Goodbye “Shelo Asani – God didn’t make me a …” Hello “She’asani Yisrael” – “God made me a Yisrael” Rabbi Asher Lopatin

June 29, 2009

First a Halachic Discourse -scroll down for a more “warm fuzzy” approach:

In our versions of Talmud Masechet Menachot, 43b, Rabbi Meir says that a person, “Adam”, has to say three blessings every day: She’asani Yisrael, Shelo Asani Isha and Shelo Asani Bur. On the next line Rav Acha Bar Ya’akov replaces “Shelo Asani Bur” (God didn’t make me an ignoramus) with “Shelo Asani Aved” (God didn’t make me a slave).

The G’marra questions why we need to say both Shelo Asani Aved and Shelo Asani Isha, and Rashi, in his second explanation of that answer, says that we need to say both in order to come up with the required daily allowance of 100 b’rachot. The Bach (O.C 46) argues that the main reason for saying all three is to increase the number of b’rachot we say to 100, and that is the main reason for saying three b’rachot in the negative (shelo asani): if you would say the positive “She’asani Yisrael” then you could not say “Shelo asani aved, isha”. The Aruch HaShulchan (46, yud) like the Bach that rules that  if you say She’asani Yisrael, you cannot say the other two negative b’rachot – you would be “stuck” having said just one, positive, B’racha.

The Rosh (Rabeinu Asher) in the back of Masechet B’rachot, upholds the version that we have in Menachot – “She’asani Yisrael”. The Gaon MiVilna affirms it is the correct language to use in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch.

Even though the three negative blessings have prevailed in our traditions and siddurim, and She’asani Yisrael has not, the Magen Avraham of three centuries ago and the Mishna B’rura of one century ago mention that in their respective periods there were siddurim – perhaps many of them – that had the b’racha of she’asani Yehudi or Yisrael, but that that is a mistake of the printers.

In fact, many of the classic halachik commentators feel that the negativity of the traditional b’rachot is strange – and they work to come up with answers. Moreover, even according to the Shulchan Aruch, the positive b’racha of She’asani Yisraeli may have its place – with a convert – and even those who reject the positive version of “She’asani Yisrael/Yehudi/Ger” for a convert, do not reject it because it is not a legitimate formulation (matbe’a), but, rather, because it does work for a convert who has made himself a Jew, rather than being made so by God.

Therefore, I suggest that we follow the b’racha according to the G’ra and the Rosh and our Talmud, and say, “She’asani Yisrael” instead of the negative, and that a woman says“She’asani Yisraelit” instead of the negative. Once the first b’racha is said in this way, the way it appears in the G’marra Menachot, then we have no choice, based on the p’sak of the Aruch HaShulchan (from the Bach) , to avoid saying the final two, negative b’rachot of “Shelo Asani Aved” (God did not make me a slave) and “Shelo Asani Isha”(God did not make me a woman), since they become unnecessary after such an all encompassing, powerful, and positive statement of Jewish identity of “She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit”.

Now for some “hashkafa” – philosophical context:

She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit” is a beautiful b’racha, thanking God for making me Jewish – proud to be Jewish, excited to begin the day as a Yisrael.

Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra” – it would be truly better for a human being not to have been created at all – maybe it is now time to begin the day with a positive b’racha “k’mo sha’ar b’rachot shemevarchim al hatova” (Magen Avraham, 46, 9) – like all other b’rachot that we say blessing God for good things. How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world? Perhaps it depends on the day!

But “She’asani Yisrael” matches very well with the story of the angel’s fighting with Jacob in Genesis 32, 26: “Vayomer, Shalchein ki alah hashacher”, as Rashi interprets: Send me away, Oh Ya’akov, for I have to say the morning blessings of the angels. These angels, presumably, are happy to have been created! Then two verses later, the angel gives Jacob his morning blessing: “Lo Ya’akov ye’ameir shimcha, ki im Yisrael”! Your name will not be the negative Ya’akov any more, but, rather, the positive, glorious Yisrael! Can’t you imagine Jacob there and then saying: Blessed are you God who has made me Israel!

There is no better way to bring Jacob’s early morning transformation to life than by us, too, saying every morning, with pride and optimism, the way our G’marra has it: “She’asani Yisrael” – proud to be a “Yisrael – and through that sweeping away – halachically – centuries of the three negative birchot Hashachar that perhaps were desperately waiting for the day when proud, committed Israelites, would feel blessed enough to push them aside for a brand new morning, just as Jacob’s name was changed so many years ago.

Asher Lopatin


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