I would stand outside the door. People would walk by. Some would greet me. Some by a shake of the head. Some by saying something. Some, I would greet first. Sometimes, the rosh yeshiva Reb Chaim Epstein shlita would pass by, and offer me a greeting. Sometimes, the mashgiach Reb Moshe Wolfson shlita would do the same. Obviously, they didn’t do it because I was important. They did it to give succor to a poor, pathetic Jew.
One Friday night (Shabbos), as I stood there, I thought to ask: We conclude the Shemoneh Esrei by saying oseh shalom bimromav hu ya-aseh shalom aleinu ve-al kohl yisrael ve-imru amein. This is recited during the silent Shemoneh Esrei that we each daven individually. Whom, then, were we addressing when we said: ve-imru amein? I pondered and I pondered; and the more I pondered, the more I became perplexed by the question. When the chazan recites oseh shalom at the conclusion of the kadish, the problem does not arise. He can be understood as addressing the congregation. Indeed, the congregation responds, saying amein. But whom am I addressing when I say it, daveing the shtileh (silent) Shemoneh Esrei?
Presently, Reb Yisroel Meir Kirzner shlita walked by. I treaded toward him, greeting him with an inspired Gut Shabbos! Having received his reciprocative greeting, I blurted out, “May I ask something?” Receiving his affirmative indication, I proceeded to put my question before him. Not missing a beat, he responded, evincing a teasing demeanor. He said: “Could it be that it was the malachim who were being addressed?” Befuddled totally, I ventured no answer: I let him continue on his way, without my having said anything further.
Then there’s what happened the next day. In shul, on the corner at Mincha Gedola, I met Rabbi Kupitz (may he be well) and put the question to him. Giving me a sympathetic ear, it occurred to him to mention that I might want to consult the Magein Avraham to Shulchan Aruch Orach Cha-im, siman 61 se-if 3, in hilchos keri-as shema. I might find some pertinent discussion there. I followed through; and lo and behold, illuminating goings on unfolded before me.
Permit me to explain. The halacha says that, although one is generally not allowed to interrupt one’s recital of keri-as shema with speech, one is permitted to do so at certain points in the reading, for certain defined purposes. Pursuant to this caveat, the Mechaber says that it is, likewise, permissible to interrupt one’s reading of keri-as shema in order to answer kadish, kedusha, and barechu. The Mechaber goes so far as to say that these latter may be responsively recited even when the reader finds himself in the midst of a verse of the keri-as shema. (By contrast, the more standard dispensations only apply when the reader has completed a verse or a chapter.)
To this the Rama adds that, according to some, one may interrupt one’s reading also to utter the amein that is answered after the beracha of hakeil hakadosh and, also, the amein that is answered after the beracha of shome-a tefila. Having cited this opinion, the Rema goes on to adopt it.
We now come to the Magein Avraham. He wants to know why these two ameins enjoy the same status as kadish, kedusha, and barechu as far as interrupting one’s reading of the keri-as shema is concerned. In answering, he cites the Beis Yoseif (in the name of the Mari-a) who comments that these ameins have the status of kedusha; and this for the following reason. The amein of hakeil hakadosh marks the conclusion of the first section of the Shemoneh Esrei (the praises), while the amein of shome-a tefila concludes the second section (bakashos/requests). But, he continues, the amein following the beracha of sim shalom does not share this status; and one may not interrupt one’s reading of keri-as shema to answer it.
He is, in effect, bothered by the question: if the amein of hakeil hakadosh and that of shome-a tefila are considered words of kedusha, owing to the fact that they, respectively, mark the conclusion of another of the sections of the amida, then the amein of hamevareich es amo yisra-el bashalom should follow suit, considering that it marks off the third section of the amida (the section of thanks). To this he offers the answer that the amein of sim shalom is different, in that a yachid (individual) recites it as well, at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei. (The ameins of hakeil hakados and shome-a tefila, by contrast, are only recited by the tzibur – congregation – during chazaras hashatz.) The kedusha-status of this amein is therewith diminished – and, as a result, this amein does not have the power to interrupt the keri-as shema.
In so saying,it is important to note,the Beis Yoseif is alluding to an opinion that holds that everyone privately says amein at the conclusion of the (or his) Shemoneh Esrei, after the beracha of hamevareich es amo yisra-el bashalom.
Now, having cited this opinion, the Beis Yoseif goes on to cite a contravening one. It is that of the Levush, who notes that we do not go by the view that the individual says amein at the conclusion of the Shemoneh Esrei: we don’t follow this opinion. Accordingly, for us, the amein said after hamevareich es amo yisra-el bashalom is the same in status as the amein said after hakeil hakadosh and shome-a tefila. It enjoys the same level of kedusha. Therefore it has the same power as they to permit us to interrupt our reading of keri-as shema in order to answer it.
But as a counterweight to this view, the Beis Yoseif (cited still by the Magein Avraham) cites another view, that of the lch, that one should not interrupt the keri-as shema to answer the amein of sim shalom, after all. The reason he gives is this: True though it be that we don’t insert amein at the conclusion of our private recitals of the Shemoneh Esrei, we do nevertheless say amein when we follow up the Shemoneh Esrei with the refrain, oseh shalom bimromav hu ya-aseh shalom aleinu ve-al kohl yisra-el ve-imru amein. What the lch is suggesting is that this amein is somehow equivalent to (or a substitute for) an amein that might have been inserted at the conclusion of sim shalom – as far as diminishing the kedusha of the the amein said publically after the recital of sim shalom and, thus, rendering it unfit to interrupt the keri-as shema is concerned.
What we want to take away from this is the notion that ve-imru amein as said privately at the end of the amida serves a purpose akin to the purpose that amein at the end of the beracha of sim shalom serves, for those according to whom it is there uttered privately. And what is this purpose? Presumably: marking off the end of the amida.
(The observant critic will persist: “Fine, that explains why we say amein. But it does little, if anything, to assuage our concern over saying ve-imru amein. The lone, silent reciter of Shemoneh Esrei has no-one to whom to address this injunction!” Might it be, though, that he is addressing his fellow congregants? The rejoinder will be forthcoming: “No way! He is, as repeatedly said, saying the silent Shemoneh Esrei.” But perhaps not. Perhaps he has already finished the Shemoneh Esrei. He has, after all, already enunciated the verse: yihyu leratzon imrei fi... Perhaps, then, the oseh shalom prayer is a post-Shemoneh Esrei addition. In that case, it is not an intrinsically silent petition. One can address one’s fellow congregants in reciting it. Perhaps.)
After finishing with the Beis Yoseif, the Magain Avraham cites the Mateh Moshe as saying this: Even someone who davens as a yachid should say ve-imru amain after oseh shalom, at the end of the Shemoneh Esrei. For he speaks to the malachim (angels) who guard him.
When I next saw Rav Kirzner, I made sure to tell him that I knew what he had meant, standing with me one Shabbos night in winter, out there on the street.