Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Three Blessings

Guest post by R. Asher Bush

One of the areas of daily observance that is gone through but fundamentally avoided are the three ברכות שחר, of שלא עשני גוי, שלא עשני עבד & שלא עשני אשה. We are troubled by their perceived negativity, their lack of political correctness, and the simple fact, that we are often not quite sure why we say these words. At least if “we have to say them” couldn’t they be written in the positive and not the negative! But perhaps as we approach מתן תורה it is time to look at these words from a whole new perspective, one that may well enhance the way we approach our own קבלת התורה.

Click here to read moreAs people who do see value in the broader world we often take what might almost be described as an אלו ואלו approach to us and the rest of the world. Not just that there may be items or ideas of value in the larger world, but that they may equal to תורה. To counter this we must specifically say שלא עשני גוי, not just that I am happy to be a Jew, but that there is nothing else in the world that I would want to be; it’s not even close. However, even when accepting the concept of the עול המצוות, still there is a larger, overarching “burden”, namely, the responsibilities that come from having קדושת ישראל and being a full member of כלל ישראל. An עבד is such a person; they have a connection to observing a large number of מצוות, but they do not have a life imbued with any קדושה nor are they connected to this great and larger entity called כלל ישראל. For this we say שלא עשני עבד, that I would not want to stand at the outside as a casual observer of מצוות, I need to be involved in the fullest way possible.

And while the last of these three ברכות is usually full of apologetics, it would seem that this is missing the entire point. There are far more Jewish men than we would want to admit who are in fact jealous of their wives and sisters. After all, these women are good Frum Jews, who have the full קדושת ישראל, and they do not have to be worried about the numerous מצוות עשה שהזמן גרמה, the burden of having these very specific regulations, often involving early mornings and other such inconvenient times.

It may seem (to a man) that it is far easier to be a good Jewish woman than to be a good Jewish man, again causing some jealousy or remorse (were that possible). For this we say the ברכה of שלא עשני אשה, not as any sort of a put down or chauvinism, but to express our full joy at the fact that we have not just a connection to מצוות, and not just full קדושת ישראל, but a life that if regulated by time in how we serve ה’ and we would not want it to be any other way. If indeed these ideas are a correct way to understand these ברכות it can help us to have a true קבלת התורה not just on שבועות but each and every day. More than anything else it is the ability to say אשרינו מה טוב חלקנו with a full heart.

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