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?
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.
The Mechaber rules that a person is required to offer hoda’ah if he survived crossing a sea, survived traveling through the wilderness, recovered from a serious illness, or was set free after being imprisoned. He specifies that the blessing of the hoda’ah must be recited before a minyan.
Last week, we mentioned that there is a specific sentence that those assembled should recite in response to HaGomel. The usual response to a blessing, “Amen,” is not sufficient in this case because there is a requirement for all present to recite their own blessing of thanks and not rely on a messenger’s thanks.
We noted the parallel to the “Modim” prayer in the Amidah. The congregants recite their own Modim, their own prayer of thanksgiving, along with the one recited by the chazzan. Both Modim and HaGomel are blessings of thanksgiving.
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Let us turn to the dispute between the Tur and Rabbenu Yonah concerning a person who recites HaGomel with less than a minyan present. The Tur rules that he need not need repeat the blessing before a minyan. He bases his opinion on Tosafot’s commentary to Berachot 54b where Abaye maintains that “it is necessary for [a person] to give thanks before a quorum of 10, two of whom are rabbis [i.e., scholars], as the verse (Psalms 107:32) states, ‘Vi’romemuhu b’khal am u’vmoshav zekeinim y’haleluhu – Let them exalt Him in the assembly of people, and praise Him in the session of the elders.’”
Tosafot (sv “v’eima beiasara…”) comments, “And therefore, l’chumrah, we require both.” The Tur rephrases Tosafot’s statement as follows: “Since this [matter of requiring 10 people, two of whom are rabbis] has not been resolved [in the Gemara], we require both l’chumrah.” The Tur continues: “And if he blessed before fewer than 10, he need not repeat the blessing because the [Gemara’s wording, ‘it is necessary…’] is understood to mean l’chatchilah; [however, b’diavad – post facto – his requirement is discharged].”
Beit Yosef (in his commentary to the Tur) doesn’t understand this extrapolation from the Gemara. The words, “it is necessary” seem to indicate the very opposite – i.e., that saying HaGomel before a minyan is an indispensable requirement. This, he notes, is Rabbenu Yonah’s view. The Taz (to the Mechaber, ad loc.) shares this view as well.
The Bach (on the Tur, ad loc. sv “v’im bireich…”), on the other hand, cites numerous examples in Shas of the words “it is necessary” only implying a l’chatchilah obligation, not an indispensable one. For example, he mentions the Gemara’s list in Berachot 15b of numerous matters that a person must hear as he is reciting them. These include the setting aside of Terumah, Birkat Hamazon, and Keriat Shema. Rashi notes that in the final analysis, the halacha follows R. Yehuda, who says that the requirement is only l’chatchilah. Post facto, if a person did not hear what he said, his obligation is discharged.
(To be continued)