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More on Birchas HaGomeil

"Was birchas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned in Tehillim? If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birchas hagomeil?" "Did the Chashmonayim recite birchas hagomeil upon winning their war?"


Rabbi Yirmiyohu Kaganoff

Question #1: Survival
"Was birchas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned in Tehillim? If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birchas hagomeil?"

Question #2: Acknowledging at night
"May one bensch gomeil at night?"

Question #3: What about the Chashmonayim?
"Did the Chashmonayim recite birchas hagomeil upon winning their war?"

Question #4: Time limits
"Is there a time limit within which one must recite birchas hagomeil?"

In three other articles, I discussed many of the laws of birchas hagomeil, but did not complete the topic. (If you look at the website under the search word birchas hagomeil all three articles should come up, in addition to a fourth article about Mizmor Lesodah.) This article will discuss some curious additional aspects that, as yet, have not been discussed.

Only these four?
Was birchas hagomeil instituted only for those who survived four specific dangers, (those traveling through the desert, captives, the ill, and seafarers) mentioned in Tehillim (Chapter 107)? If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or an armed robbery, does he recite birchas hagomeil?

We find a dispute among rishonim regarding this question. The Orchos Chayim quotes an opinion that one should bensch gomeil after going beneath a leaning wall or over a dangerous bridge, but he disagrees, contending that one recites birchas hagomeil only after surviving one of the four calamitous situations mentioned in the Gemara. On the other hand, others conclude that one should recite birchas hagomeil after surviving any dangerous situation (Shu’t Rivash # 337). The Rivash contends that the four circumstances mentioned by Tehillim and the Gemara are examples of instances in which it is common to be exposed to life-threatening danger and, therefore, they automatically generate a requirement to recite birchas hagomeil. It is also true that someone who survived an attack by a wild ox or bandits should recite birchas hagomeil, although it is not one of the four cases. Furthermore, the Rivash notes, since Chazal instituted that the person who was saved and his children and grandchildren recite a brocha when seeing the place where the miracle occurred, certainly one should recite a brocha of thanks over the salvation itself!

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both sides of the dispute, but implies that one should follow the Rivash. This is also the conclusion of the Taz and most later authorities (Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, contemporary custom is to recite birchas hagomeil after surviving any potentially life-threatening situation.

It is noteworthy that a different rishon presents a diametrically opposed position from that of the Rivash, contending that even one who traveled by sea or desert does not recite birchas hagomeil, unless he experienced a miracle (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 10:8, quoting Raavad). In halachic conclusion, the Biur Halacha writes that one recites birchas hagomeil, even if there was no difficulty on the sea voyage or the desert journey.

Time limits
Is there a time limit within which one must recite birchas hagomeil? Indeed, there is a dispute among early authorities as to whether one must recite birchas hagomeil within a certain number of days after surviving the calamity. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) quotes a dispute among rishonim: the Ramban holds that one should recite birchas hagomeil within three days, whereas the Rashba provides a period of five days. However, the Tur implies that there is no time limit to the recitation of the brocha. The Shulchan Aruch (219:6) concludes that one should preferably not wait more than three days to recite birchas hagomeil, but if one did wait longer, one may still recite it, and there is no limit. Based on this conclusion, the Magen Avraham (219:6) says that one who was released from captivity after kriyas haTorah on Monday should not wait until Thursday, which is the next kriyas haTorah, to recite birchas hagomeil, since this is already the fourth day from when he was saved; instead, he should bensch gomeil earlier, even though this means that he will do so without kriyas haTorah. The Mishnah Berurah permits bensching gomeil even after thirty days, although he prefers that one delay no longer than three days.

What about at night?
May one bensch gomeil at night? If bensching gomeil is a replacement for the korban todah, and all korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash could be offered only during the day, may we recite the birchas hagomeil at night? This question is addressed by the Chasam Sofer in an interesting responsum (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). The Chasam Sofer’s case concerned the Chacham Shabtei Elchanan, who was the rav of the community of Trieste. This city is currently in northeastern Italy, but, at the time of the Chasam Sofer, it was part of the Austrian Empire, which also ruled the Chasam Sofer’s city of Pressburg. (Today, Pressburg is called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.)
Rav Elchanan had returned from a sea voyage, and his community greeted him with a joyous celebration on the evening of his return. At this gathering, Rav Elchanan recited the birchas hagomeil in front of the large congregation.

One well-known local scholar, Rav Yitzchak Goiten, took issue with Rav Elchanan’s reciting the birchas hagomeil at night, contending that since the birchas hagomeil is a substitute for the korban todah, it cannot be recited at night, as korbanos cannot be offered at night. Furthermore, he was upset that Rav Elchanan had not followed the accepted practice of reciting birchas hagomeil at kriyas haTorah.

This question was then addressed to the Chasam Sofer: which of the eminent scholars of Trieste was correct?

The Chasam Sofer explained that although birchas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, this does not mean that it shares all the laws of the korban. The idea is that since we cannot offer a korban todah today, our best option is to substitute the public recital of birchas hagomeil.

The Chasam Sofer noted that the gathering of the people to celebrate their rav’s safe return was indeed the appropriate time to recite birchas hagomeil. In this situation, the Chasam Sofer would have recited birchas hagomeil in front of the assembled community, but he would have explained why he did so, so that people would continue to recite birchas hagomeil at kriyas haTorah, as is the minhag klal Yisroel.

Stand up and thank
The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birchas hagomeil. The Kesef Mishneh, the commentary on the Rambam written by Rav Yosef Karo (the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch) notes that he is unaware of any source that requires one to stand when reciting this brocha, and he therefore omits this halacha in Shulchan Aruch.

The Bach disagrees, feeling that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, the chapter that includes the sources for this brocha, but other commentators dispute this allusion (Elyah Rabbah 219:3). The Elyah Rabbah then presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birchas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing.

Still other authorities present other reasons for the Rambam’s ruling. The Chasam Sofer explains that one must stand because of kavod hatzibur, the respect due an assembled community of at least ten people. Yet another approach is that since birchas hagomeil replaces the korban todah, it is similar to shmoneh esrei, which is said standing and which is similarly bimkom korban (Brachos 26b); therefore, birchas hagomeil should also be recited while standing (Nahar Shalom 219:1).

The Rama does not mention any requirement that birchas hagomeil be recited while standing, implying that he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision, although the Bach and other later authorities require one to stand when reciting the brocha. The later authorities conclude that one should recite the brocha while standing, but that, bedei’evid, after the fact, one who recited the brocha while sitting has fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the brocha (Mishnah Berurah 219:4).

Did Yitzchak Avinu recite birchas hagomeil after the akeidah? Did Chananyah, Mesha’el, and Azaryah recite birchas hagomeil upon exiting the furnace, or Daniel after waving good-bye to the lions? Did the kohen gadol recite birchas hagomeil upon exiting the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur? Did Rabbi Akiva recite birchas hagomeil over the fact that he was the only one who had studied the deepest secrets of the Torah (called "pardes") who remained physically and spiritually intact?

The Chida, in his Machazik Brocha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correspondence on this question that was conducted between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birchas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birchas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birchas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim, since his entering was to fulfill a mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds that a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol needed to be concerned with the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

On the other hand, Rav Elazar Nachum read Rav Azulai’s responsum on the subject and strongly disagreed. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by the angels and by great tzadikim upon surviving great travails. He concludes that upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birchas hagomeil to thank Hashem for the salvation.

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