[of the sections of the ‘Shema’ –]


“Rabbi Yehoshua [Joshua] ben Korhah said:
Why is the section ‘Shema’ (‘Hear…’
) [1]
before ‘V’haya im shamo’ah’ (‘And it shall come to pass…’)
So that first, one accept on himself [y’kabel olov] the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven (‘ole malchut Shamayim’),
and after that, take on himself the yoke of the commandments (‘ole mitzvot’).”

An Orthodox friend once asked me why I wasn’t fully observant. I quoted R. Yehoshua and said, “I’m working on ‘y’kabel…ole malchut Shamayim’.” I was being “cheeky,” of course, but sincere.

What is the “ole malchut Shamayim” – the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven?”

One God, in charge of everything that happens to us, around us and in us, does all for the good and is here with us now. Our very existence, and that of everything else, has its source in God’s. God remains in all created things, or they would cease to exist at all.

Without this awareness, our performance of mitzvot, our living of life itself, is with no experience of God’s nearness or goodness. It’s less than a full life is meant to be.

This awareness brings personal peace; the sense of security that we look for in virtually every other endeavor of our lives:

“A person who has bitachon/בטחון [trust; i.e. in God] will always have yishuv hadaas/ישוב הדעת [serenity; peace of mind; a settled mind]. As the Chovos HaLevavos (Shaar HaBitachon 1) writes, ‘The spirit of bitachon is that [one]…has menuchas hanefesh/מנוחת הנפש [quietness of soul] and is confident that the One he trusts will do whatever is good and proper for him’….” [4]

“…Rebbe Moshe of Kobrin [1784-1858] zt’l wrote, ‘A moment of yishuv hadaas is worth more than all [the] money in the world’.” [5

Yet, Rebbe Moshe was well aware of the difficulties of living in this world, especially for the poor:

“One time Rabbi Moshe raised his eyes to heaven and called, ‘Angel, angel, it’s no special heroism to exist as an angel in heaven. You do not need to eat and drink, procreate and make a living for your family. Come down to earth and wear yourself out to find food and drink and raise children and make a living for them and we’ll see if you will still remain an angel. If you can do that then you can be proud of yourself, but not now’.” [6]

Why then would Rebbe Moshe say what he did?

Because we commonly associate wealth with a sense of security and peace of mind. While it’s true that wealth removes from us the immediate concern with whether we’ll be able to pay our bills, we’ve seen innumerable times that the rich aren’t necessarily happier or more secure about life itself.

What is “y’kabel olov” — accepting the yoke on ourselves? It’s more than intellectual assent. It’s an experience that changes us:

“Someone once asked the Chofetz Chaim’s son-in-law, ‘Which attribute of your father-in-law impressed you the most?’ He replied, ‘His yishuv hadaas. My father-in-law…went through many hard moments in his life, but he never lost his serenity.’ The son-in-law added that the Chofetz Chaim’s serenity was the product of his emunah. ‘He knew that everything is from Hashem [and for the good], so nothing could disturb his peace of mind…’.” [7] 

It can sometimes begin with intellectual effort on our part, but that’s only a beginning.

The change is not ours to make or give to ourselves, although we participate:

“Emunah isn’t only the result of our own efforts; Hashem gives us emunah. We take the first step by striving for emunah but the completion and the perfection [the peace] of our emunah comes from Above, from Hashem.” [8

Sometimes, the “first step” isn’t an intellectual one at all. It can be a spiritual practice, like meditation or chanting:

“We sat there for hours chanting Hare Krsna and other sacred mantras and playing music. As I became absorbed in the spiritual sound, I felt total relief, as if a weight had been lifted off me. I had taken a dip in the ocean of transcendental sound — and felt refreshed.” [9]

Sometimes, it seems to come all by itself:

