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Thought for the Day: More On Why We All Say שלא עשני גוי

I really, really enjoy having grandchildren living with us.  I also, of course, really, really like giving them breakfast; and I don't mind at all needing to constantly remind them, "What do you say?"  They always say thank you right away and it's so darn cute.

We never even wonder why they need to be reminded; after all, they have every need provided and have no concern at all that their needs will be provided the next time they ask as well.  Of course they need to be reminded; they are children and knowing that all their needs are provided is just part of their reality.  The Chovos HaLevavos contrasts this to someone who was locked in prison (for no good reason) and is unexpectedly the recipient of kindness from a generous benefactor.  The benefactor pays his fines, brings him home, provides shelter, clothing, food, and even finds a trade for him.  Such a beneficiary will never have to be reminded to thank his benefactor.  Even years later whenever he faces his benefactor, a thank you will be in his mind and often on his lips.  The child, when he grows to an adult and having received proper chinuch from his parents (and grandparents!), will also remember to say thank you; though his thank you will have a different tenor than the beneficiary.  Neither is better nor worse; just different.

There are three brachos near the beginning of our daily morning brachos that different than the others.  The brachos of "gives sight to the blind" (one has not seen all night), "releases the bound" (the body was bound in sleep), "clothes the naked" (pretty obvious), and so on are all brachos on today's renewal/restoration of each benefit.  The three brachos of שלא עשני עבד , שלא עשני גוי, and שלא עשני אשה, however, don't fit that pattern.  I wasn't a עבד ,גוי, nor אשה yesterday and I won't be one tomorrow.  What's up?

What's up is a cure for the precise ailment that the Chovos HaLevavos noted and emphasized with a mashal in his gate of being thankful.  It is too easy to become used to even the most amazing gifts.  So used to it, in fact, that it doesn't even enter one's mind to say thank you.  The Sages, therefore, established a pattern of brachos to be recited every morning that includes thanking HaShem for even the most basic and so to speak expected benefits we have by having been born Jewish or having chosen to become Jewish.

Because of that difference between being born Jewish and having chosen to be Jewish, I am careful to listen with particular kavana when the shaliach tzibur says the bracha of שלא עשני גוי.  He says it differently than I do, and I want to appreciate that difference.  Even though it's been over 20 years, I still feel a very poignant thankfulness when I say שלא עשני גוי.


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