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The Laws of the Blessing of Thanksgiving

The Laws of the Blessing of Thanksgiving

Birkat HaGomel

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For What:

• There are four categories of people who need to thank G-d for the kindness He has done for them with the "Blessing of Thanksgiving" (Birkat HaGomel1):

a) One who has crossed the ocean (an overseas flight travel, etc.)

b) One who has crossed the desert

c) One who recovered from a very serious illness

d) One who was released from prison.

• Included in the category of desert are all other life threatening situations2 from which one is saved such as a wall collapsing upon him, a goring ox, robbers, car accidents, etc.

Following Travel:

• One says the blessing upon reaching his destination (desert or ocean crossings) even if the trip was uneventful and no dangerous situation was experienced3.

• If one makes a few stopovers along his journey, such as port stopovers, or airport landings, even if he will not continue on the next leg of his journey for another day or two, he does not say the blessing until he reaches his final destination4.

• One who returns from his trip that same day or the next should say the blessing only upon his return5.

• If one experienced more than one of the above at the same time, requiring the blessing to be a said a few times, he only says it once for all of them6.

• The Ashkenazic custom is to make the blessing only when traveling through deserts, but not on regular roads. If one travels through the desert via railroad, which does not involve any of the regular desert dangers, one would not say the blessing. The Sephardic custom however is to say the blessing even on travel through regular roads if it is more than the distance of 2.4 miles7.

• We do not say the blessing when flying only over land.

• If there was some mishap during travel from which one was saved, then all agree that the blessing should be said, even though under usual circumstances it would not need to be said.

Released from Prison:

• Regarding the blessing for one who was released from prison refers to one imprisoned because of murder charges and similar charges8.

• Regarding one imprisoned for money matters, it would apply only if he is imprisoned with shackles and chains, but if he is imprisoned in a way that there is no danger to his life, then he would not say the blessing. It would seem that in many of today's prisons, one may still be in dangerous situations and may require a blessing upon release and a competent Rabbi should be consulted.

Childbirth:

• It is the custom that women after childbirth say the blessing -- a quorum is arranged for the evening services at the home of the woman who gave birth and she says the blessing there9.

• She should not say it until seven days have passed since the childbirth10.

Where:

• The blessing is to be said in the presence of ten adult men. The one saying Gomel can be included as one of the ten11.

• Ideally the blessing should be said within three days after the incident that requires the blessing. For example if one was released from prison on Sunday afternoon, he should say the blessing before Tuesday evening. If one landed on Tuesday afternoon from an overseas flight he should try to say it no later than Thursday evening12.

• It is preferable that the blessing be said in the presence of a Torah scroll, and if possible the one saying the blessing should also receive an aliyah (called up to the Torah). However, if a Torah is not available, the blessing should not be delayed beyond the third day.

• If one has the choice of either saying the blessing within three days but not in front of a Torah, or later than three days in front of a Torah, than the former is advisable. For example, one who returns from a trip on Monday afternoon (and the Torah has already been read) should not wait to say the blessing on Thursday morning in front of the Torah. Rather he should say it in front of ten adult men on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Likewise, if the one who is required to say the blessing, is sitting the seven day mourning period, "Shivah," (during which time he is not permitted to called up to the Torah) he should not wait until the Shivah period is over in order to be called to the Torah for the blessing. Rather he should recite it during the Shivah, within three days preferably13.

• If he was not able to do so within three days, then he may do it within five days. Some say it could be done after the five days as well14.

• If he is not able to find ten people then he can even wait up to 30 days15.

• When the person saying the blessing is called up to the Torah, he should say the blessing after saying the blessing after the Torah of "Asher Nasan" that follows his aliyah16.

• If the person required to say the blessing received the final aliya (i.e. the Kaddish will be said after his aliyah) he should not recite the blessing until after the Kaddish of the Torah reading is said17.

• If there are not enough aliyot to give to all those that have to say the blessing, preference should be given to the ones deserving most of honor, such as a learned or honored person18.

• If one was not able to receive an aliyah, he can still receive the honor of lifting or tying of the Torah("hagbah" or "gelilah") and say the blessing right after the Kaddish that follows the Torah reading19.

Who:

• Children under Bar Mitzvah do not say the blessing20.

• Women are required to say the blessing21. They should stand in the women's section and say it aloud while there is a quorum standing on the other side of the mechitza listening and responding22.

• Some say it is sufficient for her to say it in the presence of one man or woman, and if she is married it should preferably be in front of her husband23.

