Saying Amen With Focus

Amen and Angels

Rabbi Wildman cites “Sefer Musar” (presumably Sefer HaMusar by Yosef ben Yehuda ibn Aknin, 12th-13th century) that, while responding amen, one should have in mind that God’s ministering angels will also hear the bracha or kaddish and respond amen. This is based on the fact that the gematria (numerical value) of amen is the same as the word malach, meaning an angel. (Alef = 1, mem = 40, nun = 50: total for “amen” = 91. Mem = 40, lamed = 30, alef = 1, kaf = 20: total for “malach” = 91.) Conversely, if one fails to answer amen with proper intention, he will lack their angelic protection and leave himself vulnerable to spiritual harm. Therefore, even in one’s home, a person should take care to recite brachos aloud and to answer brachos with baruch Hu u’baruch shmo and amen. [Siman 61]

One who is careful to respond amen in this world will merit responding amen in the Next World. There are two brachos for which one should take extra-special care to do so: the bracha of HaMachazir Shechinaso l’Tziyon (that God causes His “presence” to return to Zion) in Shemoneh Esrei and the bracha of ufros aleinu (“Spread over us”) that precedes the Amidah on Friday nights and Festival evenings. [Siman 62]

What’s a “Widowed” Amen?

We have a tremendous responsibility to answer amen with proper concentration. Rabbi Wildman cites the author of Noam Megadim (Rav Eliezer HaLevi Horowitz of Tarnigrad, 18th century) on Exodus 22:21. The verse tells us, “Do not afflict any widow or orphan.” Rav Horowitz observes that the word s’anun (afflict) could also be read sa’anun (answer). If one were to do so, it would render the verse, “Do not answer with a widow or an orphan.”

We’ve already discussed the meaning of an “orphaned” amen, i.e., one that’s too far delayed from the bracha that it’s meant to answer. As previously noted, the Talmud (Brachos 47a) notes that one who recites “orphaned” amens deserves that his children should become orphaned. But what’s a “widowed” amen?

There’s a kabbalistic idea that words without intention are like a body without a soul. Sounds made by one’s mouth – vibrating air through one’s larynx, tongue and lips – are strictly a physical phenomenon. They only have meaning when the speaker uses his mind to impart context. Without thought, words are “widowed.” Therefore, a “widowed” amen is one that the speaker answers on “autopilot.” It may be loud and clear but if there’s no thought behind it, it’s a “widowed” amen, and therefore unacceptable.

Rabbi Wildman reminds us that the Talmud in Shabbos (119b) says that amen is an abbreviation for kEil Melech Ne’eman – God is the Faithful King – and Tosfos tell us that we should have that intention in mind when answering amen in addition to the simple meaning of the word, which is that we affirm the bracha or prayer that we just heard. This is the minimum intention that one should have when answering amen. [Siman 66]

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on