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Have You Been Invited To A Brachos Party Or An Amen Party?

This post has been cross-posted to DovBear – more discussion there.

The newswires have been full reporting the massive scandal in NY / NJ the last few days. There is a strong correlation between the scandal and something prevalent in contemporary Orthodox Jewish society.

You may think you are far from a money-laundering, tax evading, kidney-dealing, FBI snitching, tax-evading, “knucklehead”. You may even be have the cleanest books on Wall Street and third party audits to prove it. Yet, our entire generation is infected with the same virus that the “knucklehead” are carrying.

The instant gratification / no effort, big payoff virus. (Yeah, I know, the name needs work, help me out in the comments.)

We, as a group are all looking for shortcuts. For some folks, the shortcuts are business shortcuts. Those are the “knuckleheads” who are going to jail. For others, the shortcuts are in the form of Jewish Magic (sometimes known as Segulos).

We have become overly reliant on the practice of Segulos. We want instant answers, we want instant gratification, we want an incantation to make things better, we want protection from evil all with minimal effort.

(There may be a place for Segulos in Judaism. What irks me is the proliferation of pop-Segulos. I may have mentioned this with regard to Kupat Ha’ir as well.)

Case in point: The Brachos Party (aka the Amen Party). Women (usually younger women) gather on a weekday evening. A little bit of food from each of the Brachos categories are brought to the table, beginning with some grape juice and ending with a jelly bean. Prior to each blessing a kabbalistic interpretation is provided including ideas like “making a mezonos will provide parnasa” and “making a haetz will bring children”. Then the blessing is made, a resounding amen is heard. People really do this. I am not kidding.

There also less formal, impromptu amen parties. Like in a summer camp, when everyone goes to wash netilas yadayim, girls calls over all of their friends (waiting for them to come, motioning and making a halachic hefsek) so they can hear her blessing and say amen.

Sounds pretty harmless, right? I disagree.

This is another shortcut.

Chazal reported that there are special benefits to a blessing and an amen recited properly. The point of this is to remind us to take our blessings seriously and to constantly include God in our physical lives. In fact this is a main theme throughout Torah. We are physical beings with the ability to transform the mundane into the sublime by our actions. One of the beautiful parts of Judaism is the constant tension and connection between our physical and spiritual existence. Blessings are a major part of that connection.

By relegating blessings to magic tricks, we lose the whole point of the blessing.

Further, the Aruch HaShulchan writes that one may not use “tricks” to get to the 100 blessing a day threshold mentioned in halacha. It must come organically. Additionally, he writes, saying amen to an “unnecessary blessing” is a terrible thing to do. These are not “unnecessary blessings” but a random drink of grape juice on a Wednesday, purely for the sake of making a blessing is awfully close.

When challenged, an “on the fence Brachos Party participant” told me that she learned that the whole reason we eat is to make blessings, so it is harmless to make more.

That really got me. The reason we eat is to live. When we are eating to live we make blessings. This integrates spirituality into our physical life as stated above. Further, the food “belongs to God”, making a blessing gives us the right to enjoy His world as per His instructions to us.

Eating so we make brachos is like going to the bathroom so we can make an Asher Yatzar. We go to the bathroom because otherwise we would burst. When we go successfully we acknowledge and thank God.

Here’s an idea. When you are done eating and drinking at the brachos party, go make an Asher Yatzar party!

I truly believe this is another symptom of the instant gratification / no effort, big payoff virus. We want to reap the benefits of the blessing so we invent ways to try and get those benefits.

It doesn’t work like that. There are no freebies in Judaism. Judaism is about working hard to follow the Mitzvos and refine one’s character. If the bored women want to do something to help the world, volunteer at Tomche Shabbos or homeless shelter, or go to a Torah class, or even say some Tehillim.

You can’t fool God. You can try and scam the government, you can try and scam your business associates and you will probably get caught or turned in, but please do not try and scam God.


14 Comments
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  • tnspr569

    Voices of reason are always needed – thank you!

  • Mark

    I’ll second that. Thanks for being a voice of reason!

  • http://www.thejewishside.blogspot.com Jewish Side

    I remember in High School, by our school shabbos up in the country we had one of those Brachos Parties, it was the first time I heard of it, and I felt rather silly taking a bunch of different foods and then us all saying Brachos on it.

