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Beshalach -Birchat Hagomel (Benediction of Deliverance)

Birchat Hagomel (Benediction of Deliverance)

 

Four categories of people that are required to bring a Korban Todah (Thanks Offering)

 

Chazal (our Sages) derive four categories of people that , have all survived a life threatening ordeal  and are required to bring a Korban Todah {Thanks offering) from Tehillim, (chapter 107)  - those who survive a sea voyage, a trip through the desert, a life threatening illness, who are released from prison.

 

 The Vilna Gaon (quoted in Seder Ha’aruch Volume 2) points out that when Clal Yisrael came out of Egypt they were saved from the above four dangers.

 

Why the number four plays a significant role in the Pesach Seder night

 

Hashem took us out of Egypt, which is likened to a prison. We were then brought through the desert and across Yam Suf (The Red Sea). Finally, upon arriving at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), all of the sick people amongst Clal Yisrael were healed. This is why the number four plays a significant role in the Pesach Seder night. We ask the four questions, discuss four types of sons, and drink four cups of wine that correspond to the four expressions that the Torah uses to describe to the Geula (Redemption). In truth, we are thanking Hashem for being saved from the above mentioned four threats. Unfortunately, without the Bait Hamikdash (Temple), we cannot fulfill our obligation of bringing a Korban Todah to thank Hashem for saving us from the above dangers.

 

The special blessing (bracha) of Birchat Hagomel

 

In its place, Chazal instituted the special blessing (bracha) of Birchat Hagomel. This bracha is as follows: “Baruch atah Hashem hagomel l’chayavim tovot shegmalani (kol) tuv” – Blessed are You, who bestows good things upon the guilty, who has bestowed (every) goodness upon me.

After the bracha of hagomel is recited, the people in attendance respond “Amen, mi shegamalcha kol tuv, who yigmalcha kol tuv, selah” – May He who has bestowed every goodness upon you, continue to bestow every goodness upon you forever.

 

 “Upon the guilty” (hagomel l’chayavim tovot)

 

The reason we mention “upon the guilty” i.e. non deserving ( hagomel l’chayavim tovot) in the bracha, is because we are alluding to the fact that Hashem bestows kindness upon us even though we are not worthy of it).

 

shegmalani tuv”

 

Some versions of the bracha the do not include the word “kol ” Because it doesn’t make sense to thank Hashem for giving us “all good” when we just went through an experience that obviously wasn’t  so good.

.

The response is that the person who has suffered should be blessed with Kol Tuv.Thus the version of the Beracha is:

"Hagomel leChayavim tovos shegemalani tov," and the listeners answer: "Mi shegemalcha *kol* tov, Hu yigmalcha kol tov selah."
 
 

Where and when is the bracha recited?

. The bracha should be recited in the presence of ten adults (including the one reciting the bracha). Preferably, there should be two Talmidei Chachamim (learned wise men) in attendance (O.C. 219:3). It is best to make the bracha while standing. However one can fulfill one’s obligation sitting down (b’dieved – in retrospect (M.B. 219 s.k. 4)

The custom (minhag) is to recite the bracha in the synagogue at the time of Kriat Hatorah (reading the Torah portion) since there is always a minyan (quorum of 10 men) in attendance then. Although not required, it is customary for the one reciting the Birchat Hagomel to get an aliyah (Chatam Sofer O.C. 51; Birchat Habayit – Shaarei Binah18)(Note: This does not take precedence over any other chiyuvim (persons obliged to be called to read the Torah portion).   The Chatam Sofer explains that the aliyah is in place of the Korban Todah that one was obligated to bring in the times of the Beit Hamikdash. (The same concept applies to a woman who had just given birth. On the first Shabbat that a new mother comes to Shul, her husband should receive an aliyah (in place of the Korban Yoledet) that she would have brought during Temple times ((Magen Avraham end of paragraph 282).)

