When the phone rings and those are the first words of the party at the other end of the line it does not bode good news. No one is calling to say, “Everything is okay, but you have won the lotto.” Nor is anyone going to say, “Everything is okay, but we want to sign a contract for your new novel.”
No, “Everything is okay, but” usually precludes a statement such as “I’m in the hospital.” Or “There was a drive-by shooting.”
Recently my husband called me and began the conversation with those four words. He continued with, “Our daughter had a car accident and I’m on my way to her, but,” and he repeated, “everything is okay.”
Call it denial or misplaced optimism but I believed him. He would be home soon, she would shortly be on her way to her class in Jerusalem, and I could continue on with my planned activities for the afternoon. That was until I received his second call. This time he informed me that even though everything was okay, they were in an ambulance, on the way to the hospital to make sure that, indeed, everything was okay. They were going to Hadassah Hospital at Mt Scopus which is a half-hour drive from our home if there is not traffic.
He was sketchy with his facts and at that point my confidence plunged. I had one thought on my mind. I had to get to the hospital to see my daughter. How? The car my daughter had been driving was waiting to be towed and my husband’s car was parked not far away from it. Traffic was backed up at the entrance to Jerusalem and, even if a bus was coming soon, it would take well over an hour to get there.
My oldest son came to the rescue. Taking the back roads we got to the hospital in less than an hour. I practically ran into the emergency room and there was my husband with my daughter. Indeed, she did look okay, but that did not stop me from crying as I hugged her. She cried as she hugged me back and told me the story. She had lost control of the car, flipped over, and only had some small cuts and bruises. As we waited for her discharge letter we talked about the miracle HaShem had made for her and how thankful we were.
However, it was not enough to feel thankful. In the days of the Holy Temple Jews would bring a special sacrifice to thank HaShem (see Leviticus, Chapter 7, verses 11-15) when they had survived a life-threatening crisis. The sacrifice consisted of forty loaves of bread and all needed to be eaten on the day of the offering. No one could eat that much bread by himself and therefore relatives, neighbors, and friends were invited to help partake of the sacrifice. Thus was the miracle HaShem had made publicized.
Today, to our sorrow, there is not a Holy Temple in which to offer a thanksgiving sacrifice. Instead we suffice with making a thanksgiving meal and saying the special HaGomel blessing. It is a short blessing of twelve Hebrew words. Blessed are You, HaShem, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who bestowed good things upon the culpable, Who has bestowed every goodness upon me.
Traditionally, our sages learn from Psalm 107 that this prayer is said following a serious illness, being released from prison, crossing a desert or an ocean. Many rabbis rule that it should be said whenever someone survives a real danger. Personally, I made the blessing after coming back from overseas flights, after surgery, and after giving birth. I always said the blessing in the synagogue and was always nervous about it. Standing behind the curtain, hidden from the men, I found it uncomfortable to call attention to myself. Then there are the inevitable questions of the women standing around me. And yet, through the years I have learned that those questions are asked with love and caring.
My daughter had probably not learned that before the accident. Several years earlier she had come back from a trip to America and got the giggles saying the Gomel prayer. This time it was different. As she said the Gomel prayer we had our arms around each other and, as in the hospital, we could not stop crying. Our tears were tears of thankfulness.
The following Shabbat she made a Kiddush after morning services. Relatives, neighbors, and friends came to express their love. My husband told the story of the accident. Once again, one of HaShem’s many miracles was being publicized.
When the Gomel prayer is recited the congregation does not just listen. Instead they respond with another prayer. Amen. May He Who has bestowed goodness upon you continue to bestow every goodness upon you forever. I don’t think I could ask for more for my daughter.