“One August night in 1969, I was hitchhiking from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I was 22. I had planned to hitch all day as far as I could, and wherever I found myself in the evening, throw out my sleeping bag and spend the night.
It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t want a stranger in a sleeping bag sleeping on their lawn! Plus, someone who’d given me a ride let me know that the police would arrest me for trespassing if I went on private property, or vagrancy if I tried to sleep on public property (like a park). I also remember being told that the motels and campsites were full.
So, as the sun was going down, I found myself on the Pacific Coast Highway, around Carmel, with nowhere to go for the night. At that spot (back then), it was only a 2-way road; one lane in each direction. Lots of dangerous curves. Behind me were some trees or hills. Across the road from me was a drop directly into the Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t stay there, so I tried to keep hitching south. After a while, when no one picked me up, I just wanted a ride anywhere, and tried hitching in either direction. It was dark, fog was rolling in, I was tired.
I began to wonder how I’d gotten myself into this and thought about my lack of planning.
My mind began to remember all the thoughts, even before my trip, that had led me there, too. Then — I saw the thoughts that led to those thoughts, and so on. It kept expanding, until I realized that every thought I’d ever had in my entire life, even years earlier, had led me to that very place, at that very moment.
Then, I saw G-d.
I can’t tell you more than that. I wasn’t a “believer;” I didn’t do any sort of prayer or meditation in those days. I didn’t see a Light; certainly not a form or any other image. It wasn’t an idea. Nor a belief. I wasn’t drinking or using drugs. It was just a “knowing;” an awareness of G-d as a Real Presence. G-d was suddenly truly present to me. I can’t describe it. But I knew it was G-d.
I wasn’t suddenly ecstatically happy. I wasn’t “seeing G-d” in some kind of natural beauty. I wasn’t suddenly “sorry for my sins,” as some people describe their experience. (Actually, I didn’t even think at the time that I’d done any sins!)
What changed in me in that brief moment was: I could no longer doubt that there is a G-d. I’d had an experience that I couldn’t deny or rationalize. It didn’t feel like I’d suddenly found my “life-purpose” or my “mission.” What happened just happened. (Writing this now, years later, I realize that after it happened, I was no longer at all concerned about how I’d gotten myself into such a spot, or what was going to happen that night).” [10]

It can come independent of a person’s age:

“…at the age of 9, I had an unforgettable experience. One night while I was falling asleep, my mind meandering with random thoughts, suddenly the bottom fell out, and my mind instantly expanded into a vast space of unbounded bliss, a most comfortable, nourishing, and cozy feeling. For weeks afterward, I lay in wait, ready to grasp that experience and never let it go. But it never came back.
I didn’t tell anyone about my experience at the time. There was nothing to explain or no way to understand it in the world that I knew. It was not related to religion or to the God that I had learned about, and I had no words or concepts to talk about it. So eventually I forgot about it, until years later when I learned the Transcendental Meditation® (TM) technique.” [11]

However we come to it, peace is the gift of taking on ourselves the “yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” — opening ourselves to our connection with the Divine. 


[1] Devarim/Deut. 6:4-9

[2] Devarim/Deut. 11:13-21

[3] Mishnah Berachot 2:2; Berachot 13a in Soncino edition

[4] file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/Torah%20Wellsprings%20-%20Shemos%205777%20A4.pdf
(Torah Wellsprings; Collected Thoughts of Rabbi Elimelech Biderman, Shlita; on parsha Shemos; c. 2016, p.1) The link works best if copied and pasted into the subject or search line.
“Torah Wellsprings” can be contacted at: mail@torahwellsprings.com

[5] ibid.

[6] http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/kobrin1/kob261.html
see also Martin Buber’s anthology, “Tales of the Hasidim,” vol. II (Later Masters):
Schocken Books, © 1948; p. 161

[7] file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/Torah%20Wellsprings%20-%20Shemos%205777%20A4.pdf
(this link doesn’t work with every computer)

[8] ibid.

[9] Masla, Robert and Goldman, Matthew; Windows to the Spiritual World: Spiritrealism and the Art of Puskar; Transcendental Art Associates (publisher); © 1997 by Matthew Goldman and Robert Masla
(“Puskar” is the name Matthew Goldman was given when he was initiated into ISKCON — the International Society for Krishna Consciousness — of which he has remained a member for almost 50 years). The chanting and dancing of the members reminds me very much of the descriptions of the singing and dancing of the Biblical prophets and their disciples.)

[10] https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/3-4-11-on-a-california-road/

[11] Dr. David Orme-Johnson at: