The Intention to Have When Answering Amen
To Stand or Sit for Kaddish
Rabbi Wildman cites Midrash Talpios in the name of the Ari that if one is sitting when Kaddish is recited, he need not stand; he may respond “Amen yehei shmei rabbah” while seated. If standing, however, one may only recite “Amen yehei shmei rabbah” standing. Totzaos Chaim (Rabbi Menachem Ziemba, 19th-20th century, Poland), however, says that “Amen yehei shmei rabbah” should only be recited standing , with great concentration, in a strong voice. (This latter position reflects our practice.) [Siman 18]
The Gematria of Amen
Sefer Rokeiach (330) notes that the gematria (numerical value) of the word “amen” equals 91. This is equal to the value of the word Ado-nai (65) plus that of the Tetragrammaton (God’s four-letter Name, YHVH – 26). From this we infer that answering amen is like uttering both of these Names. This is another reason why the reward for responding amen is greater than for reciting the bracha. [Siman 19]
One’s Intention When Answering Amen
The Tur (OC 124) asks the meaning of the words “shomer emunim” (“who keep the faith”) in Isaiah 26:2. He writes that it refers to those “she’omeir ameinim” – who say amen. Based on this explanation, Rabbi Shimon says that one who answers amen with total concentration will find the gates of Gan Eden opened for him. The verse reads, “Open the gates so that the righteous nation shomer emunim may enter,” referring to those who answer amen as we have said. We see from this that the Sages considered answering amen with focused intention to be the important thing, not mere recitation of the word. One must answer as the Shulchan Aruch instructs us (OC 124:6): with the intention that the bracha one just heard is true and that one believes the sentiment expressed by it. [Siman 21]
The Magen Avraham (124:10) adds that this applies to a bracha that gives praise and thanks to God. Such brachos include Baruch she’amar, Yishtabach and Gaw’al Yisroel. Brachos that beseech God, however, are different. There, the intention should be agreement and the desire that the person’s entreaty be fulfilled (Pri Megadim 124). So, for example, when one hears the bracha mechayeh hameisim, that God revives the dead, his intention should be, “This is true. I believe that God will revive the dead. I hope that this happens soon!” After the bracha of chonein hadaas, that God gives knowledge to man, one’s intention should be, “This is true. I believe that God endows us with knowledge. May He grant us knowledge soon!” The same is true for such brachos as harotzeh b’teshuvah (that God desires our repentance), slach lanu (may God forgive us) and all the other brachos in the middle section of the Shemoneh Esrei. [Siman 22]
Eliya Rabbah (124:10) adds that we should have similar sentiments in mind when reciting amen to the brachos of r’tzei (may God be pleased with our service), sim shalom and shalom rav (both requesting that God grant peace), as these are also brachos in which we beseech God. Other places requiring this mindset include kaddish, birkas kohanim (the priestly benediction), the “harachamans” (“may the Merciful One”) in bentching (birkas hamazon – grace after meals), and the “zachreinus” (“remember us”) in yaaleh v’yavo. Whenever the purpose of a bracha is not to praise God but to entreat Him for our needs, one must reply amen with the intention, “May it be God’s will that the request of the one who recited the bracha come to pass.”
But what about brachos on mitzvos, on which we recite that God “sanctified us with His commandments us and commanded us to…?” The Shelah (Rav Yeshayahu ben Avraham HaLevi Horowitz, 16th-17th century) writes that our intention with such brachos should be to bless God for all the goodness He has given us, purifying us through His mitzvos, and that He commanded us to perform whatever mitzvah is imminent, such as washing al netilas yadayim or putting on tefillin. One who responds amen to such a bracha should have in mind that the blessing given to God is true and that we agree with it.
There are other brachos that give thanks to God, like asher yatzar (after using the restroom), the morning benedictions, the first three brachos of Shemoneh Esrei and the brachos of bentching. The sentiment here should likewise be that the thanks given to God is true and that we agree with it.
Then there are brachos that are part of the liturgy, like Baruch she’amar, Yishtabach and ha(K)eil hakadosh. Brachos like these praise and honor God. When one responds amen to these, he should keep the theme of the bracha in mind with the intention that the sentiment expressed by the one who recited the bracha is true and that these praises of God are fitting.
Finally, there are the brachos recited over things like food. When answering amen to such a bracha, one’s intention should be that the praise expressed by the other person is true because God did indeed create that fruit.
All of the preceding paragraphs are found in the Shelah (253b). [Siman 23]