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Thought for the Day: What Do You (are Supposed to) Mean by אמן/Awmein?

Yes, I meant to spell it that way.  The Mishna Brura says very clearly (which is to say, the statement is literally there, as the entire text of the Mishna Brura is a model of clarity in both thought and expression) that the vocalization of אמן is with a קמץ גדול (the little "T" vowel, pronounced "aw" as in "awl") under the א and צירי (the two dots, pronounced "ey" as in "whey").  Who cares, you say?  I mean... it's just אמן, right?  Not such a big deal, right?  Wrong, wrong, wrong, there are rules and regulations for אמן -- times when you must say it, times you are not permitted to say it, times when you must not delay in saying it; and is all comes with reward and punishment (as brought in the Biur Halacha).  Good... now that I have you attention...

אמן has two basic meanings, and it is important to know which to intend when responding.  One meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the facts: "I affirm my belief that such-and-such is true."  For example, when you hear someone make a bracha before he eats and apple, your אמן means, "I affirm my belief that HaShem, who is King of the universe, created fruit trees."  That is the meaning you should intend whether or not you also want to eat apple (relying on your friend's bracha).  Ditto when you hear the prayer leader saying the morning brachos.

The second meaning is actually essentially a short prayer, "May HaShem make such-and-such become true."  That is the intention when, for example, someone wishes you success in a new endeavor or a speedy recovery.  Slight aside: The Ramban learns that is the ever so slight sin of Sara Imeinu when she laughed upon hearing from one of the angels -- whom she perceived to be three vagabonds -- that she would merit giving birth to a son in a year, at the ripe old age of 90!  Of course the idea was laughable.  Sara's error, says the Ramban, was simply that she should have said אמן.  (Likely with a wistful sigh, I imagine.)  I mention that to emphasize how important saying אמן at the appropriate time with the appropriate intention actually is.

It is usually obvious which intended meaning is appropriate.  Blessing of praise -- such as ישתבח and ברוך שאמר -- clearly require affirmation of truth.  The thirteen petitions in the middle of the shmone esrei prayer (and the like), clearly require the affirmation that you want them to come true.  Not so obvious, though, is the first and last three brachos of shmone esrei.  Those are praise and thanks, respectively.  The halacha is very clear that these are not petitions.  Yet, the last three (and especially the last one -- "make shalom/peace") certainly seem to be almost more petition than thanks/acknowledgement.  The Mishna Brura explains that there is no greater acknowledgement/thanks than admitting that the entire world can only find true peace from HaShem.

That leaves us to reckon with the first three.  The third, the absolute holiness of HaShem clearly demands nothing but admission.  In the first two, though, we mentioning healing the sick, giving sight the blind, resurrecting the dead, etc.  On the one hand we can see those as praising HaShem as the One who does all those things.  On the other hand, there is certainly a need in the world for all of them.  It one allowed, therefore, to have in mind a prayer that those who still need healing should be healed, those who need vision should be granted sight, or one must intend only as praise and reserve hopes for the middle petitions?

The Biur Halacha brings that discussion and ends with a "requires further investigation".  It seems to me, though, that if one has in mind that for the world to see an end to all illness, vision to all those who are blind, an end to poverty, and so forth -- in a fashion that is clearly attributable to HaShem alone -- then perhaps the two intentions can be considered as one has fulfilled the mitzvah of saying אמן/Awmein in the best possible way.


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