"Hagomel: A grateful token for a safe return"

  (photo credit: DREAMSTIME)
(photo credit: DREAMSTIME)

The Torah passages and Israel's holidays are full of important messages that are relevant and empower our day-today lives. Rabbi Shai Tahan, head of the Sha'arei Ezra community and head of the Arzi HaLebanon teaching house, opens the gates for us to understand these messages, from their source, in a clear way. This week:  "Hagomel: A Grateful Token for a Safe Return"

Last week we spoke about the blessing we say before leaving our house going on a journey or a trip. In this article, we shift our focus to Hagomel, a heartfelt blessing recited as a form of gratitude to Hashem upon safely returning from a journey. Explore the customs surrounding this special thank you token, expressing appreciation for divine protection during travels. Additionally, we'll delve into the intriguing differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions in how this blessing is observed within their respective communities.

Who recites the Bracha?

Hagomel is a special blessing in Jewish tradition that expresses gratitude to Hashem for delivering a person safely through a perilous situation or journey.

According to Jewish law, there are four specific situations in which a person is required to recite the Hagomel blessing:

1. Traveling by sea: When embarking on a sea voyage and returning safely to dry land.

2. Traveling through the desert: When journeying through a desert region and safely returning to inhabited areas.

3. Recovery from an illness: After recovering from a serious illness or medical condition.

4. Release from imprisonment: When someone is freed from confinement or imprisonment.

The Bracha upon returning from a trip:

When discussing the bracha upon returning from a road journey, it becomes apparent that this particular blessing is not among the four traditionally specified situations for reciting Hagomel. This leads to a question about whether one can recite a bracha for an event or circumstance that Chazal (the Sages) did not specifically institute.

The straightforward answer would be that we should only follow the blessings and practices established by Chazal. However, we can draw insight from the fact that people do say a blessing when traveling through hazardous desert that it is not limited to specific circumstances but extends to other perilous situations, including dangerous roads.

Due to the concept discussed earlier, two different approaches have emerged regarding the perceived danger of traveling. In Sephardi communities, the custom is to consider every road journey as potentially dangerous, leading to the practice of reciting the Hagomel blessing for most trips. On the other hand, according to Ashkenazi tradition, the requirement to recite the blessing of Hagomel upon returning from a journey involves the level of danger being equivalent to that of the desert, which is known to have dangerous animals and robbers. As roads are considered much safer in comparison, the custom is not to say the bracha for a regular road journey (שולחן ערוך סימן שיט ס״ז).

Some Sephardi poskim (אור לציון ח״ב עמוד קלט) share the belief that modern roads are generally safe, making it unnecessary to say the bracha upon returning from a journey. They argue that the hazards of dangerous animals and robbers, which were more common in the past, are less relevant in present travel.

Some Sephardi poskim maintain that in certain situations, even on modern roads, the absence of significant car traffic and encountering no cars during the journey can still be considered unsafe. In such cases, they allow the recitation of the bracha (Hagomel) upon returning from the trip. This perspective takes into account factors beyond just the presence of dangerous animals or robbers and acknowledges that even low-traffic roads may present risks that warrant expressing gratitude through the bracha.

On the other hand, some Sephardi poskim (הגר״ע יוסף בחזו״ע ברכות עמוד שסו) recognize that while the dangers of animals and robbers may have diminished, the risk of car accidents remains significant on the roads. As a result, they maintain that the bracha is still relevant, considering the potential dangers associated with modern transportation.

This diversity of opinion within the Sephardi community reflects the nuanced approach to determining the level of danger in contemporary travel scenarios and the appropriateness of reciting the Hagomel blessing accordingly.

Length of traveling:

The recitation of the bracha of Hagomel upon returning from a journey requires a minimum travel time of 72 minutes, starting from the moment one departs the city. If the journey is less than that duration, it is not considered dangerous and therefore no bracha should be said. This time threshold serves as a guideline to determine when the journey is significant enough to warrant expressing gratitude.

Interestingly, the requirement of 72 minutes for the bracha can encompass both the outbound and return journey. Whether it's 72 minutes for one continuous trip or a combination of travel time for going and coming back, as long as the total duration adds up to 72 minutes, one may say the bracha (אור לציון שם, חזו״ע ברכות עמוד שסה).

