Prayer Insights


Morning Blessings # 17:

"Baruch ata
sh'lo asa li ishah.
" / sh'asani k'retzono"

"Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe,
Who has not made me a woman." /
Who has made me according to His will."


WOMEN ON THE WOMAN'S BLESSING

Dr. Anna F. Mernik / Manchester
Why is the men's blessing in the negative and the women's in the positive? Why doesn't a woman say "who has made me a woman" or "who has not made me a man?"

The seed of the explanation is found in the debate between Hillel and Shammai recorded in the Talmud as to whether or not (from man's viewpoint, not G-d's) man would have been better off if he had never been created. The conclusion was that it would have been preferable if not*. Men, therefore, cannot make a blessing in the positive: "who made me a man."

This debate, however, was between men. Had women taken up the issue the conclusion may have been different! Women, therefore, may make their blessing in the positive. However, because women have less mitzvot than men, the blessing cannot be phrased "who has made me a woman."

Let me add that I find the traditional reasons for the inclusion and format of these two blessings to be superior to the latter day, apologetic ones.

* The reason cited is the potential spiritual downfall for the soul; but since he was created, let him make the best of it.)

 

Davida Nugiel / Jerusalem
These morning blessings can be interpreted in many ways. As an orthodox wife and mother, this is my view.

Serving G-d takes time and dedication. When one's time is limited and concentration diverted, it takes great effort and strength to keep G-d's will foremost in your mind.

Having had the opportunity before marriage and children to study in Yeshiva, to pray in shuls and hear the Torah read with complete concentration, I fully recognize the difference in my life today. While I willingly let go of these spiritual enjoyments in order to hold my beautiful family with joy and thanks to G-d, I do realize how much more challenging and difficult it is to be a woman/wife/mother and continue to grow spiritually. Time is no longer relative, or even my own. Priorities change. Now my Torah study is snatches of Torah tapes during laundry and cooking, reading at night and occasional classes, all the while providing my family with a strong loving Torah base.

I fully understand my husband and son saying the blessing "who has not made me a woman." G-d gives us each our own personal challenges, strengths, and opportunities to be our best. I revel in the challenge, happy to say "who has made me according to His will," and try to live up to G-d's trust in me.

Pessie Finn / Chicago
My friend Sheri Dimarsky suggested that the early sages foresaw what would be the plight of women--i.e. that the Western (and Eastern!) cultures would discriminate against them--and therefore they established the blessing of gratitude by men, "who has not made me a woman!"
 

Judith S. Antonelli / Boston

The meaning of this blessing can be inferred from another use of the word kirtzono. In the evening prayer, we acknowledge G-d's rulership of the planets, stars and seasons: "With wisdom You open the gates of heaven, with understanding You change the times and cause the seasons to alternate. You arrange the stars in their courses in the sky according to Your will (kirtzono)."

I would maintain that the word kirtzono refers to cycles--in one case, the cycles of the planets through the zodiac, and in the other case, the female cycle. In this blessing said by women, we are thanking G-d for making us with our menstrual cycle.

The reason for a woman's exemption from fixed prayers at fixed times* is not due to any role she plays in society (as is often said), but, rather, to her very nature. Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, in his book One Man's Judaism, asserts that men must pray three times a day because they don't menstruate. Woman's natural periodicity makes her aware of the sanctity of the cyclical nature of time. Because man has no "built-in apparatus" for this, he must be given mitzvot governed by a calendar and a clock.

Judaism is, I believe, a very feminine religion. The fact that much of the fixed ritual and even many of the laws seem to be directed at men does not negate this. In fact, it supports it, if one understands that men are given all of this guidance because they need it. Men need to be elevated to a level which women are already at. For example: while a man is required to marry and have children, there is no such halachic requirement imposed on a woman. Although one reason given is that childbirth is painful(and the Torah does not command anyone to have pain) it is generally assumed that women will want to marry and have children.

* Some authorities require women to pray the morning and afternoon Amidah.
 

Chana Berenson / Tsfat
I heard in the name of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin that the phrase "k'ratzono" is derived from the wording of Kaddish, "May His great name be exalted and sanctified in the world 'di b'roh k'ra'usei' - that he has created according to his will," and therefore its use in this blessing indicates the highest level of praise.
 

