Bechukotai: Break The Yoke

When we speak about the searching for God in our lives often we are really searching for our own souls. We use the language of God, but we want to unlock what is best in us. The midrash teaches this idea by saying that God is a mirror that makes us ponder the meaning of our very existence. (Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 12). In other words, when we search for God, we gaze into the looking glass and find ourselves staring back.  I believe the opposite is also true.

There is no encounter with another human being that does not have a spiritual element.  Every encounter is freighted with the presence that rests between you. In every conversation you have there is more at stake than just what is being said. There is more than the message and the messenger. There between two souls rests infinity. God and us are interlaced and we cannot talk about one without referencing in some way the other.

All of us, however, carry a yoke. You could be yoked to the dreams of your parents.  You could be yoked to a historic trauma against your body or your family. You could be yoked by poverty.  You could by racism, mental health or injustice. You could be yoked by meaninglessness.

I’m not here to compare the burdens. Every one of us has an invisible yoke.  Every one of us has situations or people that force us to plow this furrow and not the next.  To stay in our lane. To do someone else’s work. To live for their blessings and not our own.  Everyone of us has a yoke.

We know a sacred life is out there, but we feel yoked to our life situation.  We feel yoked to the expectations placed on us. We feel yoked to the voices that tell us we are not good enough and we will never be good enough. Run faster. Jump higher. Be thinner. Be richer. Be smarter. Make no mistakes.  Everyone of us has a yoke.

A holy life, however, is not a perfect life.  It’s not a richer life. It’s not a more glamorous life.  A holy life is a free life. Free to wonder. Free from oppression. Free to mess up.  Free to be you.

You must break free.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, the Torah teaches that God freed us from the land of the Egyptians to be there slaves no longer. God “broke the bars of your yoke and made you walk upright.” (Leviticus 26:13)

God is the Yoke Breaker and the Freedom Maker.  

The last lesson of Leviticus is that so are you.   

The commentaries teach that the even freed-ox – that old beast which is accustomed to the weight of his yoke – will still bow its head to its master so that it can work even if he sees the yoke is broken.  It’s not until the master teaches the ox how to be free, that ox truly is. (Ha’emek Hadaver on Leviticus)  The same is true with us.  You can take the slave out of Egypt, but it is much harder to take Egypt out of the slave.  The Torah could have ended at Mt. Sinai with the Book of Exodus, but it didn’t. Life goes on. The slave needs to know what a life worth living looks like the day after freedom rings. We needed a whole other book to show us what holiness could be.   We are still learning its lessons today. God breaks the yoke of oppression, now you must too.

And now the Torah reveals the last of Leviticus.  At the end, God raises up the looking glass and shows us two visions of the future.  One is desolate, full of darkness and destruction. The people are scattered and ravenous, the land is desolate and cities lie in ruin. (Lev. 26:33)   This vision is a world that is a horror to behold.  A world infested with greed and absence of humility.  A world where the inner slavery we feel manifests itself real slavery.   

The other vision of the future is the opposite. Here God’s vision is that you will have a full belly.  You are unafraid. The land will be fruitful, and there will be peace. (Lev. 26:6).  This vision is a dream of blessing and prosperity, where everyone has enough and shares in the bounty together.

At the end of Leviticus, God puts up the Divine mirror to our lives and sets before us the most important spiritual choice you can make.  

Two visions of the future.  Two worlds. Which path do you take?  Which future will you choose?

Leviticus begins outside the Tabernacle and the Divine calls us from within.  God wants you to come close and to bring God your heart.  You are a gift to the world because you are made in God’s image.  The Book of Leviticus closes with God sending you forth into the future.  You must choose your path.

To break the yoke is to be free to choose. Every moment in life contains blessings and curses.  See the potential blessing at every turn and know that in those moments you face this spiritual choice. Life comes without guarantees. Choosing good over evil, light over darkness is a matter of life and death.  You are what you choose.

Will you live only for the dreams of others, or will you live for your own?  Will you gaze at the mirror and only see curses, or will you look out the window and seek blessing?  Will you stoop under the expectations of others or will you stand upright? Live for greatest self. Write your own story.  

Break the yoke.

The choice is yours.

Shabbat Shalom


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