Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Yoke of Torah

Good rules make you free. But how can that be; Don't restrictions, by definition, impinge on freedom? No - because inside a framework of good rules you can learn, explore, achieve and thrive. Outside this framework, good rules no longer protect you or guide you. There is constructive freedom and destructive freedom. We discuss the former.

A sports analogy will clarify this point. Take the game of baseball. Suppose the batter strikes out and a raucous group of spectators insists the batter be given one more chance, to which the players agree. Imagine then, a pop-up foul ball is dropped and the fielder complains he could have caught it were it not for the sun that blinded him; The players acquiesce and they call the batter out. Or, imagine a player sliding into base and the umpire says, "He was close enough" to be called safe, although the player was tagged out before touching the base. And so the game resumes.

You can sense this game, with its arbitrary regulations, will bore you more than amuse you. Without the rigor of strict rules, you will never try your best, simply because you don't know what to expect. Why bother making the extra effort; Why bother training to perfect an outcome if shaky rules can be invoked and in effect nullify your best efforts?

The game of baseball, or any game, brings out the best in players when the rules are strictly enforced. Only within the confines of a stringent framework of rules can you
expect a player to improve and perfect his talents. Rules eliminate wasteful behavior and give the player choices he can make about where he wants to excel, or where he needs to exert more effort to succeed.

Arbitrary rules rob you of freedom. On the contrary, arbitrary rules frustrate freedom. Living without rules - which means without a fixed set of rules - for rules always exist - is living with abandon. It means a life in which you cannot thrive. Living with abandon can only diminish useful freedom and success.

Similarly, under the guidelines of God's rules in Torah, the Jew has freedom to flourish or excel, without the worry of making wrong choices. As long as he abides by the rules, the Jew is protected from foolish behavior and wasteful efforts. Like the rules of a sport, the rules of life, as defined in Torah, do not oppress the individual, nor does the individual feel restrained. The rules become integral, natural boundaries and the game of life, as the game of sport, proceeds with genuine freedom. Failure under such an intact system is not because the system fails the person; It only highlights where the failure can be corrected.

There is a problem, however; Who's to say which system of rules is worthy for adoption? After all, a set of bad rules can frustrate the person from achievement or pleasure. A prison's set of rules, for example, stultifies one mentally. The Jew, at least, needs not worry about this dilemma, because Torah has proved itself over millennia to provide the best of all systems to integrate with. (Of course the best reason Torah's rules are the very best and infallible system is because the benevolent Creator created it and He knows best.)

The Jew is especially lucky because a truthful assessment of the best system means a person must waste much of his life testing system after system, comparing them all, before arriving at a conclusion - something a Jew can confidently and gratefully bypass. Even the Jew of a non-observant background is lucky because, once he discovers the advantages of a Torah-true life and considers the wonderful tradition and heritage he belongs to, he can easily embrace it.

Of all Gentiles, only the Noahide is as fortunate as the Jew because he too partakes in a system dictated by Torah and remains a Torah-true individual, albeit with a different, but wonderful, set of relevant rules.
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Here's another way of seeing how the yoke of Torah facilitates life's challenges:

Is It Really “Too Hard”?
by Gutman Locks

Have you ever heard a rabbi say, “You have to accept upon yourself the yoke of Torah”? Apparently, this rabbi agrees with those who say a Torah life is very hard. Truth is, life without the Torah is the life that is too hard, and when you bring Torah into your life, it makes life much, much easier.

The yoke attaches the plow to the animal. Comparing Torah to a yoke is a metaphor showing us we should use the Torah to pull the plow of life.

Even before the yoke was invented the animal had to pull the plow. People had to eat. But, without the yoke, the animal was attached to the plow with only a harness. It had to pull that heavy plow with its head and neck muscles. What a tremendous burden that was!

Then some wise farmer came up with the idea to put a yoke around the animal’s shoulders. This allows the animal to pull the plow with its big shoulder muscles instead of its small neck muscles. What a wonderful thing the yoke is. The animal loves its yoke. The yoke saves the animal from so much pain and suffering.

In America today: 27% of non-religious, white, teenage girls, and 50% of non-religious, black, teenage girls, have one, two, or three different types of venereal diseases.

Fifty percent of babies born to non-religious girls are born out of wedlock - i.e. mommy is not married, no father at home.

Sixty-five percent of non-religious marriages end in divorce.

According to one popular talk show host, in 85% of non-religious marriages, one of the partners, every once in a while, sleeps with someone other than their spouse.

That life, the non-religious life they live, is the life that is “Too Hard” - not the Torah life.

If you will keep Shabbos (which, in fact, is a pleasure), and your wife will cover her hair (to be modest), if you put on tefillin (to pray), and if the home is kosher (so even your eating is holy), if the kids get a Jewish education (so the Jewish people and values continue), then none of these statistics will apply to you and your family.

Now tell me, which is the life that is too hard?

I have tried both, and I can tell you from the bottom of my heart it is much easier to be a religious Jew than a “free”, do whatever you want, secular Jew. It is hard, depressing, and empty to live the “American dream”, no matter which country you dream it in. In fact, that dream turns out to be a needless nightmare.

There are always going to be problems in life, no matter what you do. If you focus on the problems, you are going to be miserable. There are also always beautiful things going on in life and if you focus on them, you will be happy. It’s your call.

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