Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Just one word. Sad.

Just one word. Sad.

Krum as a bagel

What do I, as a Jew, have to do to merit the blessings of the Torah? Do I need to be honest in business? Treat my wife with respect? Do acts of kindness for my fellow man? Meditate over the words of the Torah day and night? According to a wildly popular book, the answer is "Just one word." The "word" in question is "Amen."

I went to the seforim store yesterday and noticed that this is the most prominently displayed sefer there. The book seems the be the hottest item in town. The other week, a teenage girl ran into the store to pick up two copies of the book she had asked the clerk to reserve for her. In shul, one guy has three copies of the book on his shtender. A sign at the counter assures customers that more shipments are on their way. Its already out in a revised and expanded edition.

As the dustjacket explains:

Given the opportunity to bejewl Hashem's Crown of Golry with scintillating, dazzling diamonds, would you willingly forgo it? Presented with the chance to merit untold blessing for yourself and your loved ones, would you decline?

Open this book and discover the strength of just one word, a precious, powerful word. Read about the treasures of Amen - how it can open all the heavenly gates, enriching you with good fortune and success. You will rejoice with the people in these true stories when they reap the fruit of their efforts in this world.

I actually concurred with the opening few paragraphs of this
review in the Yated:

I guess this is an instant generation where you look for quick solutions, where you want to be `connected' all the time. A generation of words. Well, this one fits the bill perfectly. It is a one-word ticket to eternity.

But then, not so much:

But if this sounds flippant, that's because it is truly hard to believe that this three-letter word packs in so much.

Seventy-two very fascinating stories, true of course, and parables, fill this book, along with some halochos that open up one's eyes. It is also peppered with insights and gematriyos, like the following:

The word ne'eman, faithful, is made up of the word eim with two noons (numerically valued at 100). If a mother invests effort in teaching her children to recite the required (one hundred daily) blessings aloud, and to answer amen when they hear one recited, she is gauranteed that her home will be a faithful Jewish home.


This book is systematically arranged into sections. It combines contemporary tales with stories from our holy sources. The first one involves R' Moshe Feinstein ztzvk'l:

It begins with a doctor who is now part of the staff of Maayanei Hayeshua Hospital in Bnei Brak. He tells how he became an observant Jew [excerpted from his story].

"About eighteen years ago, I was treating a terminally ill patient. His body was gradually ceasing to function — his days were clearly numbered. After deliberating the case with a number of specialists, I presented the following option to the patient and his family: He could undergo complicated surgery that might lengthen his life by another six months, but it would be expensive and very painful."

The son said that he could not make the decision on his own. "Only R' Moshe Feinstein can answer that question."

The doctor offered to accompany him and personally present the intricacies of the case. He was interested to see how the Rov would deal with the situation.

"What followed [he relates] will forever be etched in my memory. R' Feinstein began to cry. He cried real tears, bitter tears, his sobbing audible in the room. For almost twenty minutes he wept. As a professional, I know how we gradually learn to detach, how years of experience numb our sensitivities. Yet this Rav, who met countless people a day, was moved so intensely..."

R' Moshe asked for a day to consider. When they returned, he replied with confidence, "Go ahead and have the surgery."

"The expression on my face must have revealed my skepticism, because R' Feinstein then addressed me, saying, `In the half a year reprieve this surgery will grant our friend, he will have the merit of answering amen to many berachos. Each amen will create a guardian angel for him. These angels will defend him... and he will be granted a long life in their merit."

The doctor was amazed that R' Moshe felt it would all be worthwhile... What is more, R' Feinstein believed that these words could actually interfere with nature. "At that moment, I realized that there must be something profound to Torah and mitzvos."

Indeed, the patient outlived the doctors' grim prognosis by several years and the doctor became observant...


Every amen creates a guardian angel, R' Moshe had said. In fact, omein has the same numerical value as the word malach, angel — ninety-one!


The author writes about an old Yerushalmi minhag carried out in many shuls on Shabbos mornings. Just before mussaf, all the young boys, including those who have strayed outside to play, gather close to the oron kodesh and together, in their pure, sweet voices, they answer the words of praise that pierce the Heavens: Amen, yehei Shmei Rabba... (Afterwards, they are duly awarded with a treat!)

She goes on to quote sources — the Chofetz Chaim wrote that this practice with young children "saves thousands of people from death." And she follows up with incredible stories actually bearing this out!

And on and on. I'm tempted to attribute the popularity of the book to a rank desire for material wealth and akin to the hucksters on Christian TV selling magic holy water. The dust jacket's reference to "jewels," "diamonds," "enriching," "good fortune and success," suggests such a come on. But I'd like to think it's more then that. There must be a strong appeal in imagining that there is a simple powerful word that somehow brings us closer to God. God is here, and we can merit his presence if we answer Amen at the right time, in the right place and with the right intentions.

But it's sad. There such richness in our religion. One can spend months pondering the stories of Sefer Bereshis: creation, the etz hadaas, the flood, the akeda -- not just to gain an understanding of the stories themselves, but to extract from them an understand God wants from us. I guess it a heck of a lot easier reading stories about the magical powers of Amen. Or perhaps, as the Yated review suggests, saying Asher Yatzar:

A sequel to this book could easily be written with stories of the same kind. In our own neighborhood, we witnessed the power of concentrating upon our asher yotzar blessings (which has its own section, as well). Many women were asked to join a mishmeres for the benefit of a neighbor who fell into a coma and were asked to concentrate upon asher yotzar besides. His organs had stopped functioning and he was all hooked up to machines.

His wife informed the doctors, who had just about given up on him, what we were doing, and lo and behold! Very soon, his kidneys began to function once again and now he is out of the coma and recuperating! The mishmeres was for two weeks and when it was up, on Tu Bishvat, the participants got a letter in their mailbox telling us how effective it had been, though he still needs our prayers...

Coming soon to a seforim store near you, I'm afraid.

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