Dangerous roads:

Indeed, there are situations where even Ashkenazim would permit reciting the bracha (Hagomel) upon returning from a journey. Specifically, when traveling through areas known to be dangerous, such as Arab villages or neighborhoods with a reputation for being unsafe, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions agree that the bracha may be said, even if the journey is less than the required time of 72 minutes. (אור לציון ח״ב עמוד קלט)

Boat rides:

An intriguing argument regarding the recitation of the bracha arises when it involves going into the water (ראה ביה״ל ריש סי’ שיט במחלוקת ספרדים ואשכנזים). Chacham Ovadia opines (חזו״ע ברכות עמוד שסג) that after swimming in the ocean or a lake, one should say Hagomel, even if the waters are safe and there is a lifeguard at the premises. He bases his reasoning on the fact that water bodies pose dangers, and there have been incidents of drowning, making them potentially hazardous places.

On the other hand, other opinions (הגרש״ז אורבעך בהליכות שלמה פרק 23 בדבר הלכה ד’. וכן להבדיל בין החיים הגר״ד יוסף בהלכה ברורה סימן ריט סעיף כו) maintain that merely swimming doesn't warrant the bracha, even if the person swam in deep waters where the risk of drowning is more common unless he was involved with an incident where he almost drowned, or if he went on a boat ride in deep waters.

Going on bridges over water and traveling through tunnels under water is not considered dangerous and is compared with one who travels on paved roads, and as such, it does not merit the recitation of Hagomel. These modes of transportation are generally regarded as safe, and there is no established custom of saying the bracha for such journeys (שבט הלוי ח״ט סימן עב).


A further point of contention arises concerning the recitation of the bracha after a flight. One perspective aligns with the notion we previously discussed, stating that since Chazal did not institute a specific bracha for flights, one should not say the bracha in this context. Especially in our modern times, where flights are considered to be very safe and air travel is well-regulated. The advancements in aviation technology and stringent safety measures have contributed to making air travel a reliable and secure mode of transportation for many people. As a result, the prevalent view is that flights are not considered dangerous in the context of the traditional brachot.

However, there are other opinions. Some hold that taking a flight over a body of water is comparable to a boat ride, which does require the bracha, as the flight involves traveling through the air over water(הר״מ שטרנבוך בתשובות והנהגות ח״א סימן קצג) .

Others emphasize the potential danger of being in the air, even if it is not universally considered hazardous. They argue that this, in itself, is reason enough to say the bracha, expressing gratitude for the safe journey (הליכות שלמה שם).

Furthermore, some maintain that even if the danger aspect is not a primary consideration, the mere fact of being in a place where one cannot stand on their own, as is the case with airplanes flying in the air, justifies saying the bracha(ר״מ פינשטיין באגר״מ ח״ב סי’ נט).

Despite the diversity of opinions regarding the recitation of the bracha after a flight, the common practice among many is to say the bracha following any flight.

Hagomel in the presence of ten men:

The Hagomel blessing is typically recited during a public Torah reading in the synagogue, in the presence of a minyan (a quorum of ten adults). When reciting the bracha it is preferable for part of the minyan to consist of two men who are knowledgeable in Torah laws. However, in situations where it is challenging to find a minyan with two scholars, one should not forgo saying the bracha. The importance of expressing gratitude and seeking divine protection upon returning safely remains, even if a complete minyan with two scholars cannot be assembled. (שולחן ערוך סימן ריט ס״ג).

While some poskim argue that

women are exempt from reciting Hagomel due to modesty concerns, the prevalent custom among Sephardim and some Ashkenazim is that women do say the bracha. Despite the different views on this matter, many communities have embraced the practice of allowing women to express gratitude through the recitation of Hagomel, acknowledging the significance of their safe return from journeys and the value of their gratitude in Jewish tradition.

Another approach in some communities is for the husband to recite the bracha if he is also obligated to say it, and the wife listens to it with the intention of fulfilling her obligation through his recitation. This practice ensures that the bracha is said on behalf of both the husband and wife, allowing them to express gratitude together for the safe return from their respective journeys.

This article was written in cooperation with Shuva Israel