Clergy’s Corner

Read Rabbi Barras’ Monthly Reflections — “Rav Bar Oz

In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Rabbi Judith Kempler to share some thoughts with you. You may contact her at with any comments.

Irma reminded us what we truly NEED and what we can live without SHOTS/KEMPLER_judith.gif

Greetings and a belated Shana Tova.

As I write this article, we are only a few weeks into the post-Irma aftermath and in the midst of our High Holy Day season. Our sermons were replete with references to the hurricane and its powers of destruction, both physical and psychological. We spoke much about what the hurricane comes to teach us, and how we can turn our feelings of frustration, fear and anxiety into useful spiritual directives for our families and communities. If nothing else, the hurricane reminded us of what we truly NEED to survive and what else we can live without.

During the storm, I sought out blessings that we could say in order to recognize our fortune and also acknowledge the difficult journey we each have taken.

In Judaism, the Birkat HaGomel is the blessing we say when we have experienced and moved through a situation of danger or misfortune. The types of events that require one to recite this blessing are derived from Psalm 107. These include:

1. Completion of a sea voyage;
2. Completion of a hazardous land journey;
3. Recovering from a major illness, and,
4. Release from captivity.

By extension, however, we learn from the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 219:9) that the blessing should be recited by anyone who has been spared from a life-threatening situation. The blessing also has been historically used by those who recently experienced childbirth as it posed (and in some cases today continues to pose) danger for the birth parent.

The traditional words of the blessing are as follows: Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech HaOlam hagomel l’chayavim tovot she’g’malani kol tov.

Blessed are you, Sovereign God, who bestows kindness upon the committed and has bestowed favor upon me. At first it seems paradoxical to express a blessing of thanksgiving following a terrifying moment in our lives. But we are not saying “thank you for the tragedy.” Instead, we are reminding ourselves that we are safe and that our good fortune has nothing to do with our own merit. The Hebrew word chayavim, which I have translated as “committed,” also carries the meaning of “undeserving.” As one contemporary scholar wrote that “sometimes the fundamental unfairness of the universe accrues in our favor.”

With this in mind, we acknowledge our current circumstance, on the other side of a tragic event, and recognize our own fortune in surviving and moving forward. In the times of the Temple, when someone was spared a life-threatening situation, they would bring a thanksgiving offering. Today, our offerings are less tangible but no less important.

Here is a discussion question for you to ponder: How might our perspective change on dangerous situations by ritualizing being thankful for our safety? What are some situations in your life when you would have wanted or would like to have to recite this blessing of gratitude?

Rabbi Judith Kempler

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