Benching Gomel

I just wrote the following in an email to some friends. I thought it might interest others.

First, note that it’s called “gomel“, from a key word in the text of the berakhah. But it’s the same /גמל/ as “gemillus chasadim“. It means to support over time, rather than a single moment of loving-kindness. (The same root yields “gamal“, “camel”.) We make the blessing when we can feel G-d’s chesed, but the topic of the blessing is the continued chesed we get over an entire lives.

The gomel blessing is associated with life-saving situations. Which then raises the question of whether crossing the sea or the desert by airplane should really be on the list.

However, those who coined the berakhah were doing so as a stand-in for the qorban Todah, the Thanksgiving offering, which in turn was associated in particular with four kinds of rescue. In other words, anyone may offer such a sacrifice, but anyone who experienced one of these four were obligated to.

Rav Yehudah says in the name of Rav (Berakhos 54b): Four must express gratitude: Those who go down to the sea, those who cross the desert, one who was ill and was cured, and one who was imprisoned and was released.

(In Igeros Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:59) R’ Moshe Feinstein rules that the rule about saying gomel whenever crossing the sea is really about whenever one isn’t on land. Historically, this meant being over water, but today would include airplane flight. He therefore requires gomel after transcontinental flights even if no major bodies of water are crossed. Another modern debate is that many who do not rule like Rav Moshe Feinstein still require benching gomel when crossing the Great Salt Lake in Utah, whereas others do not. What is a “sea” for this purpose?)

This list is based on Psalms 107‘s descriptions of the times we called out to Hashem during the Exodus and He saved us. The connection to the Psalm is also cited by Rashi on the verse describing the offering, Lev. 7:12.

The Vilna Gaon spells out how Rav’s list occurred in the Exodus: (1) Going down into the Red Sea, (2) crossing the Sinai desert, (3) being cured from the whipping and other torture of the Egyptians, and (4) leaving servitude.

Connecting the sacrifice and therefore the blessing to the Exodus would make the fact that there are four items on the list more tantalizing. It echoes the four cups of wine at the seder, and the explanations and meanings given for them.

But what all this says to me (now for the personal observation) is that gomel isn’t only about being saved. The Exodus was a visible demonstration of the “Hand” of G-d in history and in human events. The visible demonstration which is placed at the foundation of Judaism. Gomel is particularly mandatory when we have a shadow (I already used “echoes” last paragraph) of that experience in our own lives.

Combining this with my opening thought about “gomel” and the idea that the blessing is really about the constant chesed in our lives that just happens to be more obvious at the moment, and we get:

Bentching gomel” is a recognition that all those little gifts from G-d that are all to easy take for granted are no less thanks-worthy than this major event which I can’t overlook, and teach me the lesson of the Exodus — that Hashem is constantly bestowing His Good to me.

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  1. I bentshed gomeil because if there wasn’t a carbon monoxide alarm where i was staying, the friend i was staying by, another friend, and i would all never have woken up in the morning.

  2. I bentshed gomeil because if there wasn’t a carbon monoxide alarm where i was staying, the friend i was staying by, another friend, and i would all never have woken up in the morning.

  3. MP says:

    Between the situations of (a) miracle for which one makes a place-based b’rachah; (b) event for which one makes an annual s’udas hoda’ah; and (c) event for which one bentches “Gomeil,” are we talking (in Vennian terms) about concentric circles or only intersecting circles? My first thoughts:
    — (a)’s circle is within (b)’s circle (and I’ve heard that the Chayei Adam thus recorded) but (b)’s circle may not be within (c)’s circle; however, re (a),
    — one notes all miracles when in the place of one miracle (OC 218:5), but does one note all events when making a s’udas hoda’ah; and, perhaps more significantly, one’s descendants make a b’rachah even though the event didn’t occur to them (OC 218:4), but do they make an annual s’udas hoda’ah? (If he/they doesn’t/don’t, perhaps he/they should!)

  4. Translating “(b)’s circle may not be within (c)’s circle” I get: It is possible that bot all events for which one makes an annu’al se’udah one must bentch gomel. Is it really a possibility?

    This blog entry was about something else — the fact that a qorban Torah and gomeil are obligatory not only because of the life-saving impact of the miracle, but also if the nature of the miracle echoes that of the Exodus. And from that, I tried to draw conclusions about the nature of their mitzvos. Because of this second possibility — a common natural event that mimics the Exodus (eg crossing the Atlantic by airplane) — there are many occasions for gomel which do not qualify for location or annual recognition. It’s simply about kind, not extraordinarity or size of impact.


  5. jack kalb says:

    please send me the acronym for chaim. I understand it has to do with benching
    Gomel. My son Chaim was nifter 3 months ago

  6. Jack,

    My condolences. I’m not going to discuss something like that on a blog. If you wish to email me, we can discuss what it’s like to lose a child privately, two members of that unfortunate club. I only hope your Chaim brought miracles to your life to thank the A-lmighty for, and you can remember more than the sadness of his loss.

    To answer your question, the mnemonic is:
    Cha – Cholim – sick people [who were cured]
    Y – Yordei haYam – those who went out to sea
    Yi – Yoshevei ma’asar – those who were imprisoned
    M – Midbar – [those who cross the] desert

    In this way, we fulfill the verse “vekhol haCHAYIM yodukha. Sela! — and all living things shall know You. Sela!”

    May the Omnipresent give you nechamah — at least in the sense of being resolved with your fate and ready to proceed with life’s other callings even if the notion of true nechamah yet seems unfathomable — among the other mourners of Tzion and Y-m.


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