Prayer Insights


Morning Blessings # 15: "Responsibility Before Pride"

Rabbi Shaul J. Leiter

This series has focused on the connection between the morning blessings and the individual's daily renewal of spiritual energy and purpose. This installment discusses the fifteenth blessing.

 

"Baruch ata sh'lo asa li goy."

"Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe,
who did not make me a non-Jew."

 

The fifteenth blessing is a declaration of thanksgiving to G-d for not making us a non-Jew. Objectively, the word "goy" means "nation," and so it is employed in all classic Jewish sources, although its current usage is to denote specifically one of the non-Jewish nations, or a member thereof.

The basic meaning of this blessing is clear: "Thank you for not making me a member of any other nation or faith." This gratitude and pride in being Jewish does not imply condescension toward other peoples. Rather, it derives from the enormous responsibility that we have been entrusted with. A non-Jew has seven divine commandments, while a Jewish male has 613. Since we have more channels to fulfill G-d's will, our potential to be connected with Him is greater.

It is not always easy to live up to this responsibility, yet we take pride in it. G-d calls the Jewish people "Binee, Bichori, Yisroel"-"My child, My first-born, Israel" [Ex.4:22]. A firstborn is proud in his extra responsibilities regardless of the extra work involved, because they signify his parents' greater trust in him. In this blessing we express gratitude for not having been created with only seven Noahide commandments to fulfill.

In the Torah, the word "goy" does not have a negative connotation. We even find it used in a superlative sense: "Who is like Your people Israel goy echad ["one nation"] in the land" [I Chron. 17:21]. The Jews are a "unique nation," a "nation of the One" (two possible derivative translations of goy echad) who have elevated their lower attributes. At his high level they can unify G-d's unique name and draw it down "into the land," thereby fulfilling their purpose of spreading divine consciousness.

While keeping in mind this positive sense of "goy," in this blessing we stress our gratitude for not having been created a member of those nations that are not involved in this service of unification, but instead separate themselves from G-d by asserting their independence of Him.

At first glance, this blessing does not seem to have a daily application. While all of the preceding ones have been connected to some level of action and, inner-dimensionally, to spiritual development, this one seems static; its function solely to thank G-d for a one-time (albeit lasting) benefit. Why, then, do we say it every day? Why not only once in a lifetime, perhaps on that day when a child comes of age? We must see how, on a deeper level, this blessing can help to further our self-identity and provide a basis for daily growth.

The Ramak [Rabbi Moshe Kordevero--the predecessor of the holy ARI as the main teacher of Kabbalah in 16th century Tsfat] wrote that the prayers of non-Jews are not nearly as effective as those of a Jew, for theirs go only to the external sources of the Divine energy. Therefore, in preparation for prayer, we thank G-d daily for not making us a non-Jew, so that our prayers retain the potential to ascend to the highest possible place.

He further stated that, because of misdeeds, an alien soul of a non-Jew can attach itself to a person and tempt him to stray from the right path. Indeed, we sometimes see a person's behavior unexpectedly change in a manner unusual for him. One possible reason is the foreign soul that has temporarily attached itself to him. Therefore, we thank the Creator each day for not having let us be changed into something different than what we were the night before, even temporarily.

The Ari [Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534-1572] approached the question from a different perspective. He taught that there is a non-Jewish aspect within each one of us an intermediate level of impurity that contains within it the potential to be transformed by us into something positive.

The first fourteen blessings focus on removing us from the inevitable, absolute impurity that attaches itself to us when we sleep, for "sleep is one-sixtieth of death", the ultimate impurity. Now we are ready to try to remove ourselves from the intermediate, more subtle level of impurity also, in preparation for the morning prayers which can be a vehicle for ascending to great spiritual heights.

For this reason, in Chassidic and Sephardic prayerbooks which are based on the arrangement of the prayers set out by the ARI, this blessing (and the two that follow it--to be discussed in future installments) come after all the others. In the Ashkenazi siddur, they come before, since the simple level of their content relates to the essence of the person, while the other blessings focus on particular aspects.

Have you wondered that this blessing is cast in a negative form, asserting what we are not, rather that what we are? Simply, if we were to say "Thank you for making me a Jew," we might miss the point that we are primarily expressing gratitude for the greater obligation to do mitzvot.

More strikingly, it would not be so appropriate to praise G-d for making us Jews, and take pride in it, while our present level of Jewishness may not be according to His will or even our own expectations. In other words, G-d went to the trouble to make us not like everyone else: it is up to us to make ourselves into true Jews!


Rabbi Shaul Leiter is the executive director of Ascent-of-Safed.

This series is translated and adapted from Meah Shearim and other sources


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