Question: I am very appreciative and, if I might add, flattered that you answer and publish many of my questions. Due to your superior knowledge, I am always confident when I send in a question that I will receive a proper response. I wonder if you could address whether one should say Birkat HaGomel after flying even though flying is statistically safer than driving. Also, do women say HaGomel as well or only men?
The Talmud (Berachot 54b) states that there are four people who must say HaGomel, with the Rivash and Rav Gershon disputing whether this list is exclusive or not. Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein maintains that modern-day air travel cannot be compared to the types of danger listed in the Gemara, and thus one need not say HaGomel after flying. Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, argues that flying is inherently dangerous since only the airplane separates the passengers from death. If the airplane suddenly stops functioning, the passengers will almost certainly die.
We cited HaRav Yaakov Simcha Cohen who compares HaGomel to Dayan Ha’Emet. Just like we don’t say Amen in response to Dayan Ha’Emet (since we don’t wish to hear more bad news, explains HaRav Henkin), we don’t say Amen to HaGomel. Rather, we say “Mi shegemalcha…” We also noted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s view that when reciting this blessing a person should not say “kol tuv – every good,” implying that he has received all his benefit. Last week we noted the view of the Ktav Sofer that when reciting the blessing a person should have in mind two things: 1) that Hashem delivered him from danger and 2) that he experienced pain and suffering since suffering in this world is itself a good.
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The Ktav Sofer (Responsa, Orach Chayim 27) cites Berachot (5a): Raba (some say, R. Chisda) said, “If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct since it says (Lamentations 3:40): ‘Nachpesa derocheinu v’nachkorah v’noshuvahad Hashem – Let us search and try our ways, and return to Hashem.’ If he examines it and finds nothing objectionable, let him attribute the suffering to the neglect of Torah study since it says (Psalms 94:12): ‘Ashrei hagever asher t’yasrenu Kah, u’mi’Toras’cha telamdenu – Praiseworthy is the man whom Hashem has chastened and whom You teach Your Torah.’ If even here he finds no cause, he can be sure that these are yesurim shel ahavah – chastenings of love. For it says (Proverbs 3:12): ‘Ki et asher ye’ehav Hashem yochiach – For Hashem admonishes the one He loves.’” Rashi explains that Hashem causes him to suffer in this world in order to increase his reward in the world to come.
The Ktav Sofer sees Rashi’s explanation as far-fetched and offers a different one. He cites Shabbos 31a: “When one is brought in [before the Heavenly court] for his final judgment, he is asked: ‘Have you dealt faithfully? Did you fix times for studying Torah?…’” Why is the question “Have you dealt faithfully?” – a question which concerns behavior between man and his fellow – the very first a person is asked?
The Ktav Sofer suggests that it relates to many mitzvot since a person does not discharge his obligation via a mitzvah ha’ba’ah b’aveirah – a mitzvah that one accomplished by means of a transgression (e.g., a stolen lulav). “Ki Ani Hashem oheiv mishpat sonei gazel b’olah – For I am Hashem who loves justice and hates a burnt offering brought with robbery,” says the prophet Isaiah (61:8). The Gemara says (Bava Kamma 94a), “If a person stole a se’ah of wheat, kneaded it and baked it, and set aside a portion as challah, how can he make a blessing? It would not be a blessing but blasphemy.”