HaGomel, Blessings on Natural Phenomena, and More
Al Netilat Yadayim or Al Tevilat Yadayim
Say al netilat yadayim even if you wash your hands by immersing them in a river, ocean, or other natural body of water.
Note: Say al tevilat yadayim if the water is not fit for netilat yadayim (if it smells bad, is salty, a dog would not drink it, etc.). This applies to washing before bread, after sleeping, etc.
Say the blessing if you intend to smell something fragrant; you may, but do not need to, say a blessing if you smell a scent in passing. If you are outdoors and a pleasant scent of flowers comes to you, even if you did not intend to smell the flowers, as long as you enjoy the scent, you may still say the appropriate blessing.
Choose the correct smell blessing (Note that these blessings are not said on synthetic scents!): Borei minei vesamim - Generic; this is the default blessing if you are not certain whichcategory applies; also say this when smelling a mixture of scents; Borei isvei vesamim - Plants which do not have stiff stems; Borei atzei vesamim - Trees and stiff-stemmed plants (such as roses); and Ha’notein rei’ach tov ba’peirot - Fragrant fruits, such as lemons and some etrogs. The minimum intensity of scent required to be permitted to say a scent blessing is anything you can smell and that you find pleasant.
Situation: You see a flower but do not know whether it has a scent.
What To Do: You may sniff the flower and, if it does have a nice scent, you may then say borei minei (or atzei or isvei as appropriate) vesamim and then take a big whiff.
Situation: You are visiting a botanical garden or an outdoor area at which you will see many flowers and blossoms.
What To Do: You may say the appropriate blessings on pleasant smells once for each category and intend for the blessing to apply to all flowers and blossoms you will smell during that day.
If you say borei isvei vesamim or borei atzei vesamim, you should say the blessing again once you have had a lapse of thought (hesech da’at); that is, once you have stopped thinking about smelling fragrances at that time.
For Which Events
Say ha’gomel after: Crossing the ocean (far enough away that you cannot see the shore); Crossing a desert by any means except flying; Getting out of jail; or Recovering from a serious illness.
In addition, say ha’gomel anytime a catastrophe has been avoided, such as a vehicle crash.
Consult a competent halachic authority in these cases.
When To Say
Say ha’gomel within three days of the event; b’di’avad, it is OK to say it within 30 days.
You may say ha’gomel after recovering from a serious illness once you are able to walk around normally.
For Whom To Say
Don’t say ha’gomel for anyone other than yourself (not even for your spouse or children).
Likewise, one person may not exempt the entire congregation for ha’gomel except b’di’avad.
But when an entire congregation says ha’gomel, use “gemalanu.”
Women customarily do not say ha’gomel. A woman does not say ha’gomel after childbirth.
Blessings: Natural Phenomena
Say oseh ma’aseh v’reishit only once per comet.
Say she’kocho u’gvurato malei olam or oseh ma’aseh v’reishit (either is correct) once per earthquake.
Don’t say the blessing on aftershocks.
Note: One cycle of quakes and aftershocks is still considered just one earthquake, even if it lasts more than one day.
There is no blessing for eclipses.
Say oseh ma’aseh v’reishit once per night.
Say oseh ma’aseh v’reishit once per month on mountains, but only on very large mountains that are famous for their height and that you have not seen within 30 days.
Say she’asa et ha’yam ha’gadol when you can see an ocean or the Mediterranean sea, but only:
While you are present, and After not having seen it for at least 30 days.
Note: If you forgot to say it and returned the next day, you may not say the blessing.
The blessing over rainbows is zocheir ha’brit v’ne’eman bi’vrito, v’kayam b’ma’amaro.
Note: You may not gaze at a rainbow, but you may look at it for up to 2.5 seconds, then look away, and then look back repeatedly an unlimited number of times.
Note: Don't tell other people that a rainbow is visible. But if they see you looking or hear you saying the blessing, you may tell them that there is a rainbow and you may tell them the correct blessing to say.
Say the blessing she’kocho u’gvurato malei olam if you hear thunder.
Start saying the blessing oseh ma’aseh v’reishit within 2 ½ seconds of seeing a lightning flash; otherwise, do not say the blessing at all.
Note: You do not need to see the actual lightning bolt--you must just see the light from lightning, even if reflected from something.
Note: The lightning must be from a rainstorm, but you may say the blessing on lightning even if it is not raining where you are, as long as you can hear thunder first.
Always say she’kocho u’gvurato malei olam (on thunder) before oseh ma’aseh v’reishit (on lightning.)
If you see lighting but don’t hear thunder, do not say oseh ma’aseh v’reishit at all.
Say she’kocho u’gvurato malei olam (on thunder) and oseh ma’aseh v’reishit (on lightning) only once per storm. If you hear thunder over telephone or microphone, you may not say kocho u'gvurato.
Note: If the storm clouds clear and another storm comes along, you may say blessings again, even on the same day.
Copyright 2015 Richard B. Aiken. Halacha L’Maaseh appears courtesy of www.practicalhalacha.com Visit their web site for more information.
This material is provided for informational purposes only – not a substitute for the consultation of a competent rabbi.