The Blessing:

• The Birkas Gomel needs to be recited while standing. (Shaarei Ephraim 4:27). However, he would not have to repeat it if he said it while sitting. (Mishna Berura 219:4)

• Likewise, it should be said during the daytime, since the Korban Todah was offered during the day, but he would not need to say it over if he said it at night. (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch HaSholeim 107:24). According to the Chasam Sofer (O.C. 51) it is permitted to say it at night, provided it is not done on a regular basis.

Transliteration: Boruch A-toh Ado-noi E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech Ho-olom Ha-go-mel Le-cha-ya-vim To-vos She-ge-ma-la-ni Tov.

Translations: Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, Who bestows kindness upon the culpable, for He has bestowed goodness to me.

• The idea of the blessing is that G-d who deals kindly even with those that are not deserving, has also dealt kindly with him although he is really not worthy of G-d's kindness.

The Response:

• Those who hear the blessing being said should answer Amen followed by "Mi She-ga-mal-cha Tov, Hu Yig-mal-cha Kol Tuv Se-lah" (May He who has bestowed beneficence upon you always bestow every beneficence upon you) 24 "25".

• Since the last letter of the word "Hagomel" and the first letter of "Lechayavim" are the same - a lamed - and can be slurred together, one should make a slight pause between these two words26.

Additional Customs

• It is appropriate for the recipient of G-d's kindness to do the same for others in need. It is therefore customary for a person who recites the Hagomel blessing to also donate money to communal causes.27

• In lieu of the Todah (Thanksgiving) Sacrifice that was offered by a grateful person during Temple times, there are those who recite the verses of the Torah that discuss the Todah Sacrifice.28

• It is common to hold a festive meal in commemoration of G‑d's kindness. Click here for more on this custom.

FOOTNOTES
1. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 219:1.
2. Kitzur Shulchan aruch 61:1.
3. Biur Halacha on Mishna Brura 219.
4. Mishna Berura 219:1.
5. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Hashaleim 107:5.
6. Badei HaShulchan 65:5.
7. Badei Hashulchan 65:2.
8. The Alter Rebbe.
9. Ktzos Hashulchan of Rabbi Noeh beginning of siman 65.
10. Biur Seder Bircas Hanehnin page 426.
11. Seder Bircas Hanehnin 13:2.
12. Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim 219:10.
13. Be'er Hetiv 219:4.
14. ibid 219:9 According to Rabbi Chaim Noah in Badei HaShulchan (65:8) the 5 days of the Be'er Hetiv is not an exact number.
15. Mishnah Berura 219:8.
16. Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 219:3.
17. Ahaleich ba"amitecha 23:41, although he points out that he has not seen this followed except in Chabad congregations.
18. ibid 23:58.
19. Shaarei Beis Hakneses 34.
20. Seder Birkas hanehnin 13:3.
21. Seder Birkas hanehnin 13:3.
22. It would seem that since the response is being said to a woman, instead of "shegemalcha" one says "shegemaleich."
23. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein Igros Moshe Vol. 8 O.C.:14.
24. The Rebbe writes in a letter (Igrot Kodesh vol 4, page 260) "I have previously protested and continue to protest this strange custom that those who hear the gomel blessing do not answer amen on the blessing but go straight to
25. mi shegmalcha.
26. Ahaleich BaAmitecha 23:29.
27.

Magen Avraham 218:2.

28.

Shulchan Aruch Harav 1:9.

Rabbi Eliezer Wenger taught at the Beth Rivkah High School in Montreal, Canada, was rabbi at Congregation Oneg Shabbos in Montreal and the author of over a dozen works on Jewish law.
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Discussion (6)
February 17, 2014
Re:
Hagomel is recited after recovery from any sickness that could be life-threatening. Poskim consider surgery that requires general anesthesia to be in this category.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
February 10, 2014
I have a question for a Rabbi .Can you please tell me if gomel needs to be said or can be said after going through general anesthesia from a surgery?
Thank you
Anonymous
boca raton
October 1, 2013
To Ken Plattner
First of all, mazal tov on on this step. May things continue to progress in an upward trajectory! Now, hagomel is generally only recited after having survived a dangerous experience. However, there are blessing to be said upon hearing good news. Shehechiyanu is said if the good news is relevant just to you, and hatov vehameteev is said if others benefit as well.
Menachem Posner
Montreal
September 27, 2013
My story
Would it be appropriate to recite the Birkat Hagomel prayer after one finds his vocation after searching for over 15 years. Having nearly survived homelessness, depression, and intense grief without a consistent sense of love and support from those around him?
Ken Plattner
San Francisco
January 30, 2012
My son's jaw is broken and he can't talk, how can he say the blessing?
Anonymous
woodland hills, ca
November 7, 2005
Thank you
Just a thank you for the information on the appropriate prayer to have survived the hurricane.
Brenda
Northbrook, IL
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