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Shabbat Parashat Va'eira 5782

Ask the Rabbi: Hagomel for One Who Became Bar Mitzva after Flight

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Our family will be going to Israel for our son’s bar mitzva. We will arrive a few hours before he becomes halachically bar mitzva, and the next morning, he will get his aliya. Should he recite Hagomel after his aliya?

 

Answer: Although mature children generally recite berachot, the consensus of opinions is that a child does not recite Birkat Hagomel (Mishna Berura 219:3; Yalkut Yosef, Orach Chayim 219:3). The reason is not related to Hagomel’s minyan requirement, as a woman can recite Hagomel (see Mishna Berura ibid.; Living the Halachic Process ((=LTHP); V, B-8).  

The source of this halacha is the Maharam Mintz (Shut, 14), who says that since the language of the beracha is that one thanks Hashem for doing kindness (saving his life from danger) for those who deserve punishment (chayavim), it does not apply to children who cannot deserve punishment. Although it is possible that a potential harsh decree could come from his parents demerits, to call them chayavim would be a disgrace of the parents. He is also not in favor of the father making the beracha on the child’s account (see more in LTHP III, B-10).

Mahari Basan (Lachmei Todah 5), cited by many as a minority opinion (the Birkei Yosef 219:1 says that his local minhag did follow him), disagreed. He argues that if the capability of deserving death as divine punishment were a requirement, then adolescents until 20 would also not be able to recite Hagomel. He also points out that we are not supposed to say harsh things about our religious state (Berachot 19a). He claims that chayavim does not mean deserving of death but being in debt, i.e., we have received more from Hashem than we deserve. This can apply to children as well. As mentioned, we do not pasken like the Mahari Basan.

If the reason for children not making the beracha is that we cannot attribute the danger to them, then if one’s danger was over when he was a child, the beracha should not apply, and therefore your son, who will iy”H land safely before his bar mitzva should not make the beracha. It is true that R. Akiva Eiger (to OC 186:2) considers it plausible that one who ate a meal right before he turned bar mitzva and remains satiated after he became bar mitzva might become obligated in Birkat Hamazon on the level of Torah law. We might argue then that since the time of your son’s aliya would be the correct time to recite Hagomel and he should still be thankful, Hagomel should become an obligation. However, this is incorrect for two reasons. For one, R. Akiva Eiger is predicated on the possibility that Birkat Hamazon is fundamentally on the state of satiation, which remains in adulthood. In contrast, here the extrication from danger was over during childhood (Be’er Sarim V:2). Also, since the word chayavim relates to childhood, it is still problematic.

It is likely that the inability to say chayavim is not a mere technical impediment to the beracha. Consider that one can fulfill the mitzva without saying the word chayavim (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 219:4) which is not even in our text of the gemara (Berachot 60a). Rather, the Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham, intro. to 219) implies that considering the language usually used, Chazal decided not to institute it regarding children, unlike other berachot, and therefore it cannot be created after the event that generates the beracha passes.

Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo II, 60) goes further, leaning toward saying that even if the child’s recovery was completed after bar mitzva, he would not recite Hagomel if the time of danger was earlier. (Be’er Sarim (ibid.) goes even further, regarding sickness, but not regarding travel.

In conclusion, since there is solid logic for those who think children should recite Hagomel, plus the fact that he will be bar mitzva at the time one would normally make the beracha, if your son wants, the two of you can have in mind during your recitation of Hagomel that, if appropriate, it relate to him also (see LTHP, II, B-7).

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