Question: [Tuesday, 3rd Elul, 5782]
I wanted to verify if the following occurrence in which I was saved from a potentially deadly car accident requires me to recite Hagomel? It was minutes after candle lighting on Erev Shabbos when I was driving with my kids in the backseat on a highway near my home. I was driving the speed limit and I suddenly noticed a distracted driver who was on his phone speeding at double the speed limit straight towards me from the other direction. In a matter of a split second, I instinctively pulled at the wheel wildly to the right side to avoid the accident. Even so, he hit my side mirror and completely wiped it off the car. It happened so quick I did not even have time to beep and get his attention. Luckily, there was no car to my right otherwise I would’ve crashed straight into it when I swerved away. None of us were wearing seatbelts, and I feel that if I would not have instinctively stared the wheel to the other side, we all G-d forbid would’ve been killed. It was extremely traumatic for me, and all my kids were terrified. I actually had to park on the side of the road because I was shaking so bad that I could not continue to drive. So, should I recite Hagomel for the near-death experience that God saved me from?
You should not say the blessing yourself but rather are to be Yotzei the blessing of Hagomel with another person who is obligated to say it. In addition, you should do some other form of gratitude towards God, such as making a Seudas Hodayah, giving charity to Torah scholars, or taking upon yourself an extra mitzvah or session of Torah learning.
Explanation: Although the blessing of Hagomel was instituted to be recited upon being saved from danger, and it is customary of Ashkenazim to follow the opinion who rules that this applies to one who is saved from all forms of danger, and not just the four dangers listed by the sages [i.e. returning from a voyage overseas; returning from a trip in the desert; recovery from a serious illness; being freed from prison], nonetheless, this only applies if one was saved from a danger that already occurred to him, such as a person got into a dangerous car accident and was saved. If, however, he was saved from entering the danger, such as he was saved from entering into a car accident, then it is not clear if the blessing should be said. Some Poskim explicitly negate saying Hagomel in such a case that he naturally avoided the danger, such as he swerved away from a rock or bullet coming his way, or ran away from a terrorist, and they conclude that those who nonetheless say the blessing are saying a blessing in vain following the custom of the ignoramuses. There is room to learn this to also be the opinion of Admur. Other Poskim, however, rule that a blessing of Hagomel is to be said even in such a case. Practically, the blessing is to be said without Hashem’s name, or one is to be Yotzei with another person saying it.
Sources: See the dispute regarding if Hagomel is recited after being saved from other dangers: Admur Seder 13:7, Luach 12:13, and Michaber 219:9, with the Michaber concluding that it is to be said without God’s name, although with Admur ibid and 13:1 concluding that the custom is to say the blessing with Hashem’s name even when saved from other dangers; See regarding if one must be saved from the danger in a miraculous manner, or if even being saved naturally suffices to say the blessing: Michaber 218:9 and Admur in Luach 12:7 for a dispute regarding Sheasa Nissim and that it should be said without Hashem’s name; Seder 13:1 who rules like the 2nd opinion there who permits saying Sheasa Nissim; Taz 218:3 and M”B 318:31 that everyone agrees that nonetheless Hagomel should be said; Poskim who rule that naturally avoiding entering the danger does not deserve a blessing: Maharal in Nesivos Olam Nesiv Havoda 13; M”B 218:32 and Shaar Hatziyon 29 regarding Sheasa Nissim that it is possible that a blessing should not be said according to any opinion, and he thus concludes to say without Shem Umalchus; Piskeiy Teshuvos 218:10 footnote 58 and 75; Implication of Admur Seder 1 and 7 who in his wording emphasizes that the person entered into the danger and was say, such as that the wall fell onto him, as opposed to that he avoided being hit by a falling wall; Vetzaruch Iyun; Poskim who rule that even naturally avoiding entering the danger deserves a blessing: Chayeh Adam 65:4 and Nishmas Adam 1 in name of Radbaz 1001; Option in M”B 218:32 and Shaar Hatziyon 29; See Shevet Halevi 9:45; Piskeiy Teshuvos 218:10 page 864 footnote 75; 219:19; See regarding giving charity: M”B 218:32