Friday, September 12, 2008

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Shelo Asani Isha

(Painting by Yefim Rudminsky)

Baruch Hashem, my third daughter (and seventh child) was born erev Shabbos Nachamu – may she grow to Torah, chuppa, umaasim tovim amid happiness & good health; needless to say, we are ecstatic! This event brought about the usual referendum on gender, just as the prior births in our family. With balance of power, room sharing and other concerns in mind, some of my children wanted a boy and others wanted a girl. My eldest daughter was disappointed (as the leader of the "I hope it's a boy" camp), but I had been rooting for a girl all along - something that the nurse at the hospital found surprising and unusual.

Perhaps the reason people might think that it's "unusual" for a religious man to want a baby girl has something to do with a stereotype that Judaism is male-centric, patriarchal, and chauvinistic. The commonly cited proof for this is the daily brocha of "Shelo Asani Isha" (Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, Master of the world, who did not create me a Woman). Obviously, this brocha sounds a bit shocking in contemporary society with our modern sensitivities, but I really think that things like this are easily misunderstood due to various preconceived notions.

This brocha is one of three such brochos in birchas hashachar which is to thank G-d for not creating us as something else: a slave, a gentile, or a woman.* The most common explanation given for this is that the brochos are based on thanking G-d for the mitzvos that He gave us as a method of connecting to Him. Thus, in appreciation of those mitzvos, Jewish free men thank G-d for giving them the maximum amount, as opposed to the gentile, slave, or woman - each of which have fewer mitzvos.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that approach, but it can be a little hard (for me) to relate to in those terms, so – although the change may be only slight – I understand it somewhat differently. When I analyze the three creations which are the subjects of these brochos, it appears to me that the central unifying theme between the gentile, slave, or woman is that they have fewer demands and lesser responsibilities.

Why then should I say a brocha for having additional responsibilities?

Responsibility can be a burden, and it is easy to fall prey to the trap of seeking a way out of responsibility. The responsibilities of the religious, free, Jewish male are indeed significant and limit our participation in many areas. Everything from grocery shopping to choice of profession comes with numerous limitations. A man is obligated to learn Torah in all "free time," must daven three times a day with a minyan, teach his children Torah, and provide his wife with whatever material & emotional support she needs. So the brochos reflect the escalating halachic responsibilities from gentile to slave to man. If we appreciate those responsibilities we can succeed in our role, which is why we say the brocha – to remind us of this. Whereas, should we seek to run from those responsibilities, failure is all but guaranteed.

To illustrate my point, I am reminded of the mini-scandal, a few years ago, when Tom Brokaw was lambasted for an insensitive remark during a morning news program. It seems that he was in his limo on the way to the station in the dark and very early morning, and passing unfortunate NY homeless people asleep in that predawn hour he couldn't help but reflect: "I saw the homeless people in the shelters and the park benches; You feel great sympathy for them, but you also envy the extra sleep that they're getting." In essence he was expressing a bit of the resentment that we may harbor towards responsibility. But this is something we must overcome; if we don't take responsibilities as important we won't fulfill them properly. When we are given responsibility we need to view that as a positive – as Benjamin Franklin said, "Those who sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

So, every morning, before I begin my day, I am to remember that these brochos are specifically for my responsibilities. If I shirk them, and don't fulfill my role, more than just my single note will be missing from the symphony. Although it can be perceived as a burden, it is a burden G-d gave me because He wants me to rise to the task. Ultimately, these brochos are not meant as a slight to gentiles, slaves, or women – they are about preparation for heavy lifting.


*I didn't want to get sidetracked, but as to why the brochos are worded in the negative rather than the positive, Chazal explain that this is due to "tov l'adam shelo nivra mishenivra – man would have been better off not born."


At September 12, 2008 at 5:55:00 AM EDT, Blogger Jannah said...

Mazal Tov for the girl!!! and great usual!!!!

At September 12, 2008 at 6:39:00 AM EDT, Blogger Leora said...

Aha! So that's what the "blogging break" was about. Siman tov u mazel yehai lainu...

There are plenty of treasured Jewish women in our history; no one should think that only the boys are treasured!

Good luck with all your responsibilities.

At September 12, 2008 at 8:10:00 AM EDT, Blogger SuperRaizy said...

Mazal Tov to the good father of a very lucky baby girl!

At September 12, 2008 at 10:20:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heartfelt thanks to all, for all the brochos!

At September 12, 2008 at 1:43:00 PM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Mazel Tov for your child. May she bring you an unlimited supply of nachas. Your post is great and something I was discussing this past Motzi Shabbos. You took it to the next level for me. Yasher Koach. I'm going to post this on my blog. Good Shabbos

At September 12, 2008 at 5:06:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mazal tov, CE, and may you and Mrs. CE and the whole family have much nachas from your new daughter and all of your children!

As for this possibly troubling brochah, I once had a "chiddush" about why it is worded this way, chutz from the Chazal you mentioned (which is worthy of further discussion if you feel like writing another posting about it).

For a Jewish man to say "she-asani adam" or "she-asani ish Yisrael," etc. might imply that he is created as a complete being, like the first Adam. By using the negative, we can infer that to become an "adam" we have to do something on our own: learn Torah, perform the mitzvos, refine our middos, and ultimately become tzaddikim. (As Reb Nachman said, "I can make you tzaddikim kimoni mamash!") This seems to be implied by the words of the Tiferes Yisrael on Avos 3:18 ("chaviv adam she-nivra be-tzelem").

