Since so many people have just returned from vacation it seems like the perfect time to discuss the Beracha Of Hagomel and see if, when and how one should say the Beracha.
Hagomel was initially established for four scenarios in which one was saved from danger:
- When returning from travel at sea
- After traversing the desert.
- One whom was freed from jail
- When one recovers from being sick
Our rabbis argued whether one should also say the Beracha after experiencing other types of dangers as well, for example being in a car accident or going through a surgery. The Shulchan Aruch (ס״ס ריט) cites both opinions and concludes that aside from these four cases, all other scenarios would necessitate one to say the Beracha without Hashem’s Name. This is also how the latter Sefaradi poskim ruled as well (חיד״א ברכי יוסף סי’ ריט סק״ח. בא״ח פרשת עקב ס״י. חזון עובדיה עמ’ שעט), whereas some wrote that it’s better to find someone who is saying the Beracha with Hashem’s Name and fulfill the obligation with him (אורל״צ ח״ב עמוד שי) instead.
The Ashkenazi poskim seem to hold that the Minhag is to say the Beracha with Hashem’s name (משנ״ב ס״ק לב).
According to this, if one is traveling by car or airplane, the Halacha should seemingly differ for Ashkenazim and Sefaradim; as for Ashkenazim they should say the Beracha regularly, and Sefaradim would omit Hashem’s Name while saying it.
However when looking at the Halacha, we find it is just the opposite–with regards to traveling, the Sefaradim say the beracha with Hashem’s Name and Ashkenazim do not.
The Shulchan Aruch explains the difference between Sefaradi and Ashkenazi customs (סי’ ריט ס״ז):
באשכנז וצרפת אין מברכין כשהולכין מעיר לעיר, שלא חייבו אלא בהולכי מדברות דשכיחי ביה חיות רעות ולסטים. ובספרד נוהגין לברך מפני שכל הדרכים בחזקת סכנה.
Though these two Halachot seem to be contradictory, the truth is that they’re not, because according to the Shulchan Aruch, when Chazal instituted the Beracha, it wasn’t only for those who returned from the desert, but anyone who crossed city lines when traveling, as long as that travel is 72 minutes or longer. The Bet-Yosef proves it from the words of the Rambam who writes: “ הולכי דרכים travel the road”, instead of what the Gemara said: “הולכי מדברות travel the desert”.
The reason for the minhag of the Sefaradim to include all trips in the same category as traveling the desert is because crossing cities while going on the road always carries with it some level of risk, but the Ashkenazim held (as explained in the רא״ש) that Chazal instituted the Beracha only for traveling the desert.
Today’s times, the Sefaradi poskim argue whether traveling is still considered dangerous. Some say that since there aren’t any dangerous animals on the road, nor are there any robbers, driving the road is safe and no Beracha should be said (אורל״צ עמוד קלט), while other poskim feel on the contrary, that today’s roads are very dangerous due to the many accidents, and one would be required to say the Beracha.
Another debatable question is the airplane flight, whether it falls under one of the four categories mentioned above. Here we also find that many Ashkenazi poskim wrote that after flying one should say the Beracha. Rav Moshe Feinstein (אגרות משה או״ח ח״ב סי’ נט ) wrote that it’s equivalent to going on the boat; just like the person on the boat wouldn’t be able to survive without the boat floating on the water so wouldn’t the person flying be able to survive the flight if not for the airplane supporting him in the sky.
Others felt flying is equivalent to one who travels the desert as explained before and since such a flight is surely considered dangerous one should say the beracha.
Some Ashkenazi poskim felt that traveling on an airplane isn’t dangerous at all and no Beracha is required (ראה בפוסקים המובאים בתשובות והנהגות ח״א סי’ קצג). Moreover, some say that since we compare the flight to the category of going on the boat, one must fly over an ocean body in order to be obligated to recite the Beracha (ראה מסקנת התשובות והנהגות).
Lema’ase, since the majority of Sefaradi and Askenazi poskim hold one should say the Beracha with Hashem’s Name after a flight, this is what one should do.
One should say the Beracha upon reaching his vacation destination if he plans on staying there more than a couple of days (כה״ח סק״ה), and again when returning home.
There is a requirement to have ten men when saying the Beracha as the Passuk says: ״וירוממהו בקהל עם״. The minhag is to say it by the reading of the Torah, which is when one has the ten men required.
Also one should make sure that two of the men must be learned people, as the Passuk says: ״ובמושב זקנים יהללוהו״.
One should try to say it as soon as possible without delay, and at least not after three days; but in the case time has passed, he should still say it.
There is a debate whether women should say the bracha since some feel its immodest for her to recite it in front of men, therefore the best is to have her be present when her husband (or father for not married girls) recite it, and be yotse the obligation by listening to his Beracha.