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Shabbat Parashat Vaeira | 5769
Thanking Hashem After a “False Alarm”
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Question: If one had indications of a life-threatening illness but subsequently it is determined that it was a false alarm, should he recite Hagomel and make a seudat hoda’ah (meal of thanksgiving)?
Answer: The gemara (Berachot 54b, based on Tehillim 107) lists one who recuperates from illness as one of four types of people who must thank Hashem. The manner in which he does this is by reciting Birkat Hagomel before ten people.
Regarding the illness’ extent, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:8) says it applies to any reasonable illness; the Rama says it is only for illnesses where there appears to be real danger (parallel to the parameters for violating Shabbat). Some Ashkenazi poskim accept the former approach, at least when the illness confines one to bed for three days (see Mishna Berura 219:28).
One might suggest that your question depends on these opinions. Is a life-threatening situation needed or only one that warrants thanking Hashem when He brings recovery? However, the sources indicate that even the expansive opinion requires some threat to life, just that it reasons that any significant illness could become life-threatening. If it becomes clear that there was no danger at all, no one would require Hagomel. (If one was bedridden for three days, Sephardim would require a beracha, presumably even if doctors say there was no danger- see Yalkut Yosef, OC 219: 22, 27).
This being said, there is great logic to distinguish between the formal beracha of Hagomel, which must meet certain parameters, and the more general positive element of making a seudat hoda’ah. The Shulchan Aruch does not mention anywhere a requirement to make such a seuda. Yet, the practice exists, although apparently on a voluntary basis (as opposed to Hagomel). Some cite the following gemara (Berachot 46a) as evidence. Rav Avahu, upon visiting Rav Zeira when he was sick, stated that if the latter would recover, he would make a feast for the rabbis. Some cite this idea as not only worthwhile after recovery but as a segula (spiritual facilitator) for bringing recovery (see Imrei Shamai, p. 85 in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s disciples). If one, under these circumstances, felt the need to promise such a party, it does not seem right to claim afterward that the self-obligation was not binding because it was based on misinformation.
Even if one did not accept such an obligation prior to recovery, a seudat hoda’ah would still seem appropriate. Even if it turns out that there was no serious illness from which recovery was necessary, there still was good news that a perceived problem disappeared. We shall illustrate with Talmudic precedent. The gemara (Bava Kama 87a) tells of Rav Yosef (who was blind) who said that he would make a feast for the rabbis if he found out that the opinion that a blind man is exempt from mitzvot is incorrect because one who is obligated in mitzvot receives more reward. Here, nothing changed but a happy realization, and yet a celebration was appropriate. Another such source is the historical background behind an early-winter pagan holiday. The gemara (Avoda Zara 8a) says that one was instituted properly by Adam who feared that daylight was disappearing due to his sin until the solstice passed and he saw that the days were naturally getting longer. Despite Adam’s mistake, the celebration was appropriate (until it turned pagan).
The logic behind such thanks appears to be as follows. We are always in danger (see text of Asher Yatzar), just that it is natural not to feel it. However, when we understandably come face to face with the prospect of our mortality, it is a good time to thank Hashem for our continued existence. So, if one wants to make a seudat hoda’ah upon receiving, for example, a negative biopsy result on a suspected malignant growth, he should be encouraged.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of Shirley, Sara Rivka bat Yaakov Tzvi HaCohen z”L
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.