The Arizal on Amen in Halacha and Hashkafa
The Consequences Are in the Letters
Kabbalist Rav Yaakov Koppel (18th-19th century) writes in his siddur that the Arizal stresses the punishments awaiting one who hears a bracha and doesn’t respond amen. Amen is spelled alef, mem, nun. The alef is changed to afel, i.e., darkness, which is what such a person can expect in the Next World. The expanded gematria of mem and nun (i.e., the numerical value of the names of the letters spelled out) is 186. (“Mem” is spelled mem mem – that’s 40+40=80; “Nun” is spelled nun, vav, nun. That’s 50+6+50= 106.) 186 is also the gematria of kalon, disgrace. (Kuf = 100, lamed = 30, vav = 6, nun = 50.) Accordingly, the person who neglects amen can expect not only darkness but also humiliation. That is, unless he changes his ways…. [Siman 101]
Rav Koppel’s siddur continues by citing the Zohar that one should lengthen the alef sound in the word amen. In another work, Shaarei Gan Eden, he writes more extensively on this matter: one who shortens will be shortened and one who shortens will be lengthened. The explanation of this curious dictum is as follows: A person who shortens the alef of amen will find his life shortened but one who shortens the alef of the word echad in Shema will find his life lengthened. [Siman 102]
Rav Shabtai Rashkover (18th century – a student of the Baal Shem Tov) writes in his siddur – which adheres to the approach of the Ari – that one should not rush the word amen, causing him to swallow it. He cites Numbers 11:33 – “The meat was still between their teeth” – referring to the Jews’ sin in demanding meat and God’s wrath at their greediness. (The idea is that we shouldn’t be so quick to “swallow” things!) Rather, it’s a mitzvah to lengthen the sound of the alef in the word amen. [Siman 103]
The Arizal on Amen After Laasok b’Divrei Torah
There’s a question as to whether or not amen should be said after the bracha “laasok b’divrei Torah,” that God commanded us to occupy ourselves with Torah. It’s possible that that’s the end of one bracha and the words “v’harev na” (“please make pleasant”) are the start of the next bracha (in which case amen should be said after laasok b’divrei Torah), but it’s also possible that laasok b’divrei Torah is the middle of a bracha that continues v’harev na (in which case amen should not be said at that point).
The Taz (OC 47:4) cites the Ari that amen should be recited at that point, an opinion echoed by the Magen Avraham (OC 47:5). The Shulchan Aruch HaRav rules in accordance with this position (OC 47), as do Rav Yaakov Emden and the Aruch HaShulchan. The Pri Megadim (Mishb’tzos Zahav 47:4) and Derech HaChaim, however, dissent because of the doubt. Rabbi Wildman concludes that the doubt of these authorities cannot compete with the certainty expressed by the Ari and other proponents of saying amen.
Given the preponderance of authorities in favor of answering amen, Rabbi Wildman expresses his confidence in acting according to their position. Because of this, he considers it inappropriate to recite laasok b’divrei Torah silently in order to circumvent the issue, as Derech HaChaim suggests. Rather, it should be recited out loud specifically to encourage others to respond amen in accordance with the view of the Ari and his supporters. [Siman 104] As always, one should consult with one’s own rabbi regarding how to act, especially before changing one’s established practice.