Ask the Rov: What bracha do I say when a close friend returns from the hospital?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.
Seeing a friend – Halacha mandates a bracha to be recited upon seeing after a hiatus of time a close relative or a very dear friend, whom you are very excited to see, to express your joy. If thirty days have passed, you recite shehecheyanu; if twelve months passed, you recite the bracha of mechayeh hamesim. Men can say these brachos upon seeing close female relatives, and vice versa, but not for non-relatives due to reasons of tznius. A father also makes shehecheyanu upon seeing his newborn daughter.
What if you communicated with the person during that time? The Alter Rebbe writes that even if you received news about the other person in the interim—in writing or by word of mouth—you still recite the bracha due to the special joy when seeing their face. Modern-day poskim discuss whether talking to them by phone or via video call would be different, however from the Alter Rebbe it would seem that the increased joy of a face-to-face meeting warrants the bracha.
The Rebbe notes that we don’t customarily say shehecheyanu when reuniting with friends, though one who truly wishes may make the bracha and need worry that the joy isn’t fullhearted, since even in doubt one may still say. Some poskim write that even if a formal bracha isn’t recited by ordinary reunions for various reasons, it can be recited when reuniting after 30 days with a close friend or relative who survived from an illness or danger.
Friend’s salvation – After experiencing a personal salvation, one recites hagomel and makes a seudas hodaah. Family and friends who are truly happy for his salvation can choose to recite the text of birchas hagomel (meaning “Hashem did good to me—by saving you”), or a version in Aramaic, “בְּרִיךְ רַחֲמָנָא אֱ-לָהָנָא מַלְכָּא דְּעָלְמָא דְּיַהֲבָךְ לָן וְלֹא יַהֲבָךְ לְעַפְרָא” (“Who has given you back to us and not given you to the dust”).
You may not say the bracha unless you are truly joyous, since reciting a bracha with Hashem’s name in vain is forbidden in any language. If the person might be offended, you should recite the bracha without Hashem’s name (“בְּרִיךְ דְּיַהֲבָךְ…”). Unlike by a personal salvation, these brachos don’t require a minyan.
Good news – Upon hearing good news about someone dear to you, you may express your joy by reciting the bracha of hatov v’hametiv (“Hashem did good to me and to that person”).
Thus, you can recite three brachos: hatov v’hametiv upon hearing the good news, shehecheyanu upon seeing him (if thirty days have passed), and brich rachmana once he has fully recuperated.
If one experienced a miraculous salvation in a certain place, whenever he or his offspring pass that place after a thirty-day interval, they make the bracha of “שעשה לי (לאבותינו) נס במקום הזה”, and his offspring do so as well. Yet, it seems from the Alter Rebbe that this bracha is only said when the miracle is attached to a happening in that location, and not by recovering from an illness.
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This article does not address whether it is permitted to recite shehecheyanu in this instance during sefirah.