The brochah therefore teaches us a lesson in "avodas atzmo!"

At September 13, 2008 at 4:14:00 PM EDT, Blogger Moshe David Tokayer said...

First, let me wish C.E. and wife mazel tov. May they have true nachas from all their children.

C.E. wrote, ... it appears to me that the central unifying theme between the gentile, slave, or woman is that they have fewer demands and lesser responsibilities.

Women, Chazal tell us have all the mitzvos men have except for those mitzvos whose requirement is triggered by a specific time (with a few famous exceptions). Women, for example, are not required to take a lulav on Succos, because the mitzvah is triggered by a time event - the holiday of Succos.

The reason this is so is because women have obligations towards their family which time related mitzvos would make very difficult to keep. If there is a conflict between comforting a crying baby and saying Kri'as Shma before the zman, the crying baby must come first.

For this reason, I must disagree with C.E. Women do not have less responsibilities than men. Their responsibilities are simply different. Because of the nature of their responsibilities, they are required to fulfill less mitzvos which is the reason we say the brachah.

At September 13, 2008 at 4:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger Yosef said...

I may not have thought about this way when I was in yeshiva and before I was married, but now, being (B"H) married with 2 small children, I see "shelo asani isha" k'pshut.
When I see how hard my wife works taking care of our daughters, how a full night's sleep is a virtual unknown to her, and the level of responsibility that she is always juggling, I find it humbling at the least.
Don't get me wrong- I do my best to help as much as I can. But even if I help, it doesn't change the basic reality that she does so much. When I say the bracha, it's pashut- I'm glad I'm not a woman, because I don't think I could handle it!

At September 13, 2008 at 10:32:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MT to you CE!

Interesting that Plato is quoted as having said that he was ever grateful to be born a Greek and not a barbarian, a freeman and not a slave, a man and not a woman.

The similarity is certainly striking. Any comments?

At September 13, 2008 at 11:40:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations from a believing gentile. i have read that every jew born is a light to the world. May this light hasten the arrival of the Light we all are waiting and waiting for, the Mosiach.

Being a mother of two grown sons, i would like to mention that my torah tutor by internet, Reuven Ginat (Bnei Brak)used to describe men and women of equal status but with different roles. The man is like the foreign minister while the woman , the home minister, equally important roles though diverse.

""If there is a conflict between comforting a crying baby and saying Kri'as Shma before the zman, the crying baby must come first." this was a comment regarding the work of women."
Toras Menachem 5714, Vol. 1, p.229
(this story was in one of my parshas years ago.)
The Mittler Rebbe (who lived in the same house as his father, The Alter Rebbe) was deeply engrossed in his torah study while his baby slept in the crib. So engrossed was he that the baby had falled and started crying and still he did not hear. His father, farther away in another room heard it, came and comforted and rocked the baby to sleep (although he too was immersed in his torah study).
A while later he rebuked his son and said: "One must never be so immersed in his studies that he does not hear the cry of a child".

Many gentiles are seeing the light and leaving idolatry and man made faiths, are turning to Jews to guide them to Hashem. blessings.

At September 14, 2008 at 2:32:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to everyone for the brochos!
I just want to clairfy the point I was attempting to make:

These brochos have nothing to do with human value of worth - in that all are equal. The resonsibilities that the brochos refer to, are HALACHIC responsibilities:
Without a doubt, a gentile has loads of responsibilities - and I don't minimize them for a second - but his Halachic responsibilities are quite few. A slave also has plenty of responsibilities, but although he has more Halachic responsibilities than a gentile, he has fewer than a Jewish woman.
Yes, a Jewish woman has IMMENSE responsibilities -- and she says the brochos thanking G-d for not creating her a gentile or a slave because of that -- but not as many Halachic responsibilities as a man. Nevertheless, her role is no less vital, nor is it necessarily "easier" depending on how you look at it.

As to Plato... interesting.

At September 14, 2008 at 2:35:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I typed "value of worth," but I meant "value OR worth."

At September 14, 2008 at 5:33:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


This quote from Plato is fascinating. Do you know the precise source?


Thanks for this important clarification. As our non-Jewish friend wrote in the name of Rabbi Reuven Ginat, the traditional idea is that in Judaism, men and women are "equal in value, different in function." No "put-down" is intended by Chazal in the phraseology of these brochos, but only a halachic distinction and an expression of appreciation for the extra mitzvos men have been given.

Thanks again for a great posting!

At September 15, 2008 at 3:49:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

*Without a doubt, a gentile has loads of responsibilities - and I don't minimize them for a second - but his Halachic responsibilities are quite few.*

HI CE, i did not misunderstand you. its true re the G-d given laws, we believing gentiles have the minimal.Thats because G-d Knows this is our maximum capacity intake, unlike the jews. What i meant was from my noahide point of view and what i have read, even the great jewish sages took care of their children equally as the mother, whenever possible. For example, Reuven Ginat takes care of his children certain nights when his wife visits the Rebbetzin for torah studies. i can truly appreciate this. this is a rare quality among gentile men, my husband being among the few. It is tough being a noahide. We are few and far in between, in some areas its unheard off, others its not allowed..blessings.


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