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Thought for the Day: Why We Say שלא עשני גוי

John Fender was a friend of mine in junior high school.  My mother and his mother were both very pleased with the friendship.  John was a bit on the wild side and my mother was hoping that the friendship would bring me "out of my shell" (mom's words) and make me less nerdy (my translation of her words into her intent).  His mother was hoping our friendship would bring him to be a little more centered.  As you can imagine, it worked as well for him as it did for me.

One thing he did made an impression on me, though, was when we were just starting high school (and still friends...).  I saw him buying the green and white with an image of a fighting leprechaun (Upland High School, the football team was called the Uplanders) book covers.  I told him that he could make quite serviceable book covers from brown paper grocery bags (aside: do you remember those?).  He looked at me like I had a hole in my head: "What?! I want people to know I am in high school!"

One might ask in our morning brachos why we praise HaShem שלא עשני גוי/for not making me a goy; why not phrase it in the positive, שעשני ישראל/who made me a Jew?  In fact, there are those who do want to make the bracha that way.  (I am not talking about a modern destruction, I mean from traditional sources.)  More than that, there is a very big discussion about what bracha is appropriate for a ger to make.  After all, they ask, how can the ger say the words שלא עשני גוי, when (apparently) he was made a goy?  Based on that, there are authorities who want a ger to either leave the bracha out completely or say, שעשני גר.

In point of fact, though, all Jews (native born and converted, alike) make the bracha שלא עשני גוי.  The main reason for couching the bracha in the negative applies equally well to the ger and native born Jew.  Namely, the term ישראל doesn't really mean Jew; it is really a title of respect given to a Jew who has striven to reach perfection and been tested.  HaShem doesn't actually make you a ישראל.  Rather, He gives you the tools you need (free will) and sets you on the course -- via either birth or beis din.  At the end of the day/lifetime, however, it is up to each Jew to put in his own השתדלות/efforts.  HaShem has faith that you will live up to that exalted title of ישראל, but He is not taking the credit for it.

There is another reason that I recently heard form the rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu; which, of course, starts with a new question:  The word גוי means "nation"; of course HaShem didn't make me a nation... I'm only one person!  More than that, the term גוי is very often used to refer to the Jewish nation -- גוי אחד בארץ/the unique nation.  So it seems like the wrong word on two levels: (a) it means a group and not an individual, (b) it can (and often does) mean us!

The answer took two shiurim to develop (and I highly recommend hearing them and the other shiurim on t'fila), but the essence is that גוי means "a complete entity".  That term can never be used to refer to a single Jew, only to the entire Jewish nation.  No Jew is a complete without every other Jew and the Jewish nation itself is not complete without HaShem and our connection to Him, our holy Torah.  A non-Jew, on the other hand, is complete.  He may choose to help or be helped by others, but at his core, he is complete.  A single non-Jew can therefore be referred to as a גוי.

My own addition: What's so bad about being complete?  Being complete in this world means we are finite.  We might be able to accomplish as much or more than the biggest, most powerful, multi-billionaires.  No matter how many zeros you add, it's still finite.

By saying שלא עשני גוי, we are thanking HaShem for not making us complete and whole as we are in this world; we are thanking HaShem for attaching us to inifinity.  We depend on every Jew, every Jew depends on us, we all depend on HaShem -- and together we, גוי אחד בארץ, make HaShem King and join ourselves -- collectively and individually -- to the Infinite.

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