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August 22, 2014 / 26 Av, 5774
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Q & A: Birkat HaGomel (Part I)


Question: I recently returned from a trip abroad and wanted to say HaGomel. When I mentioned this to the officers of my synagogue, however, they told me that I would have to wait until Shabbos to do so. I was not given any reason for this and did not wish to display my ignorance, so I quietly acquiesced. Can you please explain why I had to wait?

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Answer: Let us first discuss the requirement to have a minimum of 10 men for synagogue services and other mitzvot that are “davar shebi’kedushah – matters of sanctity.” This requirement is derived through a gezerah shavah – verbal analogy – one of the fixed principles of interpretation by which our Sages expound the Torah. If the same word or phrase appears in two separate verses in the Torah, and a certain halacha is explicitly stated regarding one of them, we may (under certain circumstances) infer on the basis of “verbal analogy” that the same halacha applies in the second instance as well.

In our case, the first verse of the gezerah shavah (based on the words “betoch” and “mitoch”) is found in Parshat Emor (Leviticus 22:32), which instructs us not to violate – with intent – any of G-d’s commands, resulting in a diminution of G-d’s honor: “Velo techallelu et shem kodshi venikdashti betoch Bnei Yisrael, ani Hashem mekaddish’chem – You shall not desecrate My holy Name, and I will thus be sanctified in the midst of the Children of Israel; I am Hashem Who sanctifies you.” We must zealously strive to sanctify G-d and, in so doing, we ourselves will be sanctified.

The second verse is in Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:21) and concerns G-d instructing Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the rebellious Korach and his followers: “Hibbadlu mitoch ha’edah hazot va’achaleh otam ke’raga – Separate yourselves from amid this congregation, and I shall destroy them in an instant.”

This second verse leads us to yet another gezerah shavah based on the word “edah” in this verse and the word “edah” in a verse in Parshat Shelach regarding the spies whom Moses had sent to investigate the land of Canaan. When they returned with a bad report about the promised land, G-d made His wrath known to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 14:27): “Ad matai la’edah hara’ah hazot asher hemah mallinim alai, et telunot Bnei Yisrael asher hemah mallinim alai shamati – How long [shall I bear] this evil congregation that complains against Me? I have heard the complaints of the Children of Israel against Me.”

This gezerah shavah comes up in a discussion between R. Huna and R. Yehoshua b. Levi in the Gemara (Berachot 21b) regarding a person who enters a synagogue and wishes to catch up with the congregation which is reciting Shemoneh Esreh. R. Huna allows him to start Shemoneh Esreh if he will catch up by the time the chazzan reaches Modim while R. Yehoshua maintains that he can only start if he will catch up by Kedushah. R. Huna rules as he does because he permits an individual to recite Kedushah by himself, but R. Yehoshua maintains that Kedushah can only be said with a quorum of 10 (and that is the halacha).

How does R. Yehoshua b. Levi come to his conclusion? R. Adda b. Abaha explains that he bases himself on the verse quoted earlier, “Venikdashti betoch Bnei Yisrael,” which implies that there has to be at least 10 people present for any manifestation of sanctification. Rabinai, the brother of R. Chiya b. Abba, explains that we draw a gezerah shavah between “betoch” in this verse and “mitoch” in “Hibbadlu mitoch ha’edah hazot.” And we know that “edah” implies at least 10 people because of the verse, “Ad matai la’edah hara’ah hazot,” which clearly refers to 10 spies (the original 12 minus Joshua and Caleb who brought back a favorable report on the land).

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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