Counting Our Blessings

For the week ending 20 June 2020 / 28 Sivan 5780

The Morning Blessings: Blessing Four: Be Yourself!

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Library Library Library

“Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, for having made me according to His will.”

The blessing that many women recite in place of “…for not having made me a woman” is fascinating for two reasons. Firstly, its origins are not clear. The majority of the Morning Blessings can be found in the Talmud, but this blessing is a much later composition. It is first mentioned within Jewish Law in the 14th century by Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher in his magnum opus the Tur, and by Rabbi David Abudraham in his scholarly work entitled Sefer Abudraham. But there is no real indication as to who composed it and when exactly it was written. The second fascinating element regarding this blessing is the language it uses. We could have expected the blessing to mirror the men’s blessing and be “...for not having made me a man.” However, it instead reads, “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, for having made me according to His will.”

As we discussed in the previous article, keeping the commandments is a privilege. The fact that men have more commandments to keep obliges them to make a special blessing that acknowledges the gift they have been granted. And this is also the reason why women cannot make a corresponding blessing of “...for not having made me a man.” To do so would mistakenly imply that it is good not to have been given so many commandments.

On the other hand, as was also previously pointed out, women are inherently more spiritual than men, meaning that they do not have the same need that men have to be constantly connected to the commandments in order for them, as women, to be able to sustain their relationship with G-d.

Where do we see that women have an innate sense of spirituality? The Maharal of Prague writes in Be’er Hagolah 4:16 that there is fundamental spiritual concept that G-d built into the Creation called ma’alin bekodesh, to grow in holiness. Ma’alin bekodesh means that in spiritual progression something that follows another is on a higher spiritual level than that which immediately precedes it.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch to Genesis 2:22, in explaining the creation of Adam and Eve, writes that the fact that Eve was created after Adam is proof that women have an innate spiritual potential that men do not possess. When Adam was created, G-d took earth and fashioned his body. But when it came to creating Eve, the material for her body was not taken from the earth, which represents inanimate, albeit pure, potential. Rather, she was created from the sensitive living body of Man.

And that brings us to the question of the wording of the blessing. Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt, in his brilliantly erudite work called Hafla’ah, writes that even though Eve was created from Adam’s side, it was established for all the future generations that she would be born complete. He continues, “It seems that they [the Rabbis] enacted for women to recite the blessing ‘for having made me according to His will’ over this. Meaning, over being created complete, as arose in G-d’s will from the first.”

My Rebbi, Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, explained that G-d’s will is to give — to bestow kindness — to mankind. So, too, a woman is created with the same will to give and to create, to nurture and to support. This is why the blessing women make is, “…for having made me according to His will.” The blessing is conveying that women were created similar to G-d’s will.

A classic example of the way that the spiritual needs of men and women differ is the commandment for men to wear tefillin. The Rabbis teach that tefillin are a mystical and esoteric means of establishing a bond with G-d. But, explains Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, women have a far more meaningful way of creating their relationship with G-d, through the experience of carrying life within them. Intriguingly, in the Kabbalistic works the inner chamber of the tefillin is compared to the womb and the leather strap is a parallel to the umbilical cord.

But perhaps the most significant idea that can be gleaned from the differences between the blessing that men recite and the one that women recite is that every individual — regardless of gender — has the most incredible potential to be an upright and noble human being. A being who can reach unparalleled closeness to G-d. As Rabbi Mordechai Becher writes, “Men and women have different challenges. Commandments are described in the Zohar as tikkunim, solutions, fixes to these challenges.” Consequently, the commandments that men are obligated to keep are tailor-made to help men meet their challenges. So, too, the commandments that women have serve exactly the same function for women. And the different blessings for men and women reflect their different approaches to serving G-d.”

In effect, the ultimate spiritual level of each individual is determined by how they respond to their challenges and whether they utilize the unique potential that has been granted to them by G-d.

Please Note:There are various opinions within Jewish Law as to how – or even whether – women make this blessing. The accepted Ashkenazic and Chassidic approach is that the blessing is recited as it appears in the Prayer Book including the Names of G-d. However, there is at least one Chassidic sect whose custom is (mostly) not to recite it. Among the Sefardic communities there are two differing opinions. Some rule that women should go directly from the third blessing to the fifth blessing without reciting the fourth blessing at all. Others rule that the blessing should be recited without saying the Names of G‑d. Rather, to say: “Blessed are You for having made me according to His will.”

Accordingly, each person should follow their own family or community custom. Anyone who is unsure as to what is the correct approach for them should consult with a local Orthodox Rabbi.

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