Accepting the Yoke

This morning I resumed my customary-not-customary prayer life with my community at Hebrew College. It was surreal, staring at my friends on a skittering screen, microphone on mute, reciting the words we say day by day, but with feelings I’ve never had before. So much about this territory is strange and unsettling: the noisy quiet of studying while the children are knocking around in the kitchen, the ghost-town feeling of my neighborhood as I’m out walking and see people from a scrupulously maintained distance, the empty grocery shelves, the feeling of having so much time, and none at all. There are moments that feel almost impossibly heavy and moments when I feel like I could blow away with the wind, like chaff.

And yet with all the swirl around me, I have experienced such intense feelings of connection and community. People I don’t know are banding together to support one another in myriad creative ways. People I do know have gone out of their way to say kind things to me, to encourage me that I’m on my right path even as the road hits a twist. 

Every morning, the liturgy invites us anew to imitate the angels by taking on על מלכות שמים (the yoke of Gd’s sovereignty). At Hebrew College we have a custom of looking around at one another at that moment and making eye contact. It is one of the most meaningful parts of my tefillah, and returning to those people today — even quivering on a screen — for that moment felt like coming home, even though I was home. 

And it struck me that the image of a yoke is perfect for this. A yoke holds us apart as it holds us together, mandating space and unity at once. Caring for one another during this crisis demands that we cultivate emotional closeness while maintaining physical space. Indeed we maintain that physical space as a way of caring for each other. The yoke joins us together. And as we are bound together, shoulder to shoulder, this yoke — the yoke of Gd’s sovereignty — also binds us vertically. It reminds us that while we are working side by side, Gd is holding us, too.

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