Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 34: Amen - Response of the Inner Soul

Amen is an ancient Hebrew word that has been adopted by many languages and cultures. What exactly does it mean?

The Sages taught an insightful lesson about Amen from the following verse, familiar from the call of the chazzan as the Torah is returned to the ark:

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“Declare God’s greatness with me; and let us lift up His Name together.” (Psalm 34:4)

What is the difference between the two parts of the verse, between “declaring God’s greatness” and “lifting up His Name together"?

Outward Emotion, Inner Thought

This verse describes a kind of dialog. One individual declares God’s greatness, while others listen and join in.

The dialog begins with a verbal expression of awe and reverence. This declaration emanates, as the verse says, “with me.” It comes from within me. I express these inner feelings in order to inspire others to contemplate, to awaken their awareness of God’s grandeur.

The second half of the verse depicts a second stage — the thoughtful response. “Let us lift up His Name together.” Together we will elevate our understanding of God’s Name. Together we will acknowledge the boundless holiness and chessed to be found in God’s elevated rule.

This second stage requires no outward expression. Just the contemplations of a pure heart, the reflections of the soul. Speech is a vehicle to communicate to others, to inform and enlighten. The reflective response, however, belongs to the future era, a time when there will be no need to teach others, a time when the entire world will be filled with an inner recognition of the truth.

A Quiet Amen

The Sages saw this verse as a model for the dialog between one reciting a blessing and the listeners responding Amen. The response, they stressed, should be recited as described in the verse — ‘together.’ It should not be louder than the original blessing. What is so terrible about an extra-loud Amen?

The answer to this question requires us to understand the significance of Amen.

By answering Amen to a blessing, we indicate our agreement. Amen means that what we have heard conforms to our inner understanding. It is not a form of communication, but a response of the mind and soul. We acknowledge that the sentiments that we have heard resonate with our own thoughts and feelings.

If we respond Amen more loudly than the original blessing, this would indicate that our Amen is coming to add our own emotions to those already expressed in the blessing. This is not a bad thing due to our physical nature, we are influenced and moved by speech and actions — but speech is merely a means to awaken inner thought and awareness. A true Amen is not a loud outburst of emotion, but rather a quiet acknowledgement, expressing our internalization of the sentiments which we have heard.

The blessing is a public cry: “Declare God’s greatness!” It is a charge, a challenge for others to deepen their inner awareness.

And our response is Amen. “We will lift up His Name together.” We will elevate God’s Name in our inner recognition, above and beyond the limitations of human language. Unlike the blessing, emotions that are expressed openly in speech, Amen is rooted within the mind.

The blessing is the means. Amen is the goal.

Short in Letters, Long in Thought

The Sages wrote in Shabbat 119b that the word Amen is an abbreviation for the phrase “El Melech Ne'eman” (‘God, faithful King'). This is another indication that Amen belongs to the realm of thought, a realm where speech is brief and reflection is expansive. Like an iceberg, only a small part of this inner response is revealed. Its full content remains hidden within.

(Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II p. 202 on Berachot 45a)

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