Tuesday, May 22, 2007

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The Yoke of Torah

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

On the holiday of Shavuos, we thank God for having given us the Torah. When someone tries to encourage someone else to follow the Torah and its mitzvoth, often they tell the newcomer, “You have to accept upon yourself the yoke of Torah.” Actually, we hear this quite often, especially if someone seems to be questioning the validity of the Torah.

When the “yoke of Torah” analogy is explained properly, no one has to be convinced to bring it upon themselves. The problem today is that many teachers of Torah are themselves following the Torah for the wrong reasons.

It is common to hear that if you follow the Torah, you will have a wonderful share in the world to come, that you will get credit in Heaven, that it is your duty as a Jew. Many try to sell the intellectually challenging aspects of studying the Torah. Some try to make you feel guilty if you do not follow its rules; after all, your grandparents did it. But none of these reasons are of interest to most beginners, and surely not to the younger generation.

Instead they should learn the truth of the yoke of Torah, and then they will be able to successfully share it with others.

A yoke, by its nature, does not increase an animal’s burden but rather reduces it. Even without the yoke, the same load must be pulled. Before the yoke was invented, the animal still had to plow the field. But then he pulled that heavy load with his teeth and neck muscles. Then some kind farmer figured out that if he would put a yoke around the animal’s neck, he could attach the plow to the yoke and then the animal could use its larger, stronger shoulder muscles to pull the load. The animal loved that yoke. It made his life so much easier.

The “field” in this illustration is life, with all of its requirements. Each of us has our individual, personal burdens that life seems to impose upon us. Each of us is born into this world, and then we travel through our individually allotted time span and then, the minute our allotment is over, each of us will die. No one escapes. With or without the yoke, as long as we are alive, we are going to go out into the field to find food and satisfy our other requirements.

The “plow” is our work to accomplish our goals, be it food for our families or finding ways to make the world a better place. We all go out into the field and plow.

The “yoke” is the Torah. With or without the Torah, we are going to have to go out into the field and plow. We have to make a living, raise families, and work to make our lives and the world a better place.

Look at just this one statistic, as we mentioned in the comments on Emor: Today in California, the divorce rate for secular marriages is an astonishing 67%. If you were about to go into a business and learned that the failure rate was 67%, you would never do it. In the same state, the divorcee rate for Torah-based marriages is perhaps 10%. If there were no other benefits than this, it would be worth following the Torah. A family that keeps the Torah experiences longer lives and enjoys warmer relationships. Elders are respected and children help each other. But this is just one of the many physical and emotional benefits to Torah observance.

There are also the tremendous spiritual benefits of knowing God in your life. Living a life of looking for ways to give instead of only to take.

On and on we see what a wonderful thing Torah observance does to our lives. Hey, there is even a promise for a great life in the next world, too. But even it there would not be such a thing as another world, right here and now there is a great reward to plowing with the yoke instead of with your head and teeth.

Posted at Mystical Paths. Read it elsewhere? Stop by the source.

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