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Q & A: Birkat HaGomel (Part II)

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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 – as per the instructions of the synagogue’s rabbi – 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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Summary of our response up to this point: The requirement of having a minimum of 10 men present for synagogue services and other mitzvot that are davar shebi’kedushah (matters of sanctity) is derived through the hermeneutic principle of gezerah shavah (verbal analogy). 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 infer that the same halacha applies in the second case as well.

Leviticus 22:32 – which discusses sanctifying G-d’s name in public – uses the word “betoch” and Numbers 16:21 – which discusses G-d’s command to separate from Korach and his group – uses the word “mitoch.” The latter verse refers to a congregation of at least 10 people (which we know via a second gezarah shavah) and so we learn that publicly sanctifying G-d’s name requires a minyan.

This gezerah shavah comes up in a Talmudic discussion (Berachot 21b) between R. Huna and R. Yehoshua b. Levi regarding someone who enters a synagogue while the congregation is already in midst of davening Shemoneh Esreh. If he wishes to catch up with the congregation, R. Huna permits him to recite Kedushah by himself while R. Yehoshua rules that it can be said only with a quorum of 10.

Last week, we looked at the Mechaber’s ruling on who is required to offer hoda’ah:one who survived crossing the sea, one who survived traveling the wilderness, one who recovered from a serious illness, and one who was set free after being imprisoned. The Mechaber specifies that the blessing of the hoda’ah must be recited before a quorum of ten. The general custom is to recite the blessing after the reading of the Torah, because a quorum is already assembled at that time.

* * * * *

Last week, we cited the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 219:3), who notes that the congregation should respond to HaGomel by saying, “Mi she’gemal’cha kol tov, yigmal’cha kol tov, selah – May He who has bestowed goodness upon you continue to bestow every goodly kindness upon you, Selah.”

But where does the Mechaber derive this law from? Nowhere in the Gemara do we find such a response recorded. The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:8) and Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mention this response, but the question then becomes: Where did they get it from?

It is possible that they had a different text of the Gemara – one in which such a response is mentioned. It is also possible that they derived the requirement to say this response (or something like it) from Modim d’Rabbanan. To every berachah in Chazarat HaShas, the congregation responds “Amen,” but when the Chazzan reaches Modim, everyone says Amen and then Modim d’Rabbanan lest one appear to be a kofer – a denier of G-d. (For a fuller discussion of Modim, see our discussion in the June 22, 2012 issue of The Jewish Press.) Perhaps these posskim believed the same principle should apply to HaGomel, which, like Modim, is also a blessing of thanksgiving. For HaGomel, too, “Amen” is not enough.

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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