On Bentshing Gomel (Psalm 107)

Reprinted from Holy Beggars’ Gazette vol 2 no. 3
with the permission of all the Holy Beggars….

Not for commercial redistribution without
written consent of the Estate of Reb Shlomo Carlebach

House of Love and Prayer, San Francisco
Kislev 5734

Transcribed and edited by (Rabbi) Elana Rappaport (Shechter)
Rabbeinu speaking

On Bentshing Gomel (Psalm 107)

On four occasions we have to bentsh gomel, say a special blessing
that G-d helped us. One is when someone was lost in the desert, One
is when someone was in prison, the third is if someone was sick, and
the other is when someone crossed the ocean by ship, or now most
people say if you fly over the ocean too.

    What is the whole question of being in exile or being free? Being
in exile means I am not in the place where I am supposed to be. Free
means I am in the place where I am supposed to be. It doesn’t have
to be a different address. If I am sick, I am really not in the place I
am supposed to be, because I am supposed to be well. If I am crazy,
G-d forbid, I am also not in the place I am sup posed to be. if I am
lost in the desert, or in prison, or in the waves of the ocean, I am not
where I am supposed to be.

    The G’mora says that evil is a strange ingredient. If you put some
in the cake or the soup, like salt or pepper, it really tastes good. If
you overdo it you feel there is something in the soup which doesn’t
belong there. So a certain amount of evil is important. Evil has
something good about it, a certain fire, even a certain battle. If I
would do everything without free choice, if I would just want to do
it, it would be nothing. If I had free choice and I did it, then it does
something to me. Reb Nachman says the whole idea of evil was created
only in order to give me free choice. Evil was never in the world for
me to do evil, it was only put there so that when I do right—it can be
done on a different level. If we do wrong, that is completely out of

    Every Jew, every person, is in exile in his own way; we are not in
the place we should be, and all of Israel is also not in the place where
they should be. This is only until Shabbos comes. When Shabbos
comes then suddenly something happens and we become free. That
means we get rid of that part of us which is wrong ingredients, we are
back in our place, everything is right again.

    The first reason for bentshing gomel is being lost in the desert.
What is in the desert? In the desert nothing grows, nothing happens.
The strongest exile might be to be a desert person, to do nothing,
like a desert where nothing grows, nothing is built. What is this exile
of desert? it is laziness. Actually this is the utmost of evil. Laziness
comes from gravity. Gravity pulls me down, makes everything heavy,
so that I don’t have the strength to do it. Reb Nachman says that
y’sod hefar element of earth is such that holy earth makes
everything grow, and unholy earth makes everything heavy, just by
the gravity of it, nothing else.

    There is no way out of laziness. You just have to stop being lazy.
There are no two ways about it. Do you know what lazy means?
Food is in front of you and you are too lazy to lift up your hand,
There is food all over, holy food. You are dying from hunger, and
food is right there in front of you. How can I oret rid of laziness? I
take it out of myself alone. There are certain things which I can
on my own, certain sicknesses for which I can take medicine, and
certain sicknesses for which I just have to see a doctor. There is a
sickness called laziness and you can’t get rid of it on your own. There
to be a great light from Heaven to cure you. This is Shabbos.
Suddenly when Shabbos comes we get rid of all this heaviness, all
this gravity, and stop being a desert, and we are ready to build again.

    The second person who has to bentsh gomel is a person who has
been in prison. What is a prison? I am in one room and I can’t get
out. What is so bad about being in prison? I have a bed, and they
feed me, so what is so bad? I can’t move. This is not being lazy, it is
something else. Imagine I meet a woman and she says something to
me and I am really hurt. She didn’t mean it; I didn’t mean it, and it is
a stupid thing. It is possible that I could be very stupid and be
bothered by it. I could walk around for weeks and be in prison all
the time. I think, “Why did she say that?” First of all ask her why
she said it, maybe she didn’t mean it. Everyone has his little prison.
He is hung up on one sweet little thing and he can’t get out of it.
This is not laziness. This is complete darkness. Laziness is not
darkness, it is just laziness, and nothing happens. This is darkness,
because whatever good happens to me, whatever great things I can do
in the world, whatever good and holy things people tell me are
spoiled if I am still thinking, “Why did she say that?” That is
possible, and it puts darkness into everything. Shabbos takes you out
of that darkness.

    Then comes the third person, the one who was sick. There are two
levels of sickness. There is one kind of sickness in which you are
simply sick. Then there is a stronger kind of sickness which is that
when they give you the best food you think it is bad, and when they
give you the lowest, rotten, evil smelling food you think it is
tremendous. It is possible that your taste is completely gone, but you
are still alive. Then there is a lower level, G-d forbid, where you are
just about dead. Then comes Shabbos. Every Shabbos G-d gives us
one holy word to bring us back to life. Within those twenty-six
hours of Shabbos either you or someone else tells you one holy
word, and this one holy word can really get to you if you only have
enough sense to hold on to it.

    The people who bentsh gomel for crossing the ocean represent the
whole world, and the way people in the world treat each other, the
way natures treat each other, going up and down like waves. You are
living in the world, and the vibrations of all the lies in the world
really get to you, make you go up and down, knock you off. The
Baal Shem Tov. said the body is the ship, and the soul is in the ship.
The body goes up and down, one minute super holy, one minute
absolutely the lowest, just like the waves, It is not that we are not
holy—we are holy, but the whole problem is that the next minute we
are low again. We are both the holy of holiest, and we are the unholy
of the unholiest. We don’t know where we belong. It is like a ship in
the ocean which can’t find any anchor. Then comes Shabbos, and on
Shabbos we are in a place where the whole world can’t reach us. We
can really find our place back on the shore.

by  Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
Posted in: Personal Growth