Sunday, December 26, 2010

#91 - Amen/Blessings Can Do Everything For Goodness & Happiness

In Parshat Vayechi that we read a couple of weeks back, which includes the period in which Jacob's descendants enjoyed the "fat of the land" while leaving in Egypt before the big slavery storm that they endured that is written up in the midst of the following Parshiyot of Shemot that we just read this past Shabbat & Parshat Va'era that we will be reading this Shabbat, Jacob blesses his children on his deathbed.

Our rabbis inform us what happened "behind the scenes" of the Bible. You see, right before Jacob was ready to bless his children, he felt the absence of the Divine Presence; and hence, thought that perhaps one or more of his children went astray in serving Hashem. Questioning their behavior, they exclaimed - Shema Yisrael..."Hear O Israel (Jacob's name given to him by Hashem) the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One" (Deutronomy 6:4). Upon this, Jacob exclaimed "Blessed be the name of his glorious kingdom forever and forever". In time, these two exclamations formed the first two sentences of the Kriat Shema that we recite twice daily.

The Talmud (Pesachim 56) in mentioning the sentence of "Blessed be..." as coming from Jacob's mouth, notes that this very same exclamation was heard by Moses from the angels when he spent time on Mt. Sinai. As this sentence is not actually part of the Bible like the rest of the Shema, but was an immediate response by Jacob to the first verse of "Hear O Israel...", they debated as to whether this should be mentioned in the Shema. On the one hand, Jacob exclaimed this. On the other hand, the angels exclaim this, and this is something that seems to be private to the angels. At the end, they decided on a compromise, to say it - but in a low tone.

But the mention of this verse doesn't end here. In Temple times, this sentence was also exclaimed - as a response to the end of blessings, which in the Temple was in place of the usual answer of Amen to blessings.

Before I continue, I would like to point out that the word Amen is the Gematria of 91, and this is my 91st Post. Additionally, the Gematria of the word Mal'ach/angel is also 91. Hence, bearing in mind that the sentence of "Blessed is the name..." was said in lieu of Amen=91, this is a sentence that is recited especially by angels.
Similarly, we recite this sentence out loud on Yom Kippur, for it is on this day that we resemble the angels in terms of being pure from sin as the angels are. Also,
it is on this day that only the Cohen Gadol/High Priest entered the Kodesh Kadashim/Holy of Holies, the holiest area in the Temple, which was off limits even to him for the rest of the year.

In another relationship between the response of Amen and the Shema is that when the Shema is said privately outside of congregational prayer, one introduces the Shema with three words - E-l Melech Ne'eman "G-d, the faithful king". The first letters of the words in Hebrew are Aleph-Mem-Noon, spelling the word Amen. Moreover, the last three letters of the last word Ne'eman/faithful also spell the word Amen.


The very first time that the word Amen is mentioned in the Torah is in relationship to a married woman who had an adulterous relationship with another man. Her husband in suspicion of this would bring her to the Temple to be tried by drinking bitter waters which would immediately test her if she had been unfaithful by swelling and dying, to be immediately removed from the Temple environs to be left to die elsewhere, not even giving her a chance to suffer being left alone. (It's like someone who has stomach pains who wants to relax in bed, but is forcibly removed
being moved around which doesn't ease his relaxing). Before the drinking of the waters, the Cohen in charge of administering this pronounced a conditional curse on her to which she replied "Amen, Amen" (Numbers 5:22). Of course, the question is why
she repeated this word, to which Rashi addresses, but the answer given is not immediately relevant to the issue at hand.

What is important to note here is that the Torah mentions this word once again - in the chapter about the curses that were to be pronounced in a ceremony on the Jewish people, which would take effect for various sins, which were also answered with the word Amen (Deutronomy 27:15-26).

We see that elsewhere in the Bible following the Chumash that this word was associated with answering blessings. However, in the Chumash which was Hashem's direct communication with us to observe His commandments, the content of the Sefer Torah, the holiest object, the word Amen seems to be used only in reference to curses
rather than to the usual theme of blessings, as we answer Amen numerous times to blessings throughout the day - both in and out of synagogue. Is this mere coincidence?

We know from the Torah that observance of commandments are rewarded, and even though answering Amen is not of the 613 commandments per se, but is a part of blessing Hashem which is included in the Mitzvah of praying to Hashem, not everyone shows that answering Amen is so important. Ever so often, people are talking during services, and either answer Amen after it is too late to do so which happened as a result of finishing one's sentence in a conversion, or don't answer Amen at all. Of course, automatically, at least two people have the sin of either not answering Amen or causing another not to answer it. In fact, numerous sins, loss of eternal reward benefits, and reserved spots for burning in the purgatory fire happens as a result of this, including the various sins related to saying evil speech about another Jew at times (which includes talks of synagogue politics which virtually always mentions names of people who are put in a bad light).

Perhaps this is what the Torah wants to hint to. By not answering Amen to blessings, one is in effect saying Amen to curses. The Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law stresses the rewards and punishments for answering or not answering Amen.
Just from ONE WORD - one receives tremendous reward. But, because one wants to have a "juicy" conversation with another Jew in the midst of synagogue services, causing him to sin as well, they both are stupid (assuming that they are supposedly observant Jews who had a Jewish education) to throw away reward they could have received FOREVER!

