“A car accident! Are you going to bench gomel?”
The first time I heard the phrase, I thought I heard, “bench Gomer.” What a weird thing to ask, I wondered, and who is Gomer? What did he have to do with the car accident?
Benching gomel is a beautiful Jewish tradition of gratitude and relief. It is a traditional expression of gratitude for survival of something perilous: an extremely long journey, a situation of grave danger, recovery from serious illness, or release from prison. It is also said by a mother after she has survived childbirth.
In Biblical times, when the Temple was standing, a person who wanted to give thanks for delivery from danger would bring a Korban Todah, a thanksgiving sacrifice, to the Temple. Nowadays, just as the Amidah substitutes for the daily sacrifices, the Gomel blessing fills in for the Korban Todah.
Here is the text of the blessing:
The one giving thanks says:
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-gomel l’chayavim tovim she-g’malani kol tuv.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of all that is, who bestows goodness upon those who are accountable, and who has bestowed every goodness upon me.
The minyan responds:
Mi she-g’malcha kol tuv, hu yi-g’malcha kol tuv selah.
May the One who has rewarded you with goodness bestow you with goodness for ever.Birkat haGomel, my translation
Bench means “to bless.” HaGomel is “the thanksgiving.”
There are some rules for benching gomel:
- One must be 13 or over (bar/bat mitzvah) to say the blessing.
- One should say the blessing within three days, but extra days are allowed if it takes that time to find a minyan.
- One must say it with a minyan, preferably in the presence of a Torah scroll.
- If the one saying it does so in connection with an aliyah to the Torah, he says the blessing of gomel immediately after the blessing following the Torah reading.
- One stands, if possible, to bench gomel.
- After benching gomel, it is traditional to give tzedakah as a thanksgiving.
- Some also host a thanksgiving meal [seudat hoda’ah] afterwards.
- While it is preferable to bench gomel in the synagogue with the Torah in the room, it is permissible to bench gomel in any place suitable for prayer, as long as one has the minyan.
- Out of courtesy, ask the person leading the service if you can bench gomel BEFORE a service begins, preferably well ahead of time.
In case you are wondering, yes, I have benched gomel. It was after a car accident in which my car was totaled. It was helpful to me to share what had happened with my community (cuts down on gossip) and it let them know that I might need help in the coming weeks.
Readers, if you have benched gomel at some time in your life, how was that experience for you?