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May 22, 2015 / 4 Sivan, 5775
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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?

Name Withheld
(Via E-Mail)


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.

“The custom developed to recite the blessing after Keriat haTorah because [at that time] 10 are assembled. However, if someone said the blessing with less than 10 present, there are those (Tur O.C., ad loc.) who opine that his obligation has been fulfilled, while others (Rabbenu Yonah) are of the view that he has not discharged his obligation. It is [therefore] better that he repeat the blessing before a quorum of 10, but without mentioning the Holy Name – Shem u’Malchut.

(To be continued)


* * * * *


Re: Q&A – Sefirat HaOmer – When To Start Counting? – Clarification


Question: In your Q&A columns in early April, you write the following which seems to be incorrect. “The Kesef Mishneh explains, however, that there is a difference between the two cases. On Shemini Atzeret we would be contradicting ourselves if in the very same Kiddush we said both ‘yom Shemini Atzeret hachag hazeh’…”

First, where is this Kesef Mishneh? Second, I doubt that Rav Yosef Karo said “yom Shemini Atzeret hachag hazeh” since in his Mechaber (668:1) he uses the following wording: “yom Shemini Chag HaAtzeret hazeh.” I believe this wording is universal among Sefaradim. Many Ashkenazim use it as well, though adding a heh: HaShemini.

Yisrael Levi
(Via E-Mail)


Answer: The Kesef Mishneh is found in Hilchot Sukkah (6:13, s.v.B’zman hazeh…”). But you are correct. I should have placed the words “Shemini Atzeret” in brackets since, as you note, Rabbi Yosef Karo is very clear in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 668:1) that the text is “b’yom Shemini Chag HaAtzeret hazeh.”

The Rema (in his glosses ad. loc.) explains that the custom of European Jewry is to omit the word “chag” on Shemini Atzeret because we do not find anywhere in Chumash (see Leviticus 23:36 and Numbers 29:35) that Shemini Atzeret is referred to with this word. The Magen Avraham (ad. loc.) nevertheless cites the Maharshal who writes that one should say “Shemini Atzeret hachag hazeh.” Hence the almost universal inclusion of the word “hachag” in most of our prayer books, albeit in a different order in nusachot Ashkenaz and Sefard.

B’kavod Rav,
Yaakov Klass


Yisrael Levi Responds: The Rema is quoting Sefer HaMinhagim and is speaking of Eastern European Jewry, not all of European Jewry. The Maharil and Tosafot (Sukkah, 48a) clearly include the word “chag”but use the word order of the Shluchan Aruch, not the Maharshal.

The Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 668:3, 4), relying on the Gra and others, agrees with the Mechaber’s word order – which is also the order suggested by the Maharil and Tosafot. Thus, almost all contemporary Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim and machazorim follow the Mechaber et al – and not the Rema or the Maharshal. Nusach Sefard follows the Maharshal. Non-Ashkenazim, as in almost all cases, follow the Mechaber. Thus, your last sentence needs revision, as it is not a clear-cut dispute with Ashkenazim on one side and Sefardim on the other.

My response: Our readers are most indebted to you for your knowledge and very keen eye.

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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