 

In other cases where Birchat Hagomel is required, and a person receives an aliyah, he should recite Birchat Hagomel at the end of the aliya after making the bracha on the Torah. If he gets the last aliyah, he should recite Birchat Hagomel prior to the Kaddish (Eshel Avraham). If one did not get an aliyah he should recite Birchat Hagomel after the Baal Kore (Torah Reader) recites the Kaddish (Piskei Teshuvot note 73 quoting Ohelecha Bamitecha)

 

Optimal time to say Birchat Hagomel

Ideally  Birchat Hagomel should be said within three days after becoming obligated to do so. If one became obligated to make a bracha after Keriat Hatorah on Monday, the Mishna Berura (219 s.k. 20) rules that it is better for one to organize his own minyan (quorum of 10 men) and recite Birchat Hagomel immediately rather than wait until Thursday’s Kriat Hatorah (Torah reading) which would have resulted in a delay of more than three days. However, the minhag haolam (general custom) is to always wait for Keriat Hatorah (Shaarei Efraim 4:27). If three days has passed, a person should still make the bracha (O.C. 219:6). According to simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch, it would seem that bediavad, (in retrospect) there is no time limit for reciting Birchat Hagomel. However, the Aruch Hashulchan (219:7) says that one can only make the bracha if the “salvation” is still fresh in his mind.

 

Do children recite Birchat Hagomel?

There is a dispute amongst the poskim (decisors) as to whether a child may recite Birchat Hagomel (see Shaarei Teshuvah 219:1 and M.B. s.k. 3). The prevalent minhag is for them not to, the reason being that the bracha contains the words “Hagomel’lchayavim tovot” – Who bestows good things upon the guilty. Minors, however,  cannot be considered guilty.

 

Do women say Birchat Hagomel?

 

The blessing is not time‑dependent, and it substitutes in part for the korban todah  one of the classes of Korbanot (sacrifices) which women were obligated to offer (e.g. after   childbirth) in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Accordingly one could expect women to be obliged to say the Hagomel Beracha

However with regard to women, there is a minhag is for them not to make a Birchat Hagomel  This bracha is supposed to be made in public, and for a woman to make a bracha in public is considered immodest (M.B. 219 s.k. 3). The Mishna Berura mentions an opinion that women should recite Birchat Hagomel in front of ten people, even if nine of them are women, provided that there is at least one adult male present. Where  the response is being said to a woman, instead of “shegemalcha” one says “shegemaleich.” However, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichot Shlomo 23:4) rules that one should not follow this opinion. He (Halichot Shlomo 1:23 note #10) suggests that a woman would fulfill her obligation by having special kavana when reciting the morning bracha of Hagomel Chassadim Tovim L’Amo Yisrael.
The minhag in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is that a woman who given birth recites Birchat  Hagomel in front of ten male adult family members who congregate in her house after the baby is born. This should be done a week after the birth, provided the new mother is not excessively weak (Salmat Chaim 202).

 

“….she’gamal l’ishti Kol Tov”

 

There are two other suggestions proposed by the Achronim: The Mishna Brurah (219:17) brings an opinion that the husband can say the bracha on the wife’s behalf, changing the wording to: “….she’gamal l’ishti Kol Tov”.  (See Biur Halacha who questions this practice.) 

 

 The Torat Chaim (Sanhedrin 94a) writes that a woman who gave birth and was required to say Hagomel, would go to shul on a day of Kriat Hatorah, listen to her husband receiving an Aliyah and reciting Borchu… and she would answer Amen.  This fulfills her requirement to praise Hashem (See Yechaveh Da’at 4:15). 

 

Car accidents and surgery

Chazal instituted Birchat Hagomel to be said by the four categories of people who bring a Korban Todah, as enumerated above. The Rishonim [Early Rabbis] argue whether this bracha is limited exclusively to these four categories of people, or if saved from a life threatening situation should recite this bracha. The halacha follows the latter opinion. Therefore, if someone was held up by armed robbers, in which case his life was in danger, he should recite Birchat Hagomel.  Likewise, if someone was involved in a life threatening car accident.

 

The additional Beracha-“Baruch Shasa Li Nes B’Makom Hazeh

 It is important to note that in the future, when one encounters the place where he was saved from a life-threatening situation e.g. the place of his severe car accident, he should recite the bracha-“Baruch Shasa Li Nes B’Makom Hazeh” – Blessed (is the One) that performed a miracle for me at this place.

