By RABBI JOSEPH PROUSER
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Ha-Gomel l’Chayavim Tovot, She-g’malani Kol Tov. This blessing of thanksgiving – Birkat ha-Gomel – is recited when one has escaped mortal peril or when disaster has been averted… upon recovering from illness or surgery, surviving an accident or long journey (especially overseas), etc.
The Hebrew term Chayavim can mean culpable, guilty, unworthy, or indebted. Thus the blessing is generally translated as praising God “…who bestows favor upon the undeserving, and has bestowed favor upon me.” I prefer to understand Chayavim as indicating debt. We thank God “…who continues to bestow kindness even on those already in His debt, and who has shown such kindness to me.”
This shifts emphasis away from the implied unworthiness of the grateful worshiper having received an allegedly random and unmerited kindness from a seemingly judgmental God… and focuses our attention on the long record of divine blessing and beneficence that each of us – truth be told – has enjoyed… occasional brushes with danger, misfortune, even bitter adversity notwithstanding.
“Danger is sauce for prayers,” said Benjamin Franklin. We have good reason to give thanks to God when we escape danger — and to some extent, for the danger itself… for perhaps our greatest peril is in failing to recognize the many blessings that attend us each day.
(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting)