A number of years ago, when I was living in Atlanta, the Journal-Constitution reported a $4 million lottery winner — one of the biggest at the time. For years, the winner had been working a double-shift as a trash collector. When asked what he would do with his newfound wealth, the middle-aged gentlemen replied that he intended to quit one of his shifts.
“Only one of your shifts?” asked the incredulous reporter.
“A man needs to have work,” replied the humble public servant, revealing a degree of wisdom far greater than that of most white-collar, upper-middle class college graduates.
* * * * *
The term “yoke” is neither contemporary nor captivating. It evokes images of burden, labor, effort, and inconvenience. Consequently, the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven as the central theme of Rosh HaShonah initially strikes us as a grudging concession: we’d rather not acknowledge the imposition of Jewish practice and observance — however, since G-d insists, we’ll make the best of it.
Not a particularly inspiring message.
Whether or not we are wealthy, healthy, talented, or famous, we all have our burdens, and the responsibilities, problems, and challenges of life weigh upon each and every one of us. Without a sense of purpose in our lives, these burdens become intolerable.
This is the purpose of a yoke, to distribute the weight evenly and make our burdens bearable. A man does indeed need work, for work instills in him a sense of purpose and value.
As Rosh HaShonah approaches, we should reflect that there is no greater work than to serve the Master of the World, the King who reigns over kings, and there is no greater privilege than shouldering the yoke of divine monarchy. By doing so, we acquire a feeling of true worth and purpose that is unparalleled and incomparable.
This is the theme of Rosh HaShonah: to recognize our own value by willingly and enthusiastically accepting our place in the service of the King.
Thanks to Yosef Aschkenasi and Rabbi Dov Elefant for the inspiriation behind this post.