Seudat Hoda’ah – Meal of Thanks

I survived a very serious accident with almost no injury. I probably would not have survived at all had God not been there watching over me. It’s just coming to a year later now. Is there something appropriate for me to do to mark the occasion?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s wonderful to hear of your deliverance, and it’s nice that you recognize God’s involvement in your life.

It is definitely appropriate to mark the date of your salvation every year (on the same Hebrew date). There are different customs as to what to do. A very common custom, although not mentioned specifically in the Talmud or classic works, is to host a festive meal for your family and friends to publicize the great good God has done for you. This meal is called a Seudat Hoda’ah – a meal of thanks.

King David states, “I will thank God greatly with my mouth, and among the multitudes I will praise Him” (Psalms 109:30). As personal as this salvation was for you, you should not keep it between you and God. Everyone should know of God’s great deeds in the world, and you should publicly thank Him for what He did for you.

Many Holocaust survivors would celebrate yearly the day they were liberated from the camps. Likewise, a person who was in a serious accident, overcame serious illness, or was saved from danger should host such a celebration.

Since this practice is not mentioned in the early classic works, there are not that many customs associated with the meal. It’s really a matter of what you feel most comfortable doing – in terms of how large and festive the meal should be and how many people you would like to invite. (There is no obligation to have a minyan – ten men as in the synagogue.) But certainly the meal should include speeches which publicize the miracle and express your gratitude to God. It’s also common to recite Psalms 100 and 107, in both of which King David expresses the great thanks we owe God, especially those saved from danger.

One of the early recorded cases of a great rabbi who observed such a yearly feast is Rabbi Abraham Danzig (1748-1820), of Poland and later Vilna, Lithuania, known best today for his important works on Jewish law, Chayei Adam and Chochmat Adam. At the end of Chayei Adam, he records a great salvation which occurred to his family in the winter of 1803. A terrible fire broke out in his courtyard. Many houses were destroyed and many people perished. Their house was partially destroyed, and a roof beam came down on his daughter, who nearly died. He describes in detail how everyone in his family was injured to some degree and much property was lost. But everyone survived regardless. In spite of all the loss and suffering, the rabbi considered it a great salvation for his family – that considering the possibilities, God in His mercy took money in place of lives. And he ordained that the date it occurred (15 Kislev) would always be one of thanksgiving for him and his descendants.

Rabbi Danzig records some of the practices he recommended for him family. The family should gather together and light candles as for Shabbat. They should slowly sing the songs Shir HaYichud (said Yom Kippur night) and Shir HaKavod (the poem “an’im zemirot” said in many synagogues at the end of Shabbat morning prayers). He then recommended the following list of Psalms: 111, 116, 117, 23, 34, 66, 100, 103, 121, 130, 134, 138, 139, 143, 148, 150. Then they would make a festive meal in which they would invite Torah scholars, and they should give charity according to their ability.

On a different note, one of the practices the rabbi instituted for his family is that all who are able should fast on 15 Kislev (and the celebration was held the night after). He thus saw his salvation as not only a time to party, but grounds for very serious reflection and repentance as well. (See also Mishna Berurah 218:32).

And this stands to reason. When we are saved from a close call, we must realize that God was not only the one who saved us, but the one who placed us in danger to begin with. When we are saved from danger, we must open ourselves to the message God has for us. He did want us saved, but He also wanted us to realize just how precious and precarious life is, and how much we owe our lives to God. Thus, a seudat hoda’ah is as much a time for soul-searching as for celebration – recognizing that God does want us to live, but He wants us to live up to the wonderful gift of life He has granted us.

I wish you many more healthy productive years.

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