85. Ki Tavo II - THREE AMENS

SUPPOSING YOU WERE asked to state which, in your opinion, is the most familiar and the most popular word in the lexicon of Hebrew prayers, what would you say? As for me, my choice would be the word Amen, which appears repeatedly in our sidrah. When I was a baby, it was the first word I learned when I went to Shule. And so it was with my children and grandchildren. Amen is repeated after every berachah, after Kiddush and Havdalah. It is so popular that even non-Jews have incorporated it in their prayers.

Few are cognizant of the origin of this word. Most commentaries are of the opinion that it is an abbreviation of the phrase El Melekh Neaman "God is the truthworthy King" (Sabbath 119a). Others maintain that it is derived from the word emunah, meaning "faith." In any case, this key word is an expression of trust and faith in Almighty God.

Because of the central importance and profound significance of the word, the sages insist that whenever Amen is said, it should be repeated with great kavanah - with concentration and fervor. They assure us that "He who prolongs the saying of Amen will be granted the gift of long life. He who recites Amen with his entire strength will be granted immortal life." They go even further by declaring how and when the Amen is to be repeated, and ruling that certain Amens are unacceptable. "One is not to recite an orphaned Amen, nor a hurried Amen, nor a split Amen" (Ber. 47a).

What is the definition of an "Orphaned Amen?" The Rabbis looked upon the berachah as a sort of a father or mother of the Amen. When one says Amen without hearing the berachah, when there is no link between the two, the Amen is looked upon as an orphan, nebach.

This applies to so many areas in life. There are those who say Amen to concepts and ideas which they do not follow, who subscribe to commandments which they do not observe, who preach doctrines which they do not practice. Such individuals are only mouthing Amens; they are Amens without blessings.

Think of the people who wear their patriotism on their sleeves but do not even take the time to register to vote; who proclaim their love for their parents but will not even recite a Kaddish or observe a Yahrzeit for them; who talk of the State of Israel as a blessing for all Jews but do nothing to help the beleaguered State; who maintain that there is a need for a Shule and a religious School in the community but will not lift a finger to support them - what are they repeating if not an Amen Yesomah?

Next there is the Amen Chatufah - the rushed Amen. This refers to one who repeats his prayer in a hurry - in a manner that indicates a desire tzu obpattern, to get over and be done with it, or tzu yoitze zein.

When the famed Yiddish author and humorist, Shalom Aleichem, came to America some sixty years ago he said that "America is a peculiar country. It is a land where everyone rushes and grabs. One grabs a barkhu or a kaddish, and one grabs a walk or a shnaps."

How true! Someone has characterized our age as the "Instant Generation." We are in a rush, and the accent is on speed. We build the fastest cars and the fastest planes. We have no time to cook, so we have instant coffee and instant tea. And now there is instant religion. We rush to the synagogue to name a baby, to make a mi she-berakh or a moley, to say kaddish or to attend a Bar Mitzvah. That is why people say to the Rabbi and the chazan, "Make it short!", and the polite ones add "please." That is why we keep looking at our watches during services when we should be looking into the siddur and the machzor.

The truth, however, is that there is no true blessing in a life that is based on an Amen Chatufah.

The third one is the Amen Ketufah - the split or partial Amen. When ones does not say the entire word but only a part of it, he is guilty of saying an Amen Ketufah.

There are so many phases in life where the Amen Ketufah hounds and plagues us. Wives who are looked upon by their husbands as cooks and housekeepers; husbands who are considered by wives as meal-tickets and garbage disposers - what are these if not Amen Kelufahs - split and partial Amens? Surely, a woman's duty is to take care of her home, but she is much more than a cook and a housekeeper. She is the queen of the family, the eshet chayil and bride of her man. Of course, a husband should provide as best he can for his family, but that is only a fraction of his role. He is the chaver and the lover, the friend and companion. Anything less makes of marriage an Amen Ketufah.

The same is true with respect to the relationship between parents and children. Parents are not merely pals and checkwriters but mentors and guides. Children are not merely dolls and furnishings but links in netzach Yisrael, building blocks in the House of Israel.

This yardstick can also be applied to our association with the synagogue. There are those who use it only for meetings, parties and simchas. That's wonderful! We welcome Jews to our Shule when they come for any reason and on any occasion, but we always hope that ultimately they will come on Shabbos and Yomtov to pray, or to attend a class of study. Those who disappoint us are reducing their association to an Amen Ketufah - to a split and incomplete Amen.

Numerous stories have come to us from the Holocaust. This one I heard only recently: a Chassidic Rebbe and a number of his disciples were in the concentration camp, and their time came to be cast into the furnace. The Rebbe addressed his Chassidim and urged them not to yield to hysteria, but to die in the tradition of Jewish martyrs, al Kiddush ha-Shem, for the sanctification of the name of God. He then recited the special benediction "Blessed be the Lord . . . who has commanded us to sanctify His name." To which the disciples responded with all their hearts and with all their might and with all their souls, "Amen, Amen, Amen."

I appeal to you to pray throughout the year in the spirit of thatdeeply-felt and moving Amen. Let it not be, God forefend, a split, hurried or orphaned Amen, but let it come from the innermost recesses of our hearts and souls. Amen.

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