Prayer Insights


Morning Blessings # 16: "True Freedom"

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 sixteenth blessing.

 

"Baruch ata sh'lo asa li aved."

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

 

The sixteenth of the morning blessings is a declaration of thanksgiving to G-d for not making us a slave. In this context, "slave" is usually understood to refer to eved canaani, a non-Jewish slave. As such, all the teachings derived from the previous blessing ("Who did not make me a non-Jew"), would apply to this one also.

According to the Torah, a non-Jewish slave of a Jew has a small number of commandments: the seven Noahide precepts required of every non-Jew, plus a few more. Even a Jewish slave has significantly fewer mitzvot than a free Jew, since his time is not his own. Because he is subject to the will of his master, he is exempt from certain commandments which have to be fulfilled within specific timeframes. In this blessing, we primarily are expressing gratitude for not being created with a lesser obligation for fulfilling commandments. Thus, the basic meaning of this blessing is similar to the one that precedes it as well as the one that follows it.

Further analysis requires moving away from the usual concept of what is a "slave." In Jewish tradition, a slave is not a person whose body and soul is totally at the mercy of his master. The Hebrew word for slave, eved, is from the root avad, "work" or "serve." The Torah delineates many rights for the eved as well as restrictions upon the master. In the case of a Jewish slave, the rights granted him by the Torah are so extensive that the Talmud wryly comments "One who acquires a slave acquires a master!"

Although the activities of a slave are dictated by his master, his thought and emotion are not. His attitude toward his work is the opposite of his master's. He does not have the motivation of job satisfaction, his will is solely to discharge his obligation without too much effort, and to avoid punishment. In this blessing we thank G-d for not making us a slave so that we have no imposed dichotomy between our actions and our thoughts and emotions. We are grateful that we do not awake with a slave mentality, which would limit our inclination to freely express ourselves and to pursue higher goals.

At a deeper level, eved can mean G-d's slave, and is applicable to every Jew: "The Israelites are my slaves..." (Lev. 25:55). While everyone agrees it is bad to be the slave of another person, Judaism considers it good to be a "slave" to G-d. A slave requires neither an explanation nor that a forbidden act be distasteful in order to refrain from doing it; the knowledge alone that it is prohibited is in itself sufficient.

Even more, we have a basic teaching, "Do not be like a slave who serves his master in order to receive a reward; rather, be like a slave who serves his master not in order to receive a reward" (Avot 1:3). This is a very high level. The pleasure-motivation of such a person is the pleasure of his "master"; he has made G-d's will his own.

Paradoxically, achieving this absolute level of servitude raises us to the ultimate pinnacle of freedom, i.e. freedom from enslavement to our own emotional and physical drives. In the blessing we express gratitude for not having been created the type of slave who serves only for the sake of personal benefit, i.e., a slave to one's own desires, while at the same time we maintain the goal of doing the will of the Creator with total subservience.


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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