 

However, one should not say the shem v’malchut (name of Hashem) in the bracha, unless he was saved in a miraculous way (see O.C. 218:9).  With regard to surgery, the rule of thumb is as follows: if the surgery required, a general anesthesia or one undergoes surgery of a serious nature it is considered to be a life-threatening situation. Therefore, upon recovery, a .Birchat Hagomel should be recited.

 

Flight Travel and Ocean Travel

 

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Halichot Shlomo, Ch. 23) considers flying on an airplane a sakana (dangerous situation), and therefore one must always recite Birchas Hagomel after flying (even if the plane did not fly over an ocean or desert).  However, most poskim disagree, as statistics now show that it is more dangerous to drive in a car than fly on an airplane. Using this line of reasoning, some poskim rule that one should never recite Birchas Hagomel after a plane trip, even if the plane flew over an ocean or desert

 

 Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igrot, Moshe O.C. Volume 2 Siman 59) also states that one should always recite Birchat Hagomel after any plane trip. However, his reasoning is different than that of  HaRav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. R’Moshe explains that just as Chazal require one who travels by sea to recite Birchat Hagomel, regardless of whether his trip dangerous or not, so too, any traveling that is not done on secure, dry land, requires a Birchat Hagomel upon the journey’s completion.  Some poskim say that one should be machmir (strict), and taking all views into account, recite Birchas Hagomel without the shem v’malchut (name of Hashem).

 

However, the most prevalent minhag is to recite Bircat Hagomel with the shem v’malchut upon flying over an ocean or desert. If one did not fly over an ocean or desert, no bracha is recited at all. (Minchat Yitzchak Volume 2 Siman 47,)

One only recites Bircat Hagomel at the end of the return trip. For example, if one travels from Eretz Yisrael to London for a short visit (less than 30 days), one does not recite Birchat Hagomel until he arrives back in Eretz Yisrael (Rivivot Efraim) Volume 1 Siman 155). The only exception to this rule is if one travels from outside of Eretz Yisrael (ex. London) to Eretz Yisrael. Then the hope is that Mashiach will come, and his trip will not be a temporary one. In this case, R’Moshe says that one should recite Birchas Hagomel in Eretz Yisrael, and then again upon arriving back in London.

 

If one travels by boat across the ocean or large sea, he should recite Birchat Hagomel at the end of his trip upon returning to dry land. However, if traveling by a  river, no bracha is recited. (Note: This is according to Minhag Ashkenaz. With regard to Minhag Sefard, see Biur Halacha [219: 1]. “Yordei Hayam” and Piskei Teshuva). To become obligated for Birchat Hagomel, one must “travel a considerable distance off shore This can be relevant to people who go on cruises. Each cruise is different and a question (Shealah) should be asked as to whether or not Birchat Hagomel should be recited.

Being Released from Prison

One of the four categories of people who bring a Korban Todah and therefore recite Birchat  Hagomel, is one who was freed from prison. The Magen Avraham is of the opinion that this only holds true if his jail sentence could have resulted in execution.  If the jail sentence is due to white collar crime, in which case there is no death penalty, the poskim argue as to whether one should recite Birchat Hagomel upon being freed (see Biur Halacha 219:1“chavush”). However, if one is sentenced to jail for a day or two, then everybody agrees that no Birchat Hagomel is recited (ibid).

If one escapes from prison and would be sent back if he were found, Birchat Hagomel is not recited (Bircat Habayit shear 27:2).

 

Miscellaneous

If one has more than one reason to recite Birchat Hagomel (e.g. a person was healed from a serious illness and traveled the ocean safely) Birchat Hagomel is only recited once (M.B. s.k.3).  If one is in doubt whether to recite Birchat Hagomel, one should recite the bracha without saying the shem malchut (G-d’s name). However  R Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichot Shlomo) maintained that rather than saying a bracha without the shem v’malchus, one should have kavana when saying the bracha “Boruch…hagomel chasadim tovim lamo yisrael (in Birchas Hashachar – morning prayers), that it is being said instead of Birchat Hagomel. R’ Shlomo Zalman would advise women and children who otherwise would not say Birchat Hagomel to do this as well. It is best if one could make the bracha within earshot of ten people.

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