Thursday, September 3, 2009

“And Now Let Us Say Amen...”

The word “Amen” seems to be one of those words associated with prayer throughout the Judeo-Christian culture, but what does it mean?

The response Amen at the end of an oath or a prayer is mentioned at least twice in the Torah (Numbers 5:22 and Deuteronomy 27:26). While the first usage is a confirmation of the validity of an oath, the second is an expression of commitment, “And all the people shall say: ‘Amen’” (Deuteronomy 27:26). This response is to follow a long list of blessings and curses to be recited at Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival, and is meant to serve as a reminder of the ethical commitment to be taken on by the Jewish people. By responding “Amen,” the people acknowledge their commitment to follow the way of the Torah.

The root of the word “Amen” are the three Hebrew letters aleph-mem-nun. The word is best translated as “confirmed” or “the words to which I have responded are true.” This affirms that the respondent has faith that what has been said is, or will be, true. The Talmud relates that “Amen” is an acronym for the three Hebrew words that are recited just prior to the Shema: “Ayl Melech Ne’eman,” God is a Faithful King. This response, according to Resh Lakish, the Talmudic sage, is extremely powerful: “He who responds 'Amen' with all his might, has the gates of Paradise opened for him, as it is written, ‘Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps truth may enter in.’ Do not read ‘keeps truth,’ but rather ‘that says Amen’” (Shabbat 119b).

Because Amen is also an affirmation of a vow, its use as a response to a blessing or a prayer is seen as a second recitation of that prayer or vow. Therefore, not only is it important to respond “Amen” when hearing a blessing, but it is also important to recite the blessing (when appropriate) loud enough, so that others may have the opportunity to say “Amen.”

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