HaGomel LaChayavim TovosBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
As in the previous Psalm, David says to give thanks to G-d because His kindness is everlasting. (This is a sentiment we will hear a few more times before the Book is through.) Let the people whom G-d saved from their enemies in Egypt acknowledge that it was His doing. He gathered them together and brought them to the wilderness, where there was no food or water. They cried out to G-d, Who saved them and led them to their destination. Therefore, they should thank G-d for His kindness, because He fed them with manna and sweet water in the desert.
You know who else should thank G-d? Captives. They sit in prison, shackled with iron, because they turned their backs on G-d. He decided to bring them down a peg with hard labor. When they went against G-d, they were on their own; there simply is no one else who can help them. So they cry out to G-d and He saves them. He breaks their chains and sets them free. So, they should thank Him for His kindness in breaking their bonds and releasing them.
Another group that should thank G-d are those who have recovered from serious illness. These people were foolish. They allowed themselves to be drawn into sin and were punished until they neared death. They, too, cried out to G-d, Who saved them. They were cured through His word. (What, you thought medicine can work if G-d doesn’t will it?) These people should not only thank G-d, they should offer sacrifices of thanksgiving.
Travelers who cross the sea should thank G-d, because they have seen how vast and danger-filled the ocean is! It’s pretty astounding that G-d has given us the capacity to cross it at all! G-d’s word stirs the wind and the waves and only He can calm them. When ships are tossed, their passengers melt in fear. The people cannot even walk straight, as if they are intoxicated! They cry out to G-d, Who calms the sea and delivers them safely. Therefore they should thank G-d for His kindness.
The thanks to G-d should be recited publicly and in the presence of scholars.
G-d can turn rivers to desert and lush fields to wasteland if that’s what the people of the area deserve. Conversely, He can make deserts into springs of water, as He did for the Jews of the Exodus. He brought them into the land of Israel, where they planted fields and vineyards. G-d blessed the nation and they were prolific and prosperous. All this is even more amazing when one considers how downtrodden they had been in Egypt! G-d can humble arrogant rulers and exile them to the wilderness or He can raise the lowly to positions of comfort. The righteous will rejoice when everyone receives what they have earned, although the wicked will be less than thrilled. A wise person will make note of all this and direct his heart to G-d accordingly.
This Psalm is the first in the fifth and final “book” into which Psalms is subdivided. It is the source of our Birkas HaGomel, the prayer we recite upon being saved from a dangerous situation. As in the Psalm, we recite it upon crossing a desert or sea, being released from prison, or recovering from a serious illness. As the Psalm says, we recite the prayer publicly, in the presence of a minyan. (See Brachos 54b for more information on this prayer.)