Berachos 51 - 57
"Tzum Gezund!" "Labriyut!"
These are the traditional blessings given in Yiddish or Hebrew to one who sneezes. But in Talmudic times the term was "marpei," which has the same connotation of wishing the sneezer good health.
What if someone sneezes in the Beis Midrash while you are learning Torah? Should you interrupt your study to wish him good health?
In the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Gamliel, we are told, they did not wish the sneezer "marpei," in order not to interrupt their Torah study. On the basis of this, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 246:17) rules that we should not interrupt our study in order to offer the blessing of good health.
Is this standard relevant only to previous generations who never lifted their heads out of their holy books to say anything unrelated to Torah, or is it also applicable in our times when we interrupt our learning for other matters as well? The position of the Prisha is that since today we interrupt our studies for other matters we may also do so to wish the sneezer well.
The Turei Zahav, however, takes issue with this approach. He cites what he assumes is the basis for this distinction between eras. Back in the second perek (16a) we learned that a chassan is exempt from the recital of the Shema on his wedding night because his mental preoccupation with the consummation of his marriage prevents him from maintaining the proper concentration required for this mitzvah. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 70:3), however, rules that this exemption for the chassan no longer applies, since no one really concentrates so intently when reciting the Shema in our times.
If this halachic precedent is indeed the basis for the approach of the Prisha, it is a highly questionable extension, argues the Turei Zahav. By reflecting on the low level of concentration which is universal in our day we arrive at the positive result of a chassan also reciting the Shma. But what right, he asks, do we have to utilize our lower level of Torah study to sanction an interruption for blessing the sneezer, which will have the negative effect of encouraging people in the Beis Midrash to interrupt their study for all sorts of idle discussion?
Despite this challenge the Aruch Hashulchan (246:33) cites only the lenient opinion of the Prisha.
Thanks and Praise
One who was exposed to a situation of peril the four prototypes cited in the Gemara are travel over oceans or deserts, illness and imprisonment must make the blessing of "Hagomel" when he survives that threat to his life. The blessing must be made in the presence of a minyan of Jews (the custom is to do so in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah) and there should preferably be at least two Torah scholars among them.
This is all derived from the passage in Tehillim (107:32) which directs those who have survived danger to "exalt Him in a gathering of the people and praise Him in the council of sages."
The blessing of exaltation before a minyan is an expression of thanks to Heaven for being saved. But when a survivor of any threat to his life expresses gratitude his initial attitude to the experience he has just endured is that he would have preferred to have been spared both the danger and the deliverance.
This, however, is an improper perspective. Every experience in life is an education in appreciating the ways of Divine Providence. When a survivor reflects more profoundly on his experience he is not only grateful to Hashem for the deliverance but also sings the praises of Hashem for lifting him to a higher spiritual level through this experience.
This more mature approach is certainly fostered by the presence of a pair of Torah scholars whose deeper understanding of Hashems ways inspires praise in addition to thanks.