Monday, July 26, 2021

Thank you Michael Feldstein, for your article on Birkat HaGomel (“In Gratitude: A Few Thoughts About Birkat HaGomel,” July 1, 2021). I too have spent time thinking about this bracha. First, I am glad you and your family are well. Second, thank you Rabbi Shalom Rosner for your Daf Yomi shiurim, available on YU.org. Third, the rabbis, and not the Torah, devised brachot. This point was discussed when we reached that point in the Gemara.

Much of the Gemara is discussion on different points of view and ultimately coming to a conclusion and deciding which is the most appropriate or most correct. The discussion in the Gemara on this bracha debates the formulation of the verbiage. Those more erudite than I can recite the specific masechta (tractate) and daf (page) where this is discussed. Ultimately, the reason for the verbiage, and how it is formulated, is in the spirit of compromise.

We often daven and say this and other brachot without much thought to what we are saying. I am certainly guilty of this. There are two parts of the bracha that are somewhat disjointed. The first part of the bracha, “HaGomel l’cha’avim tovot” means that even though we are less than worthy, God grants us the benefit of the doubt and grants us safety and good outcome. Perhaps this is telling us that we, too, should emulate this characteristic. Chayavim can mean “guilty,” but my understanding in this context is that it means “less than worthy.” One Tana (a rabbi cited in the Gemara) espoused this verbiage because that was what he was familiar with. Another Tana had a different version he was familiar with; “She’gimalani kol tov.” This means “that He granted me all that is good or positive.” Within the word she’gemilani, we have the word gomel, as in “gomel chasadim tovim,” that we say within the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei, which we say each day. ArtScroll translates this as “bestows beneficial kindness.” Gemilut chasadim means that we show compassion and help others. Some may be familiar with the term “gemach” which means an organization that supplies or offers some sort of specific help, i.e. medical supplies such as wheelchairs; clothing or baby supplies; or food for people that may benefit from additional food for Shabbat.

Ultimately, the other Tanaiim concluded that each version has merits and its point. Both are beautiful. A phrase we commonly use now is “it’s all good.” Invariably they said, essentially, let’s just put both versions together within the bracha. Personally, when I say this bracha, I pause for a millisecond or two between the two parts to acknowledge that these are really two separate thoughts.This bracha then teaches us yet another lesson; let’s compromise.

Moshe Roth
West Orange
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