In reciting the verse, “Yihyu le-ratzon…” (“May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, God, my Rock, and my Redeemer”; Tehilim 19:15) right after completing the berakha for peace, we end the main part of the Amida. At this point, Elokai Netzor, a paragraph of personal pray, is customarily added. As we have learned, this is where one may add as much personal petition and supplication as she wants. It is said that R. Akiva would prolong his prayers extensively with supplications when praying alone (see Berakhot 31a).
Upon the conclusion of the prayers of supplication, one recites Yihyu le-ratzon again and takes three steps backward, thereby departing the King’s presence. The Sages say that if one prays and does not depart from the Amida properly by taking three steps back and saying “Oseh shalom…,” it would have been better not to have prayed at all (Yoma 53b). One who does not take leave properly demonstrates that she does not understand that she was standing before the Almighty King, and she thus demeans prayer.
After finishing the Amida, before beginning the three steps, one bows as she does during Modim (as explained in section 5 above), and while bowing she takes three steps backward. Still bowing, she then turns to her left and says, “Oseh shalom bi-mromav” (“May He Who makes peace in His high places…”), then to her right side and says, “Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu” (make peace for us …”), and finally bows forward and says, “ve-al kol Yisrael, ve-imru Amen” (“and all of Israel; and say: ‘amen’”). She then straightens up slowly. Many people then recite the “Yehi ratzon” paragraph praying for the restoration of the Temple, since prayer corresponds to the Tamid sacrifice and we ask that the Temple be rebuilt so that we may bring this offering (SA, Rema 123:1).
When stepping back, one takes the first step with the left leg – the weaker leg – thereby demonstrating her reluctance to take leave of her prayer. Each step should be the length of her foot, that is, she steps back toe-to-heel. The order of the steps is as follows: she first takes a small step with her left foot, so that the toes of her left foot abut her right heel. Then she takes a bigger step with her right foot, so that the toes of her right foot abut her left heel. Finally, she takes a small step with her left foot, so that her feet are even with each other. Her feet remain together while she recites Oseh shalom.
One must be careful not to take a step shorter than the length of her foot (heel-to-toe), for some poskim maintain that less than that is not considered a step (MA). When there is not enough room behind her to take three steps, she steps to the side, making sure that each step is long enough (AHS 123:5). In extenuating circumstances, when there is no room to step backwards or sideways, she may rely on the opinions that three smaller steps are sufficient. However, one may not take less than the three steps with which one takes leave from the King’s presence (Baĥ, and see MB 123:14); nor may one take more than three steps, so as not to display arrogance (SA 123:4; Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 17 n. 9). Likewise, it is not proper to take large steps, so as not to appear as though she wants to distance herself from the King (Rema 123:3; and see MB 16).