    I haven’t thought of it your way before, but that makes a lot of sense! Very well put.

  • Tevye

    Very well said… this adds a lot of clarity to the “check” that I’ve felt about these events.

    Thanks!

  • Raphael

    This does not explain why orthodox rabbis and other religious learned people are dealing in human organs. Do they hope to fool God? Perhaps there are ways to do that that we don’t know about? Or, perhaps, they think that God does not mind?

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  • Anonymus

    I COMPLETELY disagree with you! I respect your opinion, but it is just that- an opinion. The fact is that you can convince most people of anything, if its portrayed in a “logical” and though out way. So if you read and hear things that sound half smart, most people will automatically agree with it. Its like a teacher- ever heard those “proffessional” speakers give a shiur? The type that most of it is just opinions and ideas that the speaker himself put together, making it fit in with his thesis? Most people leave these classes agreeing with the speaker…until someone, someone who obviously was not present at the shiur, asks them a small question that basically throws off the whole entire shiur. Its like being a lawyer, trying to convince people of something- you have your “argument”, and everyhing you say obviously proves what your are saying right. And the funny thing is that I am doing exactly that just now!
    So basically, I congratulate you on your “essay” or whatever it was, and like the other people wrote, it is “well put” and “well said”…but the whole thing is just wrong! I agree with you that we don’t eat to say brachos- of course not! But making brachos parties, I think, is a beautiful thing. And many big Rabonim say so. But aside from that, I really don’t understand WHY you are so against it. People aren’t trying to make “shortcuts”. They are trying to make people more aware of brachos, and of the “power” or whatever you want to call it, of saying amen with kavanah. I went to one of these parties once, and it really inspired me to say brachos properly and not like a robot, and to use these times during the day when saying brachos to really talk to Hashem and daven for people.
    And about the “shortcut” thing…. even if people do get “instant gratification” from it, and even if that is their motivation in going to these parties… I honestly don’t think that its so wrong. A basic Jewish principle is Mitoch Shelo Lishmah, Bah Lishmah. You might disagree with everything I am saying, but you can’t disagree that it’s better for these young girls to go to these parties than do who knows what else…
    Also, no one says that saying amen is a “magic trick”. People are just trying, like I wrote before, to make people aware of the importance of it.
    Also, you wrote that “Judaism is about working hard to follow the Mitzvos and refine one’s character”- I wouldn’t use the words “working hard”, I would say something like “Judaism is about working on ourselves to refine ones character in order to be able to follow the mitzvos, which will ultimately bring us closer to Hashem. And like you already know, I think going to a brachos party actually helps you do this.
    And last but not least, when you wrote “If the bored women want to do something to help the world, volunteer at Tomche Shabbos or homeless shelter, or go to a Torah class, or even say some Tehillim”- why are you saying that these things are greater than an amen party? First of all, many amen parties include divrei torah and saying tehillim. Second, many women do both! And third of all, why are you saying that these things are greater than amen parties? Since when do we know the value of mitzvos?

    • Laurelei Feldman

      Warning… I LOVE this article but post it with caution on your Facebook page. It seems to generate a LOT of energy from very passionate and highly motivated women :)

      On another note. This article spoke to me and gave me my new “big question” for the year… “Is this a shortcut?” I find questions like that helpful as I go through my day trying to be a better and more observant person.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_QTL2645YZTXBFIPTGJWVRUMVWM Cynthia
  • Info

    amen

  • A fellow Ben Torah

    BRAVO RABBI FINK!!!
    It is refreshing to see someone take a stand against something that is so highly cherished in the Jewish world, and yet, so baseless in Torah! You mentioned “There may be a place for Segulos in Judaism. What irks me is the proliferation of pop-Segulos. I may have mentioned this with regard to Kupat Ha’ir as well.” Just out of curiosity, I would like to know what role segulos in general have in Judaism? How are they different than this? Is it just that one is pop and one is not? To my simple mind, they all seem like magic. You also gave an alternative to say tehilim instead. Just curious if you have seen the Rambam in Hilchos Avodas Kochavim U’Mazalos 11:12? Wouldn’t this halacha seem to categorize tehilim as “magic” as you put it?

     Thanks again for writing this!!