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Q & A: Birkat HaGomel (Part VIII)


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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.

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.

We discussed the Tur’s ruling that a person who recites HaGomel with less than a minyan present does not need to repeat the blessing. The minyan requirement is l’chatchilah, he maintains. Rabbenu Yonah disagrees and requires a person who said HaGomel without a minyan to say it again before a minyan.

We also discussed the opinions of several later authorities. The Chaye Adam says that HaGomel should be recited within three days of the event necessitating it, even if that means saying it without a sefer Torah. He maintains that one should say HaGomel before a minyan but the requirement that two of the 10 men be Talmudic scholars is not absolute. The Aruch Hashulchan agrees. The Kitzur, on the other hand, stresses that the minyan requirement is absolute and leaves no room for leniency in this regard.

The Mishnah Berurah rules leniently, arguing that the minyan can include the person making the berachah, just like bridegrooms are included in the minyan at their wedding. Many other authorities agree with this opinion.

We discussed your rabbi’s instruction to wait until Shabbos to recite HaGomel due to the larger crowd that would be present that day.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Orach Chayim, vol 2:143) differentiates between HaGomel and tefillah. Tefillah requires 10 men present, but not all 10 need to be praying. HaGomel, however, requires the response of the entire minyan since the entire purpose of having a minyan present is to thank G-d publicly. Rabbi Sternbuch therefore advises that one recite the blessing loudly so that all can hear and respond.

Rabbi Sternbuch also differentiates between HaGomel and Birkat Chatanim. The latter needs a minyan because there a tzibbur requirement while the former needs a minyan because hoda’ah needs 10 other men present. He derives this from Psalms 107:32. Others disagree and use the wording to support different conclusions. R. Nachman determines that chatanim may not be counted among the 10, while R. Abahu says they may.

How can Psalms 107:32 – ‘Vi’romemu’hu 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’ – be the source both for the law that HaGomel requires 10 men aside from the one saying HaGomel and the law that Birkat Chatanim only requires nine men aside from the groom?

The Rashba rules that Birkat Chatanim – specifically the sheva berachot recited at weddings – may not be said with less than a minyan. However, there is a difference of opinion about whether the blessings are required to complete the marriage ceremony. Many authorities rule leniently that, post facto, berachot are not a hindrance to the performance of a mitzvah (Berachot 15a). Thus, we cannot compare Birkat HaGomel to Birkat Chatanim because, when necessary, Birkat Chatanim may be left out, whereas the same cannot be said regarding Birkat HaGomel; saying HaGomel is the fulfillment of the mitzvah.

* * * * *

Now let us discuss waiting to recite HaGomel at Keriat HaTorah. Isn’t this practice in violation of the rule that “zerizin u’makdimin l’mitzvot – precepts are to be performed at the earliest possibility” (Pesachim 4a)? Why not gather 10 people immediately and say HaGomel – even on a day when there is no Keriat HaTorah?

To answer this question, let us turn to the Rosh (to Perek HaRoeh, the ninth chapter of Berachot, siman 3) who cites Rav Yosef, a rishon, who states that Birkat HaGomel was enacted in place of the Korban Todah, an offering of thanksgiving that is alluded to in the very same chapter of Psalms (107) from which our Gemara (Berachot 54b) derives the four types of situations that warrant a Birkat HaGomel – surviving a sea crossing, surviving a journey in the wilderness, recovering from a serious illness, and being set free from jail.

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Responsa Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 51) interestingly analyzes Psalms 107 and notes that the text seems to indicate that only the latter three situations require a person to bring a Korban Todah. We find no mention of a Korban Todah concerning a person surviving a journey at sea; rather, he is to offer praise to G-d before an assembly of people and a session of elders. As mentioned previously, this refers to a quorum of 10 plus two sages.

It appears, though, that the other three situations do not require formal declarations of praise. Indeed, this seems logical since only a person who survived a journey at sea actually placed himself in danger. (Sea travel has long been considered more dangerous than other means of travel. The odds of a calamitous outcome when traveling by land are fewer. Air travel is obviously a recent phenomenon, and whether a person should say HaGomel after a flight is a fascinating topic for a different time.)

Rabbi Sofer also analyzes the enactment of saying HaGomel. “Surely,” he writes, “it is not the rabbis who established its recital. Rather, it is the fact that the verse openly states to do so. Thus what [does the Gemara in Berachot mean when it says] ‘they enacted’?

He answers, based on his earlier point, that the sages enacted the recital of HaGomel for the other three situations: surviving a journey in the wilderness, recovering from a serious illness, and being set free from jail.

“Since the Temple was destroyed, it was, indeed, the sages’ enactment not only insofar as one who is delivered from the sea but as relates to the three other situations as well, even though we would not see it [explicitly] from the verses in Psalms. Thus we see that [Birkat HaGomel] is [indeed] their enactment.”

(To be continued)

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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