Talmud Tips

For the week ending 29 February 2020 / 4 Adar II 5780

Berachot 51-57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Just the Right Length

Rav Yehuda said, “There are three things that if one extends them, his days and years are extended: at prayer, at the table and in the bathroom.”

The gemara explains that the correct manner of prayer that Rav Yehuda refers to is only if one prays without expecting to receive everything that he desires on his own terms. A prayer that is unhurried, and accepting of whatever answer Hashem provides, is praiseworthy and deserving of being rewarded by Above with “long days and years.”

The Maharsha cites another gemara where a beraita states that a person who says a “long Amen” is rewarded with long days and years. (Berachot 47a) Based on this beraita, he asks why Rav Yehuda seemingly failed to include an extended Amen in his list on our daf. The Maharsha answers that Rav Yehuda in fact included Amen in his list of three activities. When Rav Yehuda said “One who takes his time in his prayer,” he was also speaking about saying Amen as well as other prayers.

Why is extending the Amen such a positive act? From another teaching in the beraita the significance of extending Amen is clear: “And he shouldn’t throw a beracha from his mouth.” Rashi explains that saying it too quickly makes it appear as if it is a burden to the person, something that he merely needs to rid himself of and get done. Rashi also notes that Amen is the ending of a beracha. Conversely, therefore, saying Amen without haste shows a person’s love of Hashem, and that saying a beracha, a prayer or Amen is a divine pleasure.

It is important to note, Tosefot points out, that lthough a “long Amen” is good, too long of an Amen is not good. The reason for this, Tosefot explains, is because when a person says Amen for too long, the word is not said correctly and will lose its meaning and may even take on a different meaning.

Despite Tosefot’s reasoning, it appears that the Maharsha offers a different reason for not saying Amen for longer than is appropriate. The gemara says that there is a dispute between two Amoraim regarding when a person who says hamotzi may cut the bread to eat it. One opinion is that he needs to wait until all others at the table have finished saying Amen. The other opinion is that he waits only until the majority of the others have concluded Amen. By means of explaining the latter opinion, the gemara states: “Whoever extends the word Amen for longer than is appropriate is mistaken.” One way to understand this statement would be as Tosefot reasons, that saying the word for too long changes the word, and thus the minority of people at the table who are saying it at length are not really saying it and may be ignored. The Maharsha, however, writes a different explanation, an explanation that is quite novel and thought-provoking.

He writes that a person who says Amen for too long does so based on the teaching in the gemara that one who lengthens his saying of Amen is rewarded with the lengthening of his days and his years. While such a person’s intention may be understandable, it is wrong, claims the Maharsha. The verse in Kohellet (12:1) states: “And remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come, and years arrive, about which you will say, ‘I have no desire in them.’” We are taught here that each person has an age beyond which is not desirable or good for him. Only Hashem knows what that age is. A person who prays for days and years beyond this age may unwittingly be asking for something not good for him. Therefore, a person should pray for a lifetime that is appropriate and good for him, as known by Hashem. According to this idea, a person who says Amen for too long — showing his desire to increase and increase his lifetime span — should be interrupted by the one who says hamotzi and not allowed to complete his long Amen. The interruption and disruption of his Amen is for his own benefit.

The practical halacha of how to say Amen is recorded in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 124:8. “One should not answer Amen this is short, rather it should be somewhat long, the length of time that it would take to say ‘E-l Melech Ne’eman’ (Hashem is a faithful King), and one shouldn’t lengthen it too much because the reading of the word won’t express its meaning if it’s extended too much.” The Mishna Berurah points out that the ideal length for saying Amen is based on these three words since they are the meaning of Amen and Amen is an acronym for these words.

  • Berachot 54b

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