With this having been said, it seems that there is a direct connection between the mention of the word Amen and the themes of the particular sections in the Torah where
this word is mentioned. First, regarding the Sotah, Rashi notes by the repetition of the word Ish/man or husband (of the adulterous woman) that it actually refers to two - the Man of War from above & her husband from below, that is, she had in fact betrayed both G-d and her husband. While this may seem to be obvious, since committing any sin is in effect betraying Hashem, note the wording that Rashi uses to describe Hashem here "Man of War". Is this woman trying to openly fight Hashem or even her husband, when it is her sexual lusts that got in the way here?

While sinful tempations may sound like a little better excuse for doing a sin than doing a sin out of spite or to anger observant Jews, this is hardly any less of a war, because one who does things for their own selfish desires in fact spites the ones around him or her, putting oneself in front of others to do as he or she pleases. While the non-Jewish world may justify a woman cheating on her husband on the grounds that her husband didn't "treat her right", even as non-Jews too are forbidden to committ adultery, as far as Hashem is concerned, it is NO JUSTIFIABLE EXCUSE. PERIOD! If the woman really wants, she can ask her husband for a divorce, or simply not live with him anymore (non-Jews do not need a legal marriage or divorce
contract according to the Torah, the definition of a husband and wife is if they are living together). Perhaps she thinks she can get away with a sex encounter here and there, without "disrupting" her family life, but in fact, she is ultimately ruining it for herself forever by committing herself to Hell. (NOTE: While a husband cheating on his wife may not be a very moral person, and in the Jewish religion, there are other issues pertaining to this, it is not considered adultery, so long as the woman he sleeps with is not considered a married woman).

Indeed, such a person who does what he/she wants is fighting everyone else because he/she puts oneself in front of others doing what pleases oneself without being considerate to the society around. On another level, we are living in this world constantly battling a spiritual war, and it is Hashem who is the General/Commander. The enemy is Satan or the Evil Inclination, who constantly entices one in the psychic to do what is pleasing, regardless of the long term consequences. Hence, acting on one's base desires and selfish wants is in fact disobeying the orders of the General/Commander. In the army, there are NO EXCUSES. The only question is how the general, commander or whatever high rank person in the army will deal with the disobedient soldier.

In effect, one talking during synagogue services with another person - which results among other negative things is not answering Amen - is in fact also betraying both Hashem by not acknowledging the Beracha/blessing that was just recited when everyone is answering Amen to it, and also betraying his "friend" who may be his "talk buddy" but is in fact being an enemy to him because he is causing him to also have the same sins and punishment that he himself is accruing, committing the additional sin of "do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind" which refers to not only something physical where someone can trip over something left in the way for which one is in fact liable to damages according to Jewish law, but refers no less to spiritual matters in terms of causing another person to sin.

While on the subject about the importance of answering Amen, I feel it to be a most important responsibility to relate the following story:

Some four hundred years ago, Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, known as the Levush for the 10 volume Jewish work that he gave this name to, traveled to Italy to learn Torah from the Mahari Abuhav. One day, when a child made a Beracha, and Rabbi Yaffe failed to answer Amen, the Mahari Abuhav was very mad at him, and excommunicated him for 30 days. Following this, the Mahari Abuhav explained to Rabbi Yaffe that at the moment that he failed to answer Amen, he was sentenced from Above to die, but by being excommunicated, it helped mitigate the severity of his punishment, but could be totally taken away if in the future he would tell others the importance of answering Amen. Needless to say, Rabbi Yaffe acted accordingly for the rest of his life when once a month, he would talk about the importance of answering Amen.

In the midst of the Mahari Abuhav explaining all this to Rabbi Yaffe, he told him a true tragic story about a devout observant Jew who was considered a good friend to a king being that he had very useful advice, and everytime the anti-Semitic king wished to make trouble for the Jews, this Jew was able to convince the king to behave otherwise. Once, while this Jew was in the palace, there was a priest that was ready to give a blessing to the king, and noted beforehand that everyone around must answer Amen for the blessing to be able to take effect. Following the blessing,
it was noticed that this Jew did not answer Amen as he was in the midst of his own prayers, upon which the priest announced "Alas, the blessing will not take effect now because this Jew did not answer Amen to my blessing for the king!" The next thing you know, this Jew was brutually cut into pieces which ended his life. Not long afterwards, he appeared to someone whom he knew in a dream, and revealed to him that despite his own good deeds during his lifetime, he was liable for such a horrible punishment because once, he heard someone reciting a Beracha but didn't answer Amen.

