Tefillah Tips - Birchot HaShachar II

The next three blessings that we recite each morning are "shelo asani goy, shelo asani oved, and shelo asani isha/sheasani kirzono - we thank G-d for creating us as Jews, as free human beings, and as men/women." These blessings conclude the morning thank yous that have to do with the G-d's "creation formula".

These blessings and particularly the third blessing seem to unsettle too many of us. It doesn't sit well with people that we are thanking G-d that we are not gentiles, and that we are not women (if we are men).

HaRav Baruch HaLevi Epstein writes in his work on Tefilla (The Baruch Sheamar) that the underlying theme of these blessings is an appreciation of our being bound to the Creator with Mitzvot. It therefore follows logically that the more Mitzvot one is obligated to perform, the more there is to be thankful for.

With this in mind we can understand that we first thank Hashem for not creating us as non Jews because we have 607 more Mitzvot than they do. Slaves in a Jewish household at the time of the Tanach and Gemara were obligated in many more mitzvot than non Jews. But since their obligations were fewer than their masters', we thank G-d that we are not slaves. Finally men thank Hashem that we are not ladies simply because men are required to perform all 613 Mitzvot; and ladies are exempt from time bound positive commandments. And since (once again) the theme behind these Brachot relates to the amount of Mitzvot one is bound to perform, a man is grateful to receive this privilege. A lady on the other hand is equally thrilled with her lot which is why she thanks G-d for being created "according to His will". The reason she does not recite "thank You for not making me a man" is because it resonates a tone of appreciation that she is obligated in less Mitzvot- which is untrue.

It is vital to explain at this point that although males are obligated to fulfill more mitzvot than females this in no way elevates men to a higher status in the eyes of G-d and/or the Torah. A woman's role in Jewish life is at least as great as a mans; it's just different! The same way we have been created differently physically with different biological functions and capabilities, so too we have a different roles spiritually. And when both parties achieve their unique potential as a unit, and each member pulls their weight, the sum of the parts of Man and Woman in marriage can grow towards greatness.

The Ohr Hachaim (Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar 1696-1743) in Genesis points out that it is not by accident that the only species on earth that the female was created out of the body of a male is humanity. All other beings were formed as female and male separately. This implies that the human male without female and vice versa are incomplete. They are inextricably linked as one unit to grow and build themselves and the world in the footsteps of Hashem.

With this in mind it is evident that the three blessings are declarations of thanks and appreciation to G-d for awarding us our own particular role in His master plan. We all play a part, a significant and specialized role that no one else can fill. And since G-d saw to it that we are the way we are, we must be thankful and rise towards our tasks. The first step towards achieving it is noticing and appreciating the task itself-and that is why we say these three blessings.