My brother-in-law, an avid Mets fan, was once rushed to the hospital on a Friday night. The Yankees were playing in the postseason. In the spirit of a bitter Mets fan, he was rooting for the opposing team. While he was waiting in the emergency room, an accident victim of a car crash was rushed in while wearing a Yankees cap. The nurse took one look at him and said, “You’re having a really bad night tonight!”
It was evident that the Yankees had lost their Shabbos playoff game, and my brother-in-law’s pain was somewhat alleviated! Baruch Hashem, his ailment, though painful, turned out to be non-life threatening.
The responsa sefer Pri HaEitz (vol. 1 O.C. 7) discusses an individual who had a really bad week. First he somehow ended up in a desert. Though thirsty and tired, he found his way out. When he exited, he had to take a long trip across the ocean. The conditions on the boat made him gravely ill. To top it all off, he was captured by pirates! Then his mazal changed; the pirates freed him, and he fully recovered from his illness. He managed to survive all four of the situations listed by Chazal that necessitate birkas ha’gomel upon salvation.
Rashi (Zevachim 7a) references the Gemara which states that there are four reasons to bring a korban todah. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, someone who crossed the ocean by boat, traversed a desert, survived a grave illness, or was freed from captivity would be obligated to bring a korban todah. Sadly, we can no longer offer thanks to Hashem by bringing a korban. In its place, Chazal instituted birkas ha’gomel. The text of birkas ha’gomel is “Baruch atah Hashem ha’gomel l’chayavim tovos sheg’malani (kol) tuv — Blessed are You, Hashem, Who bestows good things upon the guilty, who has bestowed (every) goodness upon me.”
Birkas ha’gomel is usually recited during kri’as haTorah in shul to fulfill the requirement that ten men be present. There are various customs as to what women should do if they were in a situation that necessitated birkas ha’gomel. Some say that they should say it in front of ten family members. Some say they should say it in the ezras nashim loud enough for the men to hear. Rav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, said that it is best if women recite the last berachah of birkas ha’shachar with the intent to fulfill their obligation. The last berachah is appropriate because it ends with “ha’gomel chasadim tovim l’amo Yisrael.”
The interesting situation discussed in the Pri Eitz is regarding someone who had a really bad week. He lived through all four of the situations listed by Chazal that require birkas ha’gomel. Should he recite birkas ha’gomel once or four times?
There are situations in halachah that may be similar. Let’s say one used the bathroom and forgot to say “asher yatzar.” He then used the bathroom again and remembered his earlier omission. Does he now recite asher yatzar once or twice? The Shulchan Aruch rules that he should recite asher yatzar twice. Asher yatzar is a berachah that expresses our gratitude to Hashem that our bodily functions are working properly. Since there were two incidents worthy of thanks, we should say asher yatzar twice. Similarly, maybe our hapless fellow should recite ha’gomel four times due to the four dangerous situations from which he emerged.
The Mishnah Berurah disagrees with the Shulchan Aruch and concludes that only one asher yatzar is recited in such a case. If a person did not say asher yatzar until he needs to use the bathroom again, he has lost his opportunity to say that berachah. The Mishnah Berurah therefore advises us to say asher yatzar right away upon leaving the bathroom to ensure we don’t lose out on the mitzvah.
Another similar situation discussed by the poskim relates to bentching. What happens if one finishes his meal and declares, “I am going to start bentching?” That statement qualifies as a hesech ha’da’as, a firm decision to stop eating. If he wants to eat more bread he will have to recite a new Ha’motzi. If he in fact recites a Ha’motzi and eats more bread, does he now have to bentch once or twice? The halachah is that he only bentches once. The one bentching he recites will cover both meals. This should seemingly prove that our unlucky traveler should only recite ha’gomel once.
However, the Maharshal disagrees with this proof. He argues that even though he divided his meal in half, it can still be viewed as one long meal. However, when thanking Hashem for disparate incidents, there is no reason to view them as one occurrence.
Perhaps a comparison can be made to a person who forgets to daven Shacharis. In such a situation, he recites the shemoneh esrei twice during Minchah; we don’t say that one shemoneh esrei should suffice for both tefillos. One could argue that this is a strong comparison. Just as birkas ha’gomel is in place of korbanos, so, too, shemoneh Esrei is in place of korbanos. This line of reasoning would lead us to conclude that birkas ha’gomel should be recited four times.
Some Acharonim bring a proof from the Rashi quoted in the beginning of this article that one birkas ha’gomel suffices. Rashi seems to indicate that one korban todah would suffice for all four circumstances, and birkas ha’gomel would certainly not be more stringent. While this she’eilah has been a point of contention for hundreds of years, the Mishnah Berurah rules that a person should recite the gomel blessing once for overcoming all the dangerous things that befell him. Even if each incident is viewed independently, one expression of thanks suffices for all of them.
Hashem should bestow good things on all of us.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.