Birchat HaGomel: Blessing of Safety
Rabbi Cassi Kail
Nearly six months into our new reality, we are acutely aware of how much we have lost. Many of us know people who have died or become seriously ill from COVID-19. We lost security, routine, and the opportunity to gather and embrace one another. We’ve lost the ability to leave our homes with a sense of safety and security.
Our Sages understood that there are times in life in which we are rightfully afraid. They also understood the importance of celebrating our health and good fortune wherever possible.
The Talmud (Berachot 54b) contains a prayer that we do not use nearly often enough. That prayer is called Birchat HaGomel. It is recited by individuals who survive life-threatening circumstances, such as dangerous travel, severe illness, or incarceration. Our sages implore us to celebrate every victory and to take every opportunity to count our blessings.
This Rosh HaShanah, I will call upon anyone and everyone who has survived something life-threatening. Perhaps you were sick with COVID-19 and recovered. Perhaps you had another severe illness, had to travel amidst a sea of masks and uncertainty. Perhaps you work in the medical field and put yourself in harm’s way for the well being of others. Perhaps you are an essential worker, forced to take risks to do your job. This prayer is for you.
Traditionally, those who offer this prayer come up to the Torah. With gratitude in their hearts, they recite these ancient words:
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-gomel l’chayavim tovot she-g’malani kol tov.
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.
The congregation, too, erupts in thanksgiving:
Mi she-g’malcha kol tov, hu yi-g’malcha kol tov selah.
May he who rewarded you with all goodness reward you with all goodness always.
On Rosh HaShanah morning, I will invite anyone who feels s moved to unmute themselves and offer the prayer in Hebrew and/ or English.
Birchat HaGomel has always had power, but this year it can take on renewed meaning. If this pandemic is teaching us anything, it is that we can’t rationally take anything for granted. Every day, every moment, and every recovery is worthy of celebration.
We long for the day COVID-19 is a thing of the past, and our world can offer Birchat HaGomel with smiles on our lips and relief in our hearts. Until then, may this prayer be our rallying cry to rejoice in every victory and every recovery along the way. May it be our reminder that we will get through this together.