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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Q & A: Birkat HaGomel (Part II)


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.

* * * * *

Let us examine the requirement of saying HaGomel. The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 219:1, essentially citing the Talmud, Berachot 54b) writes as follows: Four events required offering thanksgiving to G-d: 1) successfully crossing the sea, 2) traveling through the wilderness and reaching habitation, 3) recovering from an illness, and 4) being released from jail.

In order to more easily remember these four events, the Mechaber offers the following as a mnemonic: “V’chol ha’chayim yoduchah selah – And all who live will acknowledge You, Selah,” taken from the Modim prayer in Shemoneh Esreh. Each one of the letters of “chayim” stands for one of the four events. Chet stands for choleh – an ill person; yud stands for yisurin – suffering (in prison), yud stands for yam – the sea, and mem stands for midbar – desert.

As we will see later, the Mechaber’s choice of mnemonic is very relevant to how one satisfies the requirement to offer thanksgiving.

The Mechaber (219:2) asks: “And what does one say [when offering thanks]?” He answers: “‘Baruch Ata Hashem, Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, ha’gomel l’chayavim tovot, she’gemalani kol tov – Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who bestows kindness upon the guilty, Who has bestowed every goodly kindness upon me.’ Those who hear respond, ‘[Amen!] Mi she’gemal’chah kol tov, yigmal’chah kol tov, selah – May He who has bestowed goodness upon you continue to bestow every goodly kindness upon you, Selah.’”

The Mechaber (219:3) then writes: “It is necessary to recite this blessing before a quorum of 10, two of whom are rabbis [i.e., scholars], as the verse (Psalms 107:32) states: ‘Viy’romemu’hu b’k’hal am u’v’moshav zekeinim ye-haleluhu – Let them exalt Him in the assembly of people, and praise Him in the session of the elders.’ And if there are no sages present, one should not refrain from saying the blessing.

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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