William Hamilton

Amen is more than an Amenity

We check our phones on average 221 times a day.  According to a recent study, that’s approximately every 4.3 minutes.  We all know the cost of this trend on our inner lives.  Awash in commentaries on technology’s threat to human empathy and intimacy,  comedian Louis C.K. recently summed up the phenomenon: “You never feel completely sad or completely happy. You just feel kinda satisfied with your products. And then you die.”

We know better.  But the challenge is complex.  After all, carrying around smart devises in our hands does help us live better lives in many ways.  Technological advancement is certainly not a moral problem.  But lacking a degree of independence from it is. 

This week’s portion of Torah contains an uncommon form of the Hebrew word ‘Amen.’  Moses speaks of a wayward generation, “they are a generation that reverses itself, and cannot be trusted (lo Aimun bam)” (Deut. 32:20), reflecting the normative meaning of ‘Amen’ as affirming trust or faith in the words that precede it.  The master-commentator Rashi renders the word Aimun (related to Amen) as meaning “they lack anyone to raise them correctly.”  

Our calendar now takes us by the hand, leading us from Yom Kippur to our year’s most emotionally joyous Sukkot Festival.  Perhaps the impermanence of the Lulav cluster – not accidentally the only ritual object that is supposed to be fancy is the one that becomes useless after a week’s time – can help us raise a generation capable of retaining a degree of independence from the shiniest new product. 

“We are used to living with ephemeral desires” writes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “but we also know that life is a little higher than our daily interests, and when we sigh self-complacency away a joy comes over us that is not only ours.”  Heschel taps that flutter of the eternal that reminds us that “there is joy in being a Jew, in belonging to Israel, to God, in being able to taste heaven in a sacred deed.“ 

Curiously, the context of Moses’ use of the form of ‘Amen’ here is in a verse that contemplates what the future might hold (ma acharitam).  But instead of telling us the future, God’s Torah unmistakably conveys that everything – finding a home, fulfilling promises, and being a blessing to the nations – depends upon us.  May praying the word Amen be for our generation much more than a disposable amenity.  And for this let us pray, Amen.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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