My friends, here are examples of rabbis and devout observant Jews who failed JUST ONCE for not answering Amen, not because they were having a jolly conversation with another in the midst of congregational prayers which involves numerous other sins, but simply didn't pay attention enough to answer just ONE WORD, and look what punishment they were liable to. So certainly, imagine the ultimate punishment for those who brazenly show that they don't have respect for Hashem by talking in His holy place of worship, causing others to have the same sins, and quite often, speaking Lashon Hora - evil speech about other Jews which inself involves numerous sins for EACH WORD! Such a person behaving as such should sure hope if he gets punished in this world, because if not, he will have such a Hell, as perhaps described most aptly by the author of the Shulchan Aruch/Code of Jewish Law - Rabbi Yosef Karo (Orach Chaim Chapter 127) "his sin will be greater than he can bear" a paraphrase from Kain's desperate exclamation to Hashem following the first murder of mankind of his murdering his brother Abel. This is the ONLY time in the entire Shulchan Aruch that Rabbi Karo writes such a strong punishment for committing a sin.

Now fastforwarding to Deutronomy where the ceremony of pronouncing the curses to which Amen was to be answered, ranging for sins from idolatry to forbidden unions to hurting others in society in various ways, the final thing for which a curse was to be pronounced for was for "not upholding the words of this Torah to do them".

Our Rabbis explain to us about this last no-no here that this does not necessarily refer to one who is not an observant Jew. In fact, it can refer very much to one who is not only an observant Jew, but can even be a Torah scholar with obvious influence. This cursed person is one who does not take action where it is needed. He lets his Jewish community get away with things that blatantly do things that oppose Judaism, without taking the necessary action to put things in order. What's the point with all his Torah learning or even teaching Torah, if Jews are committing sins without him addressing these issues? I once met a Sabbath observant guy from some southern state in the United States which was far both in distance and level of spirituality from the very religious and learned communities of the greater New York areas and all, who had a past marriage in which he never knew about the laws of family purity pertaining to abstaining from marital relations and even from touching from the time that the wife is menstrous until she is purified in a mikvah/ritualarium nearly two weeks later. I don't know how he will deal with this in Heaven upstairs one day, but woe to the rabbi of the synagogue that this guy went to, who never spoke about the subject or laws of family purity in his weekly congregational sermons!

Putting things in a more positive spin, the Shema, about which this post began, addresses these very issues about being faithful to G-d and not turning astray from serving Him. Belief in one G-d, loving Him, learning and teaching His wisdom - the Torah, being geared in the spiritual army clothes of Tefillin/phylacteries & a garment consisting of Tzitzit/fringe strings, our reminder of Hashem in our homes with the Mezuza on the doorpost, all of which focuses our attention to what are the real things in life that will make the difference for us eternally. And whenever we answer Amen to a blessing, we are in fact confirming that Hashem is the Source of Blessing, Who allows all things to be in existance for the sole purpose of being used in His service in one way or another. In effect, we are addressing Hashem every time that we answer Amen. You see, Amen is the Gematria of two of Hashem's names - YKVK=26 as it is written, but we pronounce it as A-do-nay=65, these two names adding up to the Gematria of Amen - 91.

It has been said that the letters of the word Tzadik/righteous person, note his daily quota of his participation in prayers: Tzadi - 90 mentions of Amen, Dalet - 4 Kedushot (when Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh/Holy Holy Holy is recited), Yud - 10 times of Kaddish, Koof - 100 Berachot/blessings a day. It is particularly the first letter of the word Tzadik that denotes the amount of times that Amen is answered daily. We see with this a bond of the consecutive numbers 90 & 91 - the Gematria of "Amen". But this bond goes beyond just numbers.

As I mentioned in my previous 90th post - the Hebrew word for 90 - Tish'im - is the Gematria of the phrase V'Ahavta L'Reiacha Camocha - "You shall love your friend as yourself", the source of the Mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael - love of Jews. Bearing this in mind, the words for the number 91 is Tish'im V'Echad, the word Echad denoting the similar word Achdus/unity, for it is only with the feeling of unity - feeling as ONE - with other Jews, can this Mitzvah be ultimately fulfilled. For after all, one is only considered a Tzadik/righteous person, if he fulfills BOTH the Mitzvot pertaining to one's relationship with Hashem AND one's relationship with Jews - as the particular phrase in Hebrew used for this is Bein Adam L'Chaveiro, between a person & his FRIEND. While it may take time for some to be friends with other people, we have to remember that in fact, all Jews are in this assumable status of friends, and it is only that we have to be on a high spiritual level enough where we will automatically feel when we meet another Jew for the first time in this corporeal existance, that he or she is in fact our friend.

As for the word Amen itself, it is actually based on the word Emunah - faith. Indeed, when we answer Amen, we are confirming our faith in Hashem, and in His ability to do whatever He wants. And in another connection between the Tzadik & the word Amen is in the phrase from Mishlei/Proverbs - V'Tzadik B'Emunato Yichyeh - "The righteous person lives with his faith". For it is true faith that brings a person to be focused and stay focused on the purpose of his life in this world, knowing that
things that happen to a person - whether good or bad - is the will of Hashem, as it is Hashem who runs the world.

As we know, every time we do a Mitzvah, we create a good angel (and when G-d forbid a sin is performed, a bad angel is created). The word Amen is the easiest way of creating good angels, for each response is one more good angel - bearing in mind that the words Amen & Mal'ach/angel each have the Gematria of 91 - along with all the other blessings that Hashem will shower us with for good obedience to Him and His name.

20 Tevet, 5771

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