beginning of the blessing, “Ata Chonen Le’Adam Da’at,” rather it is the beginning of the request. Nevertheless, our custom is to recite “VeChoneinu,” for it is a continuation of the praise mentioned before it.
One May Add His Own Personal Requests in the Blessing of “Ata Chonen”
One may add into the Amidah prayer, in a clean and articulate fashion, his own personal requests, based on the specific content of the various blessings of the Amidah. Thus, if one is not so successful in his studies because he forgets what he learns or because he does not understand so quickly, he may request to be granted wisdom in this blessing, for it is the Blessing of Wisdom.
Therefore, before one concludes the blessing by saying, “VeChoneinu Me’Itecha,” he 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 learning 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 learns secular studies.