“If he shall offer it for a thanksgiving offering, he shall offer with the feast thanksgiving offering unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of scalded fine flour mixed with oil.” (Vayikrah 7:12)

One of the sacrifices described in our parsha is the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering. Rashi (citing Brachot 54b, based on Tehillim 107) explains that there were four individuals who would offer this sacrifice: one who survived a journey by sea; one who crossed the wilderness; one who was released from captivity and one who recovered from a serious illness. In the post-Temple era, someone who survives one of these life-threatening episodes (or something similar) recites birkat hagomel, the thanksgiving blessing, in the presence of a minyan. Although there are specific conditions required to recite birkat hagomel, there are many other opportunities to express gratitude to Hashem on a daily basis for the myriads of blessings He bestows upon us. An example of this is the list of blessings that we recite at the beginning of Shacharit every day. These blessings are found in the Talmud, Tractate Brachot (60b). We give thanks for our clothing; for our eyesight; for our ability to stand and walk; for our shoes, our belts and our hats and for the ability to discern between day and night. These are gifts that most people take for granted. Our Sages demanded that we acknowledge the One who bestowed these gifts upon us by thanking Him each and every day.

There are another three blessings of thanks that appear in a different part of the Talmud (Menachot 43b): “Rabbi Yehudah said: A person is obligated to recite three blessings daily and these are they: [Blessed are You Hashem, our God, King of the world] Who did not make me a heathen; [Blessed are You Hashem, our God, King of the world] Who did not make me a woman; [Blessed are You Hashem, our God, King of the world] Who did not make me a slave.” These blessings which are recited together with the other morning blessings have generated a great deal of controversy. Why are they stated in the negative – “Who did not make me a heathen, a woman, a slave”? Would it not be more appropriate to thank Hashem for what you are, namely, “Blessed are You Hashem…Who made me a Jew…a free person…a man”? Actually, there is a version of the Talmudic passage that has the first blessing in the positive, “Who made me a Yisrael [i.e. a Jew].” However, this version does not appear in most siddurim. It is possible that the more ‘politically correct’ version was inserted into the text of the Talmud at the behest of non-Jewish censors who would have taken umbrage at such a blessing. May a convert recite the blessing, “Who did not make me a heathen”? [The common practice is that a convert does recite this blessing. However an alternate blessing, “Who made me a convert” appears in the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 46:4, see Mishna Berura  paragraph 18]. Why is there no corresponding blessing for a woman, such as, “Who did not make me a man?” It is perfectly understandable to thank God for not being a slave. After all, who wants to live a life of servitude? But what is wrong with being a non-Jew or a woman? From their perspective, these blessings seem to be gratuitous insults and examples of Jewish patriarchy and superiority.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory, writes as follows (Koren Siddur page 26), “Before we bless God for the universalities of human life, we bless him for the particularities of our identity. We belong to the people of the covenant; we are free; and we have differentiated responsibilities as women and men. These blessings have nothing to do with hierarchies of dignity, for we believe that every human being is equally formed in the image of God. Rather, they are expressions of acknowledgment of the special duties of Jewish life. Heathens, slaves and women are exempt from certain commands which apply to Jewish men. By these blessings, we express our faith that the commandments are not a burden but a cherished vocation.” Rabbi Sacks’ explanation goes to the heart of the matter: these are not blessings that express superiority but rather responsibility. There is nothing wrong with being a non-Jew. If a non-Jew observes the seven Noachide laws, he inherits a share in the World to Come and is counted as one of the righteous of the nations (Rambam, Laws of Repentance 3:5). There is no need for a gentile to convert in order to be “redeemed”. Nevertheless, a Jew, whether male or female, has far more mitzvoth than a non-Jew. That is the meaning of the blessing “Who did not make me a heathen.” A slave who is owned by a Jew is responsible for keeping many more mitzvoth than a gentile. He is required to undergo brit milah, observe Shabbat and all the negative mitzvoth. This is the meaning of the second blessing, “Who did not make a slave”, for a slave’s responsibilities are limited. A Jewish woman is obligated to keep all the negative mitzvoth and many positive mitzvoth, but not those that are performed at a specific time. A man, on the other hand, must observe all the positive mitzvoth. Thus when he recites the blessing, “Who did not make me a woman”; he is thanking God for the additional responsibilities he must fulfill.

The blessings are designed to be recited in an ascending order: heathen (fewest mitzvoth); slave (more mitzvoth) and woman (even more mitzvoth). Each time, the person reciting the blessing expresses his/her thanks for their additional responsibilities. It is for this reason that some authorities (see Mishna Berura 46:16) rule that if a man said, “Who did not make me a woman” first (i.e. in the wrong order), he may not recite the two blessings he omitted because he has already covered all the previous levels. By the same reasoning, if one recited the first blessing in the positive, “Who made me a Jew”, he could not recite the other two blessings because he has already given thanks for all his responsibilities (Mishna Berura 46:15).  We can also now understand why there is no corresponding blessing for a woman – “Who did not make a man”. This would be incorrect because a man has more mitzvoth than a woman, not less, so what would be the point of the blessing? Nevertheless, the Shulchan Aruch (ibid) rules that women do recite their own blessing, the text of which is: “Blessed are You Hashem, our God, King of the world Who has made me according to His will.” No source is offered for this blessing. It does not appear in the Talmud. From the Abudraham (a classic work on  prayer composed by Rabbi David Abudraham, 14th century Spain), it appears that this blessing has existed for many centuries and was adopted by women themselves.

Rather than moan about the many mitzvoth they are commanded to observe, Jews have always looked for opportunities to thank God for them. Thus we say daily in Shacharit, “Happy are we, how good is our portion, how lovely our fate, how beautiful our heritage!”

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!  Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/bjGkccq6HPc?si=ON8amRVfwYX1lRcU


Parah, “the heifer,” describes the process whereby a person who came into contact with a dead body can once again attain spiritual purity. In the times of the Temple, every Jew had to ensure that he/she was ritually pure in the run-up to Pesach, so that he/she could bring the Pesach offering in Jerusalem. We read this portion

now to remind us that we have to start preparing physically and spiritually for the festival of Pesach that will take place in less than 30 days.

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