Halacha for Tuesday 28 Av 5780 August 18 2020

Sea Travelers

In the previous Halachot we have explained that four categories of people must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, one such category being those who travel by sea upon docking on dry land. Let us now discuss some of the details regarding this law.

Those Who Travel By Yacht Nowadays
Those who travel by sea, meaning to set sail in a ship into the heart of the sea, must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. What we must discuss now is a situation where one travels by ship into the heart of the sea but the entire voyage went smoothly, as is the case most of the time nowadays when people travel on a yacht or on a large cruise ship for pleasure where the chances of the vessel sinking are almost nothing. There is thus room to claim that only in earlier generations when travelling by sea usually entailed a treacherous voyage did our Sages institute a special blessing for one who was rescued from near-certain danger; however, nowadays when travelling by ship is absolutely safe, perhaps the “Ha’Gomel” blessing should not be recited on such voyages nowadays?

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l quotes the words of Rabbeinu Avraham son of the Rambam in his Sefer Ha’Maspik Le’Ovdei Hashem (Hilchot Berachot page 253) who writes that even if the sea travellers encountered no danger during their journey and they had smooth sailing throughout, they must still recite “Ha’Gomel” upon docking safely. The reason for this is that since any sea voyage entails some sort of danger, our Sages established for all sea travellers to recite this blessing regardless of whether or not they actually encountered any danger.

Based on this, the same applies to travelling on large vessels nowadays that although this does not entail such great danger, nevertheless, since any setting sail into the sea entails some form of danger. Thus, one travelling by ship even nowadays must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. Indeed, Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l writes in his Responsa Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim, Volume 2, Chapter 59) that one must thank Hashem even for a small kindness; thus, anywhere where the original

Similarly, Hagaon Harav Avraham Yitzchak Ha’Kohen Kook in his Responsa Orach Mishpat (Chapter 45) writes that although nowadays ships are very large and powered by engines such that there is no longer as much danger involved, still, one who travels on such a vessel must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon docking since the source of this blessing is a rabbinic enactment, even if the reason for this enactment is no longer applicable, the enactment itself stays intact as is the case regarding any rabbinic Mitzvah where even if the reason for the enactment becomes obsolete, the enactment still stands. This is especially true here where the reason for this enactment applies somewhat even nowadays, for there is still some sort of danger involved regarding sea travel even nowadays. This is also especially true since this Halacha is stated openly in a verse in Tehillim (Psalm 107) which states, “Let them give thanks to Hashem for his kindness and for his wonderful works to the son of man. And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and declare His works with singing. They who go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters. Maran zt”l quotes their words in his Chazon Ovadia.

A Short Voyage
We must now discuss the law regarding one who takes a short voyage of a half-hour or slightly more in the heart of the sea. Did our Sages enact that even such a person should recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing or must only a person who sets sail for several days recite this blessing? Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this in his Chazon Ovadia-Berachot (page 361) and rules that since the ship enters the depths of the sea, one must certainly recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, both according to the Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs.

Summary: One who sets sail at sea, even if it is merely a short voyage and even if it is a very secure journey with almost no chance of harm, nevertheless, since one sails to the heart of the sea, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon returning to dry land.

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