Chaya Meyers / Tsfat
My fulfillment as a person can come about only through the expression of my true inner self. For women to seek to express themselves Jewishly the same way that men do is like trying to be someone else. The blessing that G-d gave us women to say is our guidepost to a lifelong exploration of who WE really are.
 

Abba Brennenson / Kfar Chabad
Although I cannot provide the "female input" you requested, I am married to one and the father of five more, so I'd like to offer an observation:

Experience has shown that it is rare to find such a religiously observant person who has claims against the status that the Torah itself affords them (even if a person of one sex may have complaints about how an individual or particular group relates to or treats their gender). Whereas "my women" and I sometimes find each other jealous of the opportunities the other has, we are never condescending towards each other. Rather a pleasant feeling of comfort and sense of fulfillment felt by each of us in our "roles."

This is a feeling which is very difficult to convey through explanation alone, so anyone who is interested in really understanding might refer to the famous Jewish saying by King David in Psalm 34:9: "Try it, you'll like it!"
 

Hadassah Susson / Meor Modiim
At first glance, these two blessings are normally simply seen as a continuation of the previous blessings wherein a Jewish man daily praises G-d for making him such that he is given the most mitzvot to fulfill--more than a non-Jew, slave or woman. What a woman says is then seen as a substitute, conveying, "Well, okay, I'll accept Your will that I be made in this seemingly less desirable way."

From, a deeper perspective, however, these two blessings reveal the depths of the relationship between men and women within Judaism. First, it is a basic tenet of Judaism that man and woman are equal, as it is clearly stated in the beginning of the Torah, "And G-d created Adam in His own image, in the image of G-d He created him, male and female He created them." Woman wasn't just a little rib in Adam's body; according to an opinion in the Midrash she was his other half, connected back to back. At the same time, man and woman are quite different. Women, according to the Talmud, {source?} are "a nation unto themselves."

It is fundamental to the intimate relationship between them that man is the giver and woman the receiver. Again, this does not automatically lower woman's status. Within the sefirot, malchut-Kingship, is also the bottom attribute, the ultimate, humble receiver. This simple level of the relationship does not negate all of the complex mutual give-and-take that exists in marriage. In a relationship between two souls that are sensitive to each other's needs, to receive with love can be as much an act of giving, and to give with love also partakes of receiving. When conducted in a manner where both partners seek to imitate G-d's initial Will and make the greatest possible room for His presence, it becomes an immensely rewarding mutual spiritual growth experience.

From the external view of this intimacy, however, woman can be categorized as the receiver. Therefore, from the male perspective, a man blesses G-d for not making him a woman. It is the goal of every Jew to be able to give chesed rather than be on the receiving end, to do the mitzvah rather than be the beneficiary.

However, from the inner perspective of this intimacy, a woman is mimicking the very creation of the world. The holy ARI's insight into the tzimtzum [contraction], as it were, of G-d, in order to make space for the world is paralleled by a woman's making space--for her husband, and when she conceives, even more profoundly--for a new human being. Until it is born, the fetus is defined in Jewish Law as a limb of the mother even though after 40 days it has it's own rights of survival too. Thus, a woman is literally made in the image of G-d the Creator, as a being who can contract in order to make space for the creation of new life.

These two undertakings--the man's extra mitzvot and the woman's carrying a child--are also comparable on a spiritual level. A man in comparison to a woman is obligated to do many more positive mitzvot that are time-bound. Each positive mitzvah brings spiritual light into the world. Similarly, giving birth to a child brings new spiritual light into the world. And even a woman who unfortunately remain childless generates a certain amount of spiritual light just from carrying the potential for birthing.
 

Sichos in English (Publisher's Foreward), 22 Shvat 5752,
printed in memory of Nechama Greisman
Just as the ultimate function of humanity is to transform the entire created universe into a dwelling place for the Divine Presence, so to the keen intuition and the informed mind with which a woman fashions the environment within her home transforms it too into a sanctuary in microcosm. It is specifically the feminine role --corresponding, in Kabbalistic terms, to the Sefirah of Malchut-- that elicits a downflow of Divine blessings into a particular home and, simultaneously, into that larger dwelling place, the universe at large, which all of humanity is building together. This role thus not only echoes, but moreover activates the ongoing creative process that animates the universe.


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