Shabbat Parashat Achare Mot- Kedoshim| 5767
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Question: Someone made a standard Birkat Hagomel because his young grandchild was saved from danger without his father being aware. Does one make Hagomel on behalf of a child?
Answer: Regarding a question on something that already happened, we like to consider the matter from two perspectives: what is best to do if the matter arises again and if what was done appears to be less than optimal, can we legitimize it, after the fact?
The first question is whether Birkat Hagomel applies to a katan (minor) who is old enough to perform mitzvot. The Maharam Mintz (5, accepted by the Magen Avraham, introduction to 219) says that it is inappropriate because of the beracha’s language. We say “… hagomel l’chayavim tovot (Who does favors for those who deserve punishment).” In other words, the one who makes the beracha acknowledges that had the danger been actualized, it would have been Divinely just because of his sins. However, a child is not culpable, and it is improper for him to suggest that it is his father who was guilty. The Maharam Mintz also did not expect the father to recite the beracha because it is far from clear that a tragedy, Heaven forbid, would have been his fault. Note that in our gemaras, Hagomel’stext omits the word, chayavim. Nevertheless, the Maharam Mintz did not deem it possible to alter the beracha’sform to give thanks while avoiding the issue of culpability.
Despite the existence of dissenting opinions, the consensus of poskim is to not require a child who is saved to make a beracha (Mishna Berura 219:3) and even to discourage it (see Tzitz Eliezer XIV, 20). Furthermore, you refer to a child who is too young to be obligated, and the poskim do not obligate anyone in his stead. Realize that Birkat Hagomel is modeled after the korban todah (sacrifice of thanksgiving). Beyond specific halachic obligations, there are various ways to show thanks to Hashem. These include making a seudat hoda’ah (meal of thanks) and giving tzedakah, which are appropriate here. On the other hand, some may feel a lack of fulfillment or fear a bad omen if no one recites Hagomel. It is not always wise to argue with people who feel this way. Thus, let us see if a voluntary beracha is possible.
The gemara (Berachot 54b) tells that when Rav Yehuda recovered from illness, disciples who visited him noted their gratitude to Hashem for returning Rav Yehuda to them without using the Hagomel formula. Rav Yehuda responded that (as he had answered Amen) he was exempted from reciting Hagomel. The Rosh (cited by the Tur, Orach Chayim 219) explains that people other than the one who was saved are permitted to make a beracha. The Beit Yosef (ad loc.) does cite the Rashba that this is an exception for disciples regarding their rebbe.(Rav Ovadya Yosef, Yechave Da’at II, 25 thus rules that others should not recite Hagomel on behalf of those saved from Entebbe.) However, Ashkenazim should note that the Rama (OC 219:4) says that anyone who feels the happiness may make the beracha. The Mishna Berura (219:17) assumes that this is so even if the one who was saved is not present (or is too young to understand). While one should not make a rule of making berachot for others, one can justify the grandfather you mention.
Admittedly, we saw that it is not clear one should change the beracha’s text However, one who makes Hagomel for others should ostensibly omit, “chayavim,” to avoid implicating others (Sha’ar Hatziyun 219:13). He also should change the text (composed in first person) and indicate who was saved (Mishna Berura, ibid.). However, there is some logic to keeping the standard text. The Taz (ad loc.:3) suggests that only one who feels the joy of the other’s salvation may make Hagomel. We then consider it that he is thanking Hashem on his own behalf for saving someone close to him. Therefore, he says, talk of culpability can refer to the blesser. In the same vein, use of the first person in describing the favor bestowed can also be justified.
Thus, while not recommending the course of action taken, we need not reject it either.
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