The Yoke of the World

Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah said: Whoever takes upon himself the yoke of Torah, from him will be taken away the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care; but whoever throws off the yoke of Torah, upon him will be laid the yoke of government and the yoke of worldly care. (m.Avot 3:6)

A common reaction by many people after reading this is that of skepticism. Will studying Torah really remove the yokes of both the government and worldly care from you? Will the IRS magically disappear and Publisher’s Clearing House show up on your doorstep because you study Torah? No. Of course not. But is that what our mishnah promises? Let’s take a closer look.

First, as Rabbi Twerski right notes, Rabbi Nechunya does not speak about a person who studies Torah. Nor does he even speak of one who observes Torah. He does, however, speak of one who “takes upon himself the yoke of Torah.” What is the difference? An animal with a yoke on it is no longer exerting its own free will, but submitting to the will of the one who controls it. The same is true regarding one who comes under the yoke of Torah. If we have taken on the yoke of Torah, then we are no longer seeking our own will or pleasure, but submitting to the will of Hashem. Essentially, we have the ability to choose which yoke we will wear each day.

But how is Rabbi Nechunya is able to assert this declaration, saying that the yoke of governmane and worldly affairs will be removed from us? His assertion is based on two Scriptures:

“Great peace have those who love your Torah; nothing can make them stumble.” (Psalm 119:165)

“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you. ”(Psalm 55:23[22])

In these two passages we find the security that Rabbi Nechunya speaks of. If we are loving the Torah of Hashem by submitting our lives to its authority, and if we are casting our burdens on Hashem, then we will not stumble because Hashem sustains us.

Rabbi Bunim comments on this mishnah saying that if we are striving to find our place in the business world, the social world, and the political world we are serving three masters that seek to rule over us. However, we can only serve one master at a time successfully. This agrees with the principles taught to us by our Master, Yeshua:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Rabbi Nechunya is fundamentally in agreement with this teaching of Yeshua. We can only serve one master, and it should be Hashem. If we have undertaken Torah and submitted ourselves to the Law of the Kingdom, we have but one master. We are no longer being mastered by external forces such as the government, finances, or the weight of the world. Rather than looking for fulfillment in this world and all it has to offer, we find fulfillment in doing the will of the Father.

This is essentially the good news of Yeshua. Yeshua’s gospel message was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In other words, “Stop doing things your own way! Turn back to the Torah, because when you do the Kingdom of Heaven can be made manifest on earth!” Repentance means turning back to and submitting ourselves to the Torah. It means coming under its yoke. But that yoke does not have to be attached to an impossible burden. Yeshua used the imagery of a yoke to communicate this message:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Yeshua beckoned his disciples to take upon themselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. His yoke is easy and his burden is light because he came teaching the proper understanding and observance of his Father’s commandments. When we truly take upon ourselves the yoke of the Torah with the assistance of our Master Yeshua, then the yokes of this world will not be able to find their way back onto our necks. However, if we cast off the yoke of Torah and release ourselves from its authority, we will soon feel the weight of the world upon our shoulders.