Halacha for Thursday 23 Av 5780 August 13 2020

A Negligent COVID-19 Patient

Question: If one becomes ill with the Coronavirus due to one’s own negligence to the extent that one becomes bedridden, must this individual recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon recovering?

Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained that one who becomes ill to the point where he becomes confined to bed, as is the case with a serious flu and the like, when one recovers, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing in front of ten Jewish men.

We will now discuss a situation where one became sick due to one’s own negligence, such as walking around in a very cold place without proper outerwear, and as a result, one’s entire body becomes unwell. Will such an individual indeed recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon recovering or not?

“Everything is in the Hands of Heaven Besides for Cold and Heat”
The Gemara in Masechet Ketubot (30a) tells us, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven besides for [illnesses related to] cold and heat as the verse says, ‘Cold and heat are in the path of the stubborn one, one who guards his soul will distance himself from them.’” Rashi there explains that all illnesses are decreed in Heaven besides for illnesses related to cold and heat which can sometimes befall a person due to his own negligence.

Thus, since this person was careless and as a result, contracted the flu, it would seem that he should not recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon recovering, for this will serve as a reminder of his sin of not adequately guarding his health.

The “Ha’Gomel” Blessing Following Akedat Yitzchak
The leading Torah scholars of the generation approximately 200 years ago have already disagreed about a similar topic, for Maran Ha’Chida quotes a response from his father, Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Zerachya Azoulai zt”l, who was asked if when Yitzchak Avinu was saved from the Akeda (binding), did he recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon being saved from a dangerous situation? Similarly, regarding the Kohen Gadol (high priest) who would enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur which was a place of fire and flame, would he recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon leaving there alive? He answered that the Sages only established reciting the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for a hardship that befalls a person against his will and without his knowledge; if after this a miracle occurs and he is saved from this situation, he must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. This is the case with the four categories of people who must give thanks: Chavush (an incarcerated person), Yam (a sea traveller), Yisurim (a sick person), Midbar (a person travelling through the desert) which are hinted to in the verse וכל החיי"ם יודוך סלה. This is because sea and desert travellers are so-to-speak “forced” to travel through these treacherous places in order to earn a living and the like. However, one who knowingly places himself in the face of apparent danger need not recite this blessing. Therefore, Yitzchak Avinu did not need to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon emerging safely from the Akeda, for although Hashem performed a miracle, this was done knowingly based on the command of Hashem. Similarly, the Kohen Gadol would not need to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon miraculously emerging unscathed from the Holy of Holies because the only reason he had entered there in the first place was because of the command of Hashem, King of the universe, to do so in order to obtain forgiveness for the Jewish nation.

Hagaon Harav Eliezer Nachum disagrees with the position of Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Zerachya Azoulai and writes that in his opinion, the Kohen Gadol would indeed recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon emerging from the Holy of Holies unharmed since he was in fact saved from harm, although he entered there knowingly.

It would seem that our issue is contingent upon the aforementioned dispute among the Poskim, i.e. according to Hagaon Harav Yitzchak Zerachya Azoulai, since one caused himself to be stricken with this illness, one would not recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, whereas according to Hagaon Harav Eliezer Nachum, one would indeed be obligated to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing.

Healing Always Comes Directly from Hashem
Nevertheless, our question is addressed directly by Hagaon Harav Avraham Meyuchas in his Responsa Sedeh Ha’aretz, whether or not one who fell ill due to heat or cold needs to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. Within his response he writes, “Even though I have heard in the name of the great scholar Harav Yehuda HaKohen zt”l that for a sickness that befalls a person due to his own carelessness one does not recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, since the cure for this ailment surely only comes from Hashem, for only Hashem can heal one’s illnesses and not men of flesh and blood, surely one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing to thank Hashem who decreed that his sickness should be healed, for what does is matter that this illness came as a result of his own negligence?” He concludes by saying, “This is the prevalent custom that one recites the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon recovering completely from a fever due to heat or cold.” We see clearly that even a person who is confined to bed because of a sickness that befell him due to his own negligence regarding heat and cold must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing.

Attempted Suicide
Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi probes in his Responsa Lev Chaim regarding someone who tried to commit suicide by drinking a poisonous substance and with the help of emergency medical attention, his life was saved and he recovered, whether or not this person should recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. He answers that it is quite simple that he must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, for even though the usual case of a sick person who recovers involves a sickness that befell one against his will as decreed by Heaven and when one recovers, one must offer thanks to Hashem by reciting the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, here, although this individual brought this danger upon himself, nevertheless, it makes no difference, for the main enactment (to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing) is because of the fact that Hashem had mercy on him and sent him a full recovery. Therefore, there is no distinction between a regular person who was ill and then recovered and someone who recovers from attempted suicide in that they must both recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing.

Summary: One who falls ill as a result of one’s own negligence and later recovers must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, for the power of healing is solely in the hands of Hashem, regardless of the cause of the illness. Maran zt”l rules accordingly in his Responsa Yechave Da’at (Volume 4, Chapter 14).

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