Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: When many people have to make Birkat Hagomel (e.g. at times when many have traveled) the shul often has one person make the beracha on behalf of the rest. Can one person say thanks to Hashem for what he received and have it count for others?
Answer: The gemara’s (Berachot 54b) story is the basis to answer your question. Rav Yehuda recuperated from a severe illness. Several rabbis visited him and said: “Blessed is Hashem who gave you to us and not to the earth.” Rav Yehuda responded that they had exempted him of the need to thank Hashem (= recite Birkat Hagomel). The gemara asks how Rav Yehuda could have been exempted if he had not made the beracha himself and answers that he had answered, “Amen.”
The conclusion one can draw from this gemara is that a person can make Birkat Hagomel for others. Indeed the Shulchan Aruch paskens (Orach Chayim 219:5): “If one recites Hagomel for himself and intended to exempt his friend and his friend intended to be exempted, he fulfills the obligation even without answering Amen.” The fact that Amen is not required should not be surprising, as the rule is that one who hears a beracha from his friend need only listen (Orach Chayim 213:2) although it is proper to also answer.
So why does the gemara require Amen in its case. The Tur (219) cites his father, the Rosh, who says that the problem with Rav Yehuda was that the person who recited the beracha was not personally obligated to make the beracha, yet it was an appropriate reaction because someone he cared about was saved. Under those circumstances, he could not be motzi Rav Yehuda, but by answering Amen,Rav Yehuda was considered to have recited the beracha himself. R. Akiva Eiger (notes to Shulchan Aruch 219:5) says that the issue was that the language of the well-wisher who praised Hashem for helping someone else did not apply sufficiently to him (who should be speaking in the first person.) unless he answered Amen. (See more about the basis of these opinions in Kehilot Ya’akov, Berachot 17).
In any case, it is clear cut in the Shulchan Aruch that one can make Birkat Hagomel on his own behalf and have it carry over to another person. One can ask whether it is better to do it as a group or individually. In principle, when one can make a beracha on behalf of a few, it is better for one to do it. However, the Mishna Berura (213:12) points out that we usually do individual berachot, perhaps out of fear that either the one saying or listening will not concentrate appropriately. Piskei Teshuvot (219:17) says that the same applies to Birkat Hagomel and that this is the accepted practice. We agree that each person usually makes his own Hagomel,but only when there are only a few who need it. If many people need it, it is a matter of tircha d’tzibura (inconveniencing the congregation) and encourages talking. Thus, it is a common and perfectly acceptable practice for one to recite the beracha after announcing that all others should listen with the intent to be included.
Piskei Teshuvot (ibid.) makes another claim, which we take issue with. He says that the one reciting should do so in the plural, saying “sheg’malanu …” (that Hashem granted us). His source for the matter discussed a case where there was a group salvation, not to a case where one makes a beracha for a personal salvation and others join in his beracha. If the Piskei Teshuvot were correct, one would have expected one of the Shulchan Aruch’s commentators to point out that the beracha is different. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch’s language strongly suggests not that way. He describes one who recites Birkat Hagomel “for himself and intends to exempt his friend.” This clearly implies that his wording was appropriate for a personal beracha and only his intention connects him to his friend. Only in regard to the less formal response of the congregation (“Mi sheg’malcha…”), which is not discussed in this halacha of the Shulchan Aruch, does it make sense to use the plural form to include all of the people in the blessing of continued good fortune.
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