Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Ki Tavo
“Amen.” “AMEN!” “amen.” “Amen?” How does one say that word? I guess, in part, it depends on what preceded it. Perhaps the bigger question revolves around what one intends in saying this universal word of affirmation. When someone says a prayer, and you answer, “amen.” What are your intentions?
I am sure that it comes as a “given” that the word “amen” means, “I affirm.” Once said, though, what is the value of your affirmation? From the Talmud (Shevuot 36a:9-12), we learn, “Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says concerning the term “Amen”: There is an element of oath within it, there is an element of acceptance of the statement and agreement within it, and there is an element of confirmation of the statement, i.e., that he believes and prays that it will be fulfilled, within it.”
The text goes on to say, “There is an element of oath within it, as it is written: “And the priest shall administer an oath to the woman … and the woman shall say: Amen, Amen” (Numbers 5:21–22). “Amen” is the oath that the woman takes (RITUAL OF SOTAH). There is an element of acceptance of the statement within it. There is an element of confirmation of the statement within it, as it is written: “And Jeremiah, the prophet, said: Amen, may the Lord do so; may the Lord uphold your statement” (Jeremiah 28:6).
So, if one affirms a prayer; one stands obligated to help make that prayer real. If one prays for peace, affirming the prayer obligates me to a commitment to fulfill the oath I just took. I must work to bring peace.
What about the curse? If one affirms a curse, what role does the “affirmer” have in making it come true? Is it really ever proper to affirm a curse? Some would argue that they affirm “God’s justice” when they take “divine vengeance” on another. We see this precept as the justification for religious wars and violence throughout history. The problem, of course, is simple: who but God has the right to curse, and what hubris it would take to presume that God would curse people you don’t like on your behalf?
I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday. She shared that God had redefined her whole world during COVID. I asked her if God redefined it or if she had a new awareness that redefined it. She looked at me, quizzically. If God redefined it, then it is set in stone. If her new awareness opened her heart to new understandings, then her growth continues to serve as a process and journey. Her prayer opened her to hear more of what God puts out there than she had before. I have to believe that there is still so much more.
For those who feel that they have the power to curse – or worse, “God’s blessings” to condemn another, I can only pray for the expansion of their vision. No one has the market on God cornered. I find it untenable to believe that we can pray for love and peace and then go out and hate another – or pray to a God who loves – but not the ones we don’t want God to love.
So my prayer is that we can all have the experience of an expansion of vision and understanding. I pray that whatever God puts out there continues to reveal its blessings and that we learn that it is not for us to say what God does or is – God is not finite. If you affirm this prayer, then I ask that you accept the oath of helping people see past their own horizons. Let’s recognize that we all have so much to learn and that the power of faith roots in this journey of exploration, not the creation of boundaries that separate us from each other. Separating us from each other can only serve to separate us from God.