What is a spiritual antidote to the pandemic? In recent years, “Amen parties” have become popularized. What is the meaning behind them, and what can they offer us during this difficult period?
People all over the world are searching for the solution to the terrible virus that has incapacitated the entire world. Scientists are working around the clock to develop a vaccine, doctors are searching for the best cure, and governments encourage people to wear masks and social distance. Perhaps we too, regular Shul goers, could contribute to the effort as well.
In recent years, a tradition has become widespread. It is called an Amen Party; people gather around an assortment of foods and respond Amen to blessings recited by each individual. Each food’s unique blessing is understood to correspond with specific life situations, and when a group of people respond Amen, we hope that the individual will be blessed with salvation in that specific sphere.
The blessing of Boreh Pri Hagafen is conducive for finding a marriage partner, because wine brings people closer and symbolizes love and joy.
Borei Minei Mezonot over baked items is a blessing for livelihood because the word Mezonot means quite literally – sustenance.
Borei Pri Ha’etz over fruit is considered a blessing for children, “fruit of the womb.” In the Torah, man is compared to the tree of the field. Just like a tree gives fruit, so too humans give “fruit.”
Borei Pri Ha’adamah over vegetables – which grow in the earth – is a blessing for health because human being too, stem from the earth. And ask any vegetarian, what’s healthier than vegetables?
Shehakol Nihiya Bidvaro is a general blessing over an assortment of foods and is therefore considered a general blessing in life for anything that doesn’t fit into a specific category.
So when a group gathers for an Amen party and reply Amen to an individual’s blessing, they are essentially ‘bringing down’ the necessary salvation for that person.
The Secret Ingredient
But there is also a ‘secret’ to the Amen party. It isn’t enough for one individual to recite a blessing and then “let’s go eat.” It is important for a total of one hundred blessings to be recited. There needs to be the opportunity for each person to declare Amen one hundred times. Therefore, a minimum of twenty people are invited to the gathering, so that each person could recite all five blessings, thereby reaching the desired one hundred blessings and Amens. It is specifically this formula – the number one hundred – that brings the salvation.
Why one hundred?
The Sages of the Talmud taught, “A person is obligated to recite one hundred blessings each day,” and source their statement on a play of words in a verse in the Torah.
But what is the use of one hundred blessings?
The Midrash relates that during King David’s reign, an epidemic broke out and “one hundred people died each day.” Then, King David enacted this custom and the epidemic ceased to spread. King David had recognized with his ‘spiritual intuition’ that reciting one hundred blessings each day would bring the epidemic to an end. That is the source for the custom of one hundred blessings.
Who is Greater?
But there is something greater than the recital of one hundred blessings each day: answering Amen to one hundred blessings of another.
Rabbi Yosi said in the Talmud that it is greater to answer Amen than to recite the blessing. However special the blessing is, answering Amen is considered superior. The Talmud compares it to a battle strategy, where the simple soldiers are released into the battlefield at the outset, while the seasoned soldiers are reserved for the end, to ensure victory. Reciting the blessing is like being a regular soldier; answering Amen is being in the elite unit. Answering Amen is what ensures that the blessing will indeed be fulfilled.
Perhaps this could be a spiritual solution for our current pandemic.
The concept of answering Amen to a blessing is first found in our Torah Portion, Haazinu. At the beginning of the portion, Moshe says, “I will call in the name of Hashem, bring greatness to our L-rd.” Rashi explains that Moshe wanted the Israelites to praise Hashem’s name every time Moshe mentioned His name.
We observe this commandment in a variety of ways. In Shul, whenever the Chazzan recited Hashem’s name in a blessing, the congregation responds, “boruch hu uvoruch shemo, blessed is He and blessed is His name.” When the Chazzan says, “borchu et Hashem hamevorach,” we respond with “boruch Hashem hamevorach l’olam vaed.” And for the same reason, whenever we hear a blessing, we respond with Amen. (See Sifri Devarim Haazinu 306).
Helping Other Jews Bless
The Rebbe explained that answering Amen is more worthy than the blessing itself because a blessing alone can be a self-centered endeavor. You can recite one hundred blessings each day and still think only of yourself. You can pray all day, and still lack the ability to connect with other people in a meaningful way. But when you recite a blessing out loud, you give another Jew the opportunity of the blessing as well.
A fellow Jew may not know the proper way to recite the blessing, and by answering Amen, he is considered to have done it properly. When one individual recites Kiddush and others answer Amen, it is considered as if those individuals recited the Kiddush themselves.
The whole idea of the repetition of the Amida is based on this concept. There were many illiterate Jews who wanted to pray, and they would just memorize all the prayers that they would hear in the service. But when it came to the Amida, it was silent and they couldn’t participate. Thus the repetition of the Amidah was instituted. By answering Amen to the blessings, it is as if each Jew recited the Amidah himself.
Since you share the blessing with another person, it is specifically the answering of Amen that channels the blessings down to earth.
The same is true of an Amen party; when Jews gather and wish each other that their prayers be fulfilled, it is the love and unity among them that channels the blessings.
The Power of a Farbrengen
The Previous Rebbe related that Chassidim once sat at a farbrengen with the Alter Rebbe before he became an active Rebbe. One of the participants suffered from a terrible disease to which there was no known cure, and he pleaded with the assembled to bless him with a complete recovery. The Chassidim present desisted. For such a blessing, they said, you need to travel to a Rebbe. But this individual was persistent and demanded that they bless him. The Alter Rebbe suddenly asked for quiet and said that he had heard from his illustrious teachers that “a Chassidic gathering can accomplish more than the Angel Michael, defender of the Jewish people.”
The Alter Rebbe explained that a father finds joy in the fact that his children care and assist one another, and that gives him the desire to provide for all their needs. Likewise, when our Father in Heaven sees us sitting in unity, he is filled with joy and pleasure, and is happy to fulfill our requests. For this reason, we should utilize the opportunity to give blessings to each other.
This is what lies behind the Amen Parties. When Jews gather together and wish each other well, it inspires Hashem to bless us with an abundance of good. Today, as we sit and pray together – even without food, for reasons beyond our control – our togetherness has the power to bring genuine salvation. Therefore, let us bless one another with a good and sweet year, a gemar chasima tovah, and year of miracles, when we will see the coming of Moshiach.