By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The entire Jewish nation is elated that, Boruch Hashem, two of the hostages have been freed – Louis Har and Fernando Marman, who were rescued from Rafah, Gaza.
Marman, 61, and Har, 70 were taken hostage from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak by Hamas terrorists on October 7th. They were taken along with three women in their family, Mia Leimberg, 17, Gabriela Leimberg, and Clara Marman, who were released in a hostage deal on Nov.28th.
Marman, from Kfar Saba, is a handyman who often helped residents of the kibbutz with anything they needed fixed. Har has four children, and 10 grandchildren.
When escaping the clutches of such a situation, rachmana litzlan – there are three brachos that may be in order. [This means the hostages themselves recite these three blessings.] The first one is, “Boruch Attah Hashem elokainu Melech haOlam matir assurim – who releases the imprisoned.” The second is bentching Gomel – which is recited whenever there is danger to life. And the third bracha is the shehecheyanu when seeing family members after having been kidnapped for so long. We must also express hakaras haTov for the brave members of Klal Yisroel who risked life and limb freeing them.
Of course we daven every day for the release and well-being of the other 134 hostages and for the continued safety of those seeking their freedom and of all of Klal Yisroel.
Let us also take this opportunity to reflect upon the reasons why we recite brachos:
There are seven essential reasons why we recite brachos:
1] To thank Hashem for the particular item, opportunity, or situation that we have. In this case, these two hostages have been freed from horrifying circumstances. Benefitting from something without thanking Hashem for it is compared to stealing according to the Gemorah in Brachos 35a. This, of course, is only in a situation where Chazal deemed that a blessing is warranted and enacted these blessings.
2] To change ourselves to become someone who has hakaras hatov – to recognize what has been given us. See Brachos (7a) regarding Leah’s naming of Yehudah in Bereishis (29:35). It is interesting to note that her naming Yehudah would constantly remind her of her recognition of thanking Hashem. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai explains that Leah was the first to reach that high level of Hakaras HaTov.
3] To bring Hashem into our lives on a regular basis. Without brachos, we tend to become complacent and forget about our creator. Brachos, when said properly, remind us of Hashem and help us bring Hashem into our lives regularl.
4] To connect to Hashem – and allow for Dveikus to Him.
5] Our sages enacted that we make these blessings and it is a Torah Mitzvah to follow what the sages have taught and enacted.
6] The Kuzari writes that when we focus on a Bracha – we enjoy our food even more. Here, the hostages can better enjoy the freedom that they now have again.
7] The Gemorah in Brachos further states that not reciting a bracha is also considered as if we have stolen from Knesses Yisroel – the Jewish nation. How so? Because when we sin, our nation’s fruits and handiwork suffer.(See Rashi’s words in Brachos 35a) Brachos, therefore, help us improve the lot of Klal Yisroel. It follows that when we do the right thing, things also improve for Klal Yisroel.
As far as bentching Gomel is concerned, the Gemorah in Brachos (54b) informs us that there are four people who are required to bentch gomel: 1] one who travels by sea, 2] one who journeys in the desert, 3] one who recovers from illness and 4] one who exits from prison. These four categories are based upon Tehillim 107.
The question arises as to what the underlying reason is for category #4, leaving prison. The Ri Migash (responsa #90) rules that someone who is released from debtors’ prison with no actual threat to life should recite the blessing of Matir Assurim. Clearly, his view is that the blessing is made because of his newly obtained freedom. The Mogain Avrohom (OC 219:1), on the other hand, writes that the blessing is only recited after exiting prison when one faced a possible death sentence. The Birkei Yosef concurring with the Ri Migash, states that release from any prison sentence requires bentching Gomel.
The Mishna Brurah writes that if someone was in jail for one or two days, the blessing is not recited according to all opinions – unless there was real danger to life.
The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (209:25) rules like the Ri Migash but says that if there are further conditions to his release – then he is not truly free and does not bentch gomel. The Mishnah Berurah adds that if there is any threat to life while in prison he would bentch gomel.
Rav Bakshi Doron in his Binyan Av (Vol. I #6) rules that if a prisoner is allowed to leave prison (for example- to attend a family wedding) he does not recite the bracha at all, because he has to go back to prison afterward. This is also the implied view of the Aruch haShulchan (219:6).
The Baal HaTanya in his Seder Birkos Ha-Nehenin (13:2), has a fascinating take on the issue. He adds that if he is imprisoned on a monetary matter where he was held in chains – he recites the blessing. He is referencing the aforementioned Tehillim (107:10) “being bound in affliction and iron.”
Rav Efrati, quoting Rav Elyashiv (Yisa Yoseph OC Vol. II #51), states that in today’s prisons one does not recite gomel if there is no danger to life, but one should perhaps recite matir asurim. He recommends that one have in mind during birchas hashachar for this when one recites it in the morning blessings. In this situation, of course – everyone would agree that it is recited because of the danger to life.
In the Gemorah itself, the Baalei Tosfos point out that the order of the four that are listed is different from the order that is found in the Tehillim. The Baalei Tosfos answer that the Tehillim lists the more dangerous first and then goes on to the less danger. The Gemorah is listing whatever is most common. The Talmid Rabbeinu Yonah, however, has it as the opposite. Could it be that the Mogain Avrohom and the Ri Migash be arguing on this point – how we understand why the Gemorah switches the order?
As far as the third bracha of shehecheyanu, the Gemorah in Brachos 58b states: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees his friend after thirty days recites the ‘Shehecheyanu’ bracha.” Tosfos, the Rosh, and Rabbeinu Yonah all rule that one only recite this bracha when seeing a very close friend who you are very glad to see. These halachos are found in Shulchan Aruch OC Siman 225.
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