Amen Brother! Or an indelicate silence?
by Jacques Abourbih
Prayer is an act of sublime surrender. People who privately serve Hashem, away from the public eye act out of pure motives. Prayers uttered in silence are not to satisfy societal pressures and their deeds can truly be for G-d alone.
According to Halakha, a minyan is required for many parts D’varim SheB’Kedusha (“Holy utterances”) of the communal prayer service, including Barechu, Kaddish, repetition of the Amidah, the Priestly Blessing, and the Torah and Haftarah readings.
Participants in minyan answer “Amen” to prayers led publically. On a basic level, amen is one person’s affirmation that he or she believes what another has just said. It becomes a paideic expression which has as an objective to form a knowledgeable and mature mind by affirming belief and understanding of what is said in public worship. When we recite the Shema we call upon all Israel to “Hear O’ Israel”. From a Jewish perspective it seems that it is not the eyes that are important, it is the ears.
Yet it is not so. When Billy the Bard has his Shylock say: “Hath not a Jew eyes?” he is mistaken. In Devarim (Deuteronomy 11:26), we read “Re-eh Ani Ki Noten lifnekhem…” (Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse).
But here is my point. If Billy the Bard knew Hebrew, he would notice the grammatical problem in this verse. The first word re’eh (“see”) is in the singular, but the word for “before you” lifneykhem, is plural.
The 11th century scholar Bachya ibn Paquda offers this insight that I want to share with you. He explained that the commandments were placed before the entire people, hence the plural; but the choice of fulfilling the mitzvot is left to the individual’s free will. Re-eh in the singular then is clearly intended in the Torah to shift the focus from physical insight using the senses toward inward perception, which is the essence of prayer, whether as a private expression or communally in a Minyan.
According to our Rabbis there are seventy-two ways of praying. One of them is through silence.