A nudge in the ribs, Joe

Rabbi Joe!

I should applaud you for raising the issue of the of morning blessing where men thank G-d for not being created as a woman (‘Not woman’-splaining).  With the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh circus in Washington DC and that this Shabbat is Shabbat Bresheit, there could be no better moment to review the anachronism of men blessing each morning that they were born men, not women. Yet that is the very reason that I find your admission disturbing.

Not that I doubt for a minute that you are not sincere and have arrived at your decision through careful introspection. I only fear that maybe some would see that, L-rd forbid, you are currying to current fads and opinion. Maybe you should suggest a hashtag #AccordingtoHiswill (or ” Her will”?), maybe just #According2HW? At any rate, the problem is clear: it is strategically smart to pose as a one who belongs to the “thoughtful minority” in a forum where one gains the accolade of the “fawning majority”. It just doesn’t sit well with me.

I too have grappled with this same blessing when I first really examined it as a camp counselor for 9-year-old boys at a Young Judea camp when I was 17. My conclusion, after consultation with a good friend “M”, was that it certainly wasn’t appropriate for campers at such a young age to deal with what the Rabbis had intended when instituting that blessing. In fact, I also switched to saying “according to his will” too. Perhaps men have more commandments to fulfill but in this age (even 40 years ago), why bless that you are not a woman?

As mentioned, 40 years have gone by and I still sometimes stop when making my morning blessings and wonder what I really mean and what I want to say. Certainly, I do not think that men are superior to women. As a husband and a father to young (and here I could add any number of positive superlatives) women daughters,  the thought that men are somehow brighter or better would seem ludicrous. Yet still, most mornings than not, I say “that He did not create me as a woman”. Why?

Partly because of tradition, since just as we pray for the re-institution of the Temple sacrifices or the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the morning blessing is part of our history and our Faith. And yes, men are obligated to more commandments and that is a good thing. Men need boundaries and have responsibilities that we should aspire to. The clincher is that this blessing is one I say to myself and is between my Creator and me. I know what I mean when I say it, and I try to say it with humility and honesty.

Honesty means that I can not deny that while Man and Woman were both created by G-d in His image, they were not created equally. Man and Woman were created to complement each other and not to compete for priority. Each has his or her own strengths and weaknesses,  and one, without the other, is incomplete.  Throughout Human history, men have been called to defend and protect women and children and to sacrifice their lives so women and children could survive. “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  For me, the blessing is a pledge to aspire to be more than I am, and not a wreath of laurels to rest on my head.

The Kavanaugh hearings perhaps show that the lack of equality can go both ways. Men will always be suspected as the sexual aggressor, for physiology is as it is, and perhaps also human nature. Women are usually the victims, the “survivors” of sexual abuse. No one would deign to ask Elena Kagan of Sonia Sotomayer of their drinking habits or their personal relationships while in high school, and certainly, there is no reason to question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford of hers. She isn’t a candidate for the SCOTUS and her record, in academia and as a consultant for the private sector is of no consequence here. It is correct to demand a higher standard from men, although that is not a license to ignore neither Kavanaugh’s 25 years of public service nor his post-college reputation as a thoughtful, and respectful employer of women.

So instead to succumbing to present fashion or popular opinion, I suggest that men take the morning blessing as a challenge to improve ourselves, to be diligent guards of our impulses and to aspire to more. No, men are not better than women, rather men can be better in their relations with each other and with women. We might have to work a bit harder, but it is worth the effort.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.