Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 13 June 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Four: Be a Man

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
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“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, for not having made me a woman.”

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, for not having made me a woman.” Why do our Sages use such a seemingly insensitive vernacular? Why did the Sages not compose a blessing that states simply and clearly that I am thankful for having been created as a man? And, how does this blessing fit into the triumvirate of “negative” blessings?

ow that the method that our Sages used when composing “negative blessings” has been established, it needs to be applied one last time to the final blessing in the series of three blessings that follow one after the other within the Morning Blessings. This blessing is possibly the most challenging to explain. Not because of the concept that underlies the blessing itself, but because of the emotive issues that it raises.

What has become apparent in the two preceding blessings is that making a blessing that reflects directly on my spiritual standing can become a two-edged sword if I am not extremely careful in the way that I act and behave. And that same concept will apply here as well.

Our Sages teach that the spiritual spheres and the physical spheres mirror each other. Each one needs the other in order for us to be able to live balanced lives that reflect both the Divine side of us and the corporeal side. More than that, every single creation has its task in this world and is created specifically to be able to perform its spiritual assignment. Therefore, the undeniable biological differences that exist between men and women are a physical manifestation of the spiritual differences that exist between them. Consequently, just as there are certain things that only men can do, so too there are things that only women can do. And this is applicable in both the physical realms and the spiritual realms.

Our focus in this essay will be to explain the blessing made by men, “for not having made me a woman.” In the next article we will address in greater depth how those differences manifest themselves spiritually with regards to women.

Both women and men are created in the “image of G-d,” and both are placed here in this world to enhance G-d’s majesty in the physical realms — each one according to their Divine specifications. In spiritual terms, how are these differences expressed? The most obvious way is through the number of commandments that men are expected to keep, as compared to women. Women are exempt from most time-bound positive commandments. This translates into men having considerably more spiritual obligations than women. Why is that? Because men are less innately spiritual than women (this will be expanded upon in the next article), and they require more external commitments to ensure a healthy and continual connection to G-d. Those external commitments are the commandments.

And that leads us into exactly the same problem that was raised with the previous two blessings. Every Jewish man is obligated to thank G-d for the unparalleled opportunity to keep His commandments. And the more commandments I am obligated to keep, the greater is my responsibility to thank Him — and the greater my joy should be at the possibility to do so. If so, it would seem that the most apt blessing to make should be, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, for having made me a man.” And yet, as twice before, the Sages chose to use the negative syntax to convey our gratitude and appreciation for being able to live a life that revolves around G-d’s commandments.

The reason for this anomaly is that, once again, there is a dilemma of how to express our gratitude without its being the cause of a “Divine audit.” Just as with the two previous blessings, by thanking G-d for having made me a man, the inference is that I am doing everything that G-d demands of me. As a man there are many more obligations and, if I am not doing them exactly as G-d commands, my blessing might end up having exactly the opposite effect. Instead of it having its intended impact, my blessing could be the very medium that will trigger off a spiritual appraisal. Therefore, our Sages introduced one last “negative” blessing to allow me the opportunity to give thanks to G-d for the increased opportunities that I have as a man to perform the commandments - without it impinging negatively on me.

Paradoxically, despite its complex composition, this fourth blessing is not a negative reflection on women at all. Quite the opposite. It is the potential for men’s spiritual inadequacies that is the cause of this blessing being worded as it is.

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