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What is the "Hagomel" (thanksgiving) Blessing?

by Rabbi Eli Wolf

  

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The Hagomel blessing (blessing of thanksgiving) is a blessing that the Sages instituted to recite after one survives a dangerous circumstance.

As a Jew, we believe that every incident in our lives is orchestrated by G-d above. Hence, when one is fortunate to survive a dangerous ordeal, the first note of thanks and gratitude is directed towards G-d.

The blessing goes like this:

Ba-ruch a-tah a-do-nai e-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam, ha-go-mel le-cha-ya-vim to-vot sheg-mo-la-ni tov.
[Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, Who bestows kindness even to the undeserving, and thus You have also been gracious with me.]1

Those who hear the blessing respond:

Omein. Mi she-g'mol-chah tov hu yigmol-chah kol tov selah.
[Amen. May He who bestowed goodness upon you, bestow upon you all good.] 

During the Temple times, one who managed to escape from four types of danger would offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to G-d. These included:

  1. One who arrived safely from traveling over the sea (and wasn’t shipwrecked).
  2. One who arrived safely from traveling through a desert (and wasn’t attacked by wild beasts or bandits).
  3. One who was cured from his sickness (and his condition didn’t, G-d forbid, deteriorate).
  4. One who was released from imprisonment (sane, and didn’t lose his mind from the harsh ordeal).

As a Jew, we believe that every incident in our lives is orchestrated by G-d above. Hence, when one is fortunate to survive a dangerous ordeal, the first note of thanks and gratitude is directed towards G-d
Nowadays, though it is not possible to offer a sacrifice, the Sages instituted this special blessing of thanksgiving in its place.2

It is imperative that the blessing be made in the presence of a Minyan.

Also, one may recite the blessing only after the (potential) danger has entirely ended. Therefore, the blessing may only be made:
- If traveling - once one has arrived at their final destination.3
- If one has been sick - after being completely restored to normal health.4
- If one has been imprisoned - after being entirely freed.5

The Sages made two additions to the requirements of reciting this blessing:

  1. If one survives any dangerous ordeal, even though it doesn’t fall under the four primary categories, it still obligates them to recite this blessing of thanksgiving. (For example, someone who had a structure collapse on top of them, a dangerous animal attacked them, or they escaped from the clutches of a murderer.)
  2. Even if a person didn’t actually endure any danger, nevertheless since they were in a situation which potentially could have been dangerous, they are obligated to recite the blessing.

It is best to try and recite the blessing as close as possible (within three days) to the deliverance. It wouldn’t be fitting to delay thanking G-d – after all, He saved you! It is also customary to recite the blessing in the presence of a Torah scroll.

A current and common example of a situation that calls for this blessing is upon arriving at your destination after flying overseas.6 

Footnotes

  • 1. See Beit Yosef, Orach Chaim, 219, for an interpretation.
  • 2. Rosh, Brachot, 9, 3.
  • 3. This includes a stop-over, if it lasts several days.
  • 4. And has arrived home from the hospital.
  • 5. If one is sentenced to house arrest, he should still wait until granted total freedom (See Likutei Sichot, Vol. 12 pg. 27).
  • 6. If one travels through a desert by car or train, there are various opinions as to whether one is obligated to recite the blessing. A local Halachic authority should be consulted.

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Minyan
A quorum consisting of ten adult male Jews. A minyan is necessary to recite the kaddish or to publicly read from the Torah scroll.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.