Did you ever wonder what kind of shailos rabbonim hear nowadays? In my 22 years in rabbonus, no one ever brought me a chicken to learn if it was kosher or not. Our parents just looked at the plumba clipped onto the wing of the fresh chicken at the butcher shop. By my generation, we were checking the plastic outer label of the frozen chicken in the supermarket.

So what was I asked to paskin?

There’s one topic that stands out in my memory, and the answer, almost every time, was no. The topic was: should I bentch gomail?

Someone once told the following story, I hope fictitious, bringing the question to the point of reductio ad absurdum, but it illustrates the point.

As the Rav was passing Ploni’s home, Ploni ran over to him and excitedly pointed at the clothing that had fallen off of the clothesline in the wind. He breathlessly asked the Rav if he should bentch gomail. The Rav asked why? Ploni gasped, “Just yesterday I was wearing that clothing!”

Those of you who read my column regularly know that I didn’t just say no when someone asked me if they should bentch gomail over something that didn’t warrant it. I offered them an alternative. I would take out a siddur and point out the words in modim that expressed the gratitude to Hashem that they had in mind.

It’s true that the gomail bracha is an expression of thanks to Hashem, as is the modim prayer. So how do you know when one is appropriate and the other is not?

You ask your local Orthodox Rabbi. And that’s what my baal habatim did.

When someone does bentch gomail, the tzibur replies with an enigmatic response. According to some opinions, they do not say Amen. They say an entire sentence instead. Why shouldn’t they say Amen, and what do they say?

To answer those questions, we need to look at part of the gomail bracha first. The person bentching gomail says, “hagomail l’chayavim tovos, You, Hashem, grant good things to the guilty.” If the tzibur were to say Amen to that, it could be construed to mean that they agree that he was guilty of something. To avoid such an implication, some hold that the tzibur should not say Amen, and that their response is in place of Amen.

Their response is, “He who granted good to you, may He continue to grant good to you, Selah.”

The person bentching gomail only mentions the good that Hashem has done for him in the past. The tzibur’s response talks about the future, as well, wishing him continued good, and concludes with the word Selah.

Why does the tzibur introduce a prayer for future goodness rather than being content to mention the good that has already come? And what does the word Selah mean here? Rav Baruch haLevi Epstein, in Baruch She’amar on Tefilah explains this enigmatic response as follows.

When our matriarch Leah gave birth to her fourth son, she gave thanks to Hashem, naming him Yehudah. The Torah then says, “and she paused from having children.” The connection is that because she gave thanks for what she had been given, but did not ask for any more, she paused from having children. When a person bentches gomail, he doesn’t ask for more. The tzibur, with its greater power, asks for more on his behalf, thus wishing him continued goodness from Hashem without pause.

The word Selah here means in the everlasting world, the World to Come. The tzibur is blessing him that even though he has received this special measure of goodness in this world (for which he just bentched gomail), the goodness stored up for him in the World to Come should not be reduced as a result.

All of which I found very interesting, but why am I writing it in a column on parenting?

I think each of these points in the enigmatic response to the birchas hagomail has a musar haskail for parents.

It is important for parents to encourage their children to seek greater and greater good, to strive for continued growth and new levels of achievement. But it is also important, very important, for parents to acknowledge small successes, steady if slow progress, and to express thanks to Hashem and praise to their children for the good that they already do. In the modim prayer, we do not only thank Hashem for nissim and niflaos; we thank Hashem for the tovos, ordinary goodness that we must not take for granted. It is the parent who says “I needn’t acknowledge my child for doing that well. I wouldn’t expect less” who ends up getting less from that child.

And the word Selah reminds parents that there is an immeasurable impact upon their children from every word of praise and criticism, every smile and every frown. The metaphor of the wet cement is quite apt. Every mark you make, intentional or inadvertent, lasts with that child forever.

Another sheilah might be ”when I finally walk my child to the chuppah, should I bentch gomail?” The answer, once again is, no, just concentrate on modim.

Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, relationships, and parenting.  He can be reached at 718-344-6575.