Sunday, February 17, 2008

An Amen Meal

An Amen Meal
February 17, 2008

From "Blessings from Hebron" - David Wilder

A specially baked cake, prepared by Elisheva, with the
word Amen (in Hebrew) written on it.)

As I’m writing this, a very special event is taking place a few meters from where I’m sitting. Usually I sit in our living room, staring at this screen. However, tonight I was banished to my bedroom, while the living room was overrun by several dozen women from Hebron.
A couple of nights ago my wife received a call asking if she could host Sunday night (tonight), a unique meal. It’s called a meal of Amens.
She agreed, and a few hours ago our apartment started filling up with all sorts of interesting and tasty-looking foods; fruits, vegetables, cakes and drink. By 9:15 the living room was full up with more women than there were chairs. One of the women, acting as the moderator, began talking. (I listened from a crack in the door, not too far from them).
She spoke first of two subjects: speech and food. There is always so much to say. The question is whether we use our power of speech to express the positive aspects of our lives, and holiness, or do we desecrate our G-d – given gift of gab. And so too with food. There is such an overwhelming amount of food available, as opposed to thirty or forty years ago. Do we really appreciate what we’ve been given, or do we take it for granted?
One of the ways to sanctify both of these facets of our lives is to bless G-d prior to eating. The brachot – blessings – occur in two parts. A person who wants to partake of his meal, recites a blessing before eating. Whoever hears that blessing answers ‘Amen.’ And it is written, ‘he who answers Amen is greater than he who recites the blessing.’ Why?
The word Amen, in Hebrew, the letters Aleph, Mem, Nun,  are the initials of G-d, the faithful King. They are also the root letters of the word Emunah, which means faith. A person who answers Amen to a blessing is reaffirming his faith, his belief in G-d.
There are five kinds of food to be blessed: Wheat (break or cake), Wine (Grape juice), fruit of the tree, fruit of the earth, and anything else (meat, milk products, other beverages.)
Each type of food represents a different kind of worldy blessing. Wheat represents a blessing for employment; wine, for a mate; fruit of the tree, children; fruit of the earth, health and long life, and the last blessing covers anything and everything – happiness, repentance, etc.
As I’m writing the women are sitting in the other room, listening to various stories of people who recited special blessings and those who recited Amen. When they conclude a particular subject one of the women recites the blessing over a morsel from one of the above categories.  All the other women answer Amen. They then go around the room reciting names of people who are in need of such a blessing, be it for children, health, a spouse, or anything else.
I listened to some of the stories told and would like to repeat one of them.
A religious Jew acted as an escort for a sick person who had to travel to the United States for medical treatment. On a Friday night, following the beginning of the Sabbath, they were told that it was necessary to be x-rayed. Even though it would normally be forbidden on the Shabbat to ride in an elevator, for such medical needs it was permitted. The two men, the ill man and his escort, rode the elevator down 17 flights to the x-ray department where they waited to be called. While speaking to each other in Hebrew, they suddenly heard a weak voice calling to them. A very old woman, also waiting in the room, was speaking to them, in Yiddish.

They began talking and she told them her story. She had been born in Europe, and when World War Two began, her parents asked Gentile neighbors to hide their daughter. She survived the war and later immigrated to the United States, her Judaism long forgotten. And here she was, decades later, speaking Yiddish. She suddenly asked, ‘it’s Friday night, the Sabbath. Can you recite Shabbat Kiddush for me?’
In order to recite the special Sabbath prayer, the escort realized he would have to climb up 17 flights to bring back the wine needed for the blessing. He also realized that he would have to trek far outside to reach the stairs, to get back to his room. But he decided to do so, despite the distance. In very cold weather and the long walk, he climbed the stairs and reached the door to the 17th floor, only to find it locked. He looked towards the heavens and asked the L-rd to help him. Suddenly the door opened. Another person, having lost his way, had opened that door by mistake.
He took the bottle of wine, walked back down the 17 flights, found the woman and recited the Sabbath Kiddush blessing for her. As he finished, she said with all her might, “AMEN.” And then she cried out, ‘it’s been over 50 years since I could say Amen after Kiddush.’ She repeated herself over and over again, until the two men were called in for their x-ray. When they returned, the woman was no longer there. When they asked where she was, they were told that a few minutes earlier she had passed away.
It is written that a person who repeats the word Amen, with all their might, opens the door to the Garden of Eden (Tractate Shabbat, 119B). It seems that this is what she had done, only moments before departing from this world.
A few meters from me the women are still reciting blessings and many Amens, with goal of saying at least 100 Amens, praying for people who are in need of health, happiness, or anything else. This really is a unique meal, a meal of Amens, a meal sanctifying their beings, the food they eat and the essence of their souls.  I can only wish upon all of you that you too should be privileged to participate in such a meal, or, at the very least, like myself, witness it from not too far away. It is quite a purifying experience.

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