Halacha for Thursday 30 Av 5780 August 20 2020

Highway Travelers- The Month of Elul

In the previous Halachot we have established that four categories of people must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing (in the presence of ten men), one of which is one traveling through the desert upon reaching an inhabited settlement. We shall now explain this Halacha.

The Talmud Yerushalmi in Tractate Berachot (Chapter 4, Halacha 4) states that “all roads are considered dangerous”. This means that any time one travels on a road from one city to another, this is considered dangerous. We can seemingly deduce from here that the enactment of reciting the “Ha’Gomel” blessing does not specifically apply to those traveling through the desert which is considered an especially dangerous place because of the bandits, wild animals, and the like that are found there; rather, any time one travels on a road from one city to another (for obviously this does not mean that there is a danger involved anytime one takes a short walk), when one reaches a place inhabited by people, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing.

Traveling Through a Desert or on the Road?
Nevertheless, the Rosh in his work on the ninth chapter of Masechet Berachot (Section 3) writes that in Germany and France the custom was not to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon traveling from city to city, for the establishment to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing was only for travel through deserts where robbers and wild animals are more common. When the Yerushalmi states that all roads are considered dangerous applies specifically to Tefillat Ha’Derech (the Traveler’s prayer) in that a traveler must pray for his safety while traveling on any road; however, this does not apply to the “Ha’Gomel” blessing. The Tosafot rule likewise.

On the other hand, the Ramban writes in his Sefer Torat Ha’Adam (Sha’ar Ha’Meichush, Inyan Ha’Refuah) that upon traveling on any road, one must recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing, for the Yerushalmi states that all roads are considered dangerous. The Tur quotes this opinion and writes that this was the prevalent custom in Spain.

After noting the difference between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs regarding this matter, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch writes that for less than a “Parsa” (meaning a distance that is less than one can travel during 72 minutes) of travel time, one should not recite “Ha’Gomel” unless one has traveled through a place that is especially dangerous (for instance one who has mistakenly entered a village that is a terrorist stronghold and the like), in which case one would recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for traveling even less than a seventy-minute travel time.

Halachically speaking, Sephardim and Jews of Middle Eastern descent customarily recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon travelling from one city to another provided that there is a distance of seventy-two minutes of travel time from the outskirts of the departed city. However, the custom of Ashkenazi Jews is not to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing for such a journey; rather, only one who travels through the desert recites this blessing.

Highway Travelers Nowadays
According to the Sephardic custom it would seem that although nowadays there is no longer as much danger associated with highway travel as robbers and wild animals are typically uncommon, since our Sages established the blessing of “Ha’Gomel” for such a journey, even if the reason for the enactment is seemingly no longer applicable, the enactment itself still stands, as we have explained in the name of Hagaon Harav Kook in the previous Halacha.

Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein adds that the reason behind the Sephardic custom to recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon travelling from city to city even if there are no robbers or wild animals is because this also an act of kindness from Hashem, for He has placed fear in the hearts of the robbers and wild animals not to come upon the road when people are traveling. Thus, even nowadays one should recite the “Ha’Gomel” blessing upon traveling from one city to another. This is especially true since even nowadays a very real danger of car accidents and the like still exists.

In the following Halacha, we shall discuss some more details regarding this Halacha.

Today is the first day of Rosh Chodesh Elul. This month marks the days of mercy and forgiveness as well as days of self-introspection for every Jewish person. Selichot will begin, G-d-willing, this coming Motza’ei Shabbat at halachic midnight. According to the Ashkenazi custom, Selichot begins Motza’ei Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim, the 24th of Elul.

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