Pleasure, Not Pressure
December 31, 2020
Kabbalas Ol Malchus Shamayim
Rabbi Shaya Cohen
Nothing is more central to Yiddishkeit than the concept of kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim, acceptance of the kingship of Hashem. We declare this acceptance twice daily in Krias Shema and we remind ourselves of it when we perform mitzvos such as tzitzis, tefillin, and learning Torah.
But it’s important to note what precedes this acceptance each morning and evening. Immediately before Krias Shema, we say a brachah that focuses on Hashem’s great and everlasting love for us. We end with the words habocher b’amo Yisrael b’ahavah and oheiv amo Yisrael and only then do we proceed to accept upon ourselves Hashem’s rule.
That’s because Chazal want us to see the goodness of being Hashem’s subjects, to appreciate the benefits that we gain from serving Him. Without the context of Hashem’s vast love for us, we would only feel the pressure of His yoke of mitzvos upon us and that is both spiritually damaging and mentally unhealthy. Thus, we first affirm that Hashem loves us and only then do we proceed to proudly proclaim His sovereignty.
In his commentary to Shir Hashirim, Rashi writes that the reason Chazal state that the greatest day since Creation was the one on which Shir Hashirim came to the world is because “it consists entirely of kabbalas ol malchuso and yiras Shamayim.” This, despite the fact that we find no mention in Shir Hashirim of accepting Hashem’s kingship.
What Shir Hashirim is replete with, however, is ahavah—multiple expressions of Hashem’s abundant love for us, couched in the most rapturous language. It is that ahavah that Rashi identifies as kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim, because they are one and the same. When we recognize Hashem’s love for us, we naturally love Him in return, and we accept His rule over us.
Sadly, many young people growing up in today’s world associate kabbalas ol malchus Shamayim only with tremendous pressure – pressure to do mitzvos without knowing why; pressure to conform without understanding the point of it; and pressure to be spiritually perfect, to fulfill every last halachah, to get it all right or be labeled a failure.
Tragically, it is often our most intelligent and sensitive bachurim and girls who are most at risk for coming to see Yiddishkeit as one big pressure cooker of many demands and few joys. The more intelligent they are, the more they realize the truth of what being a true shomer Torah u’mitzvos actually entails and the eternal stakes involved. And the more sensitive a soul they possess, the more keenly they feel the weight of that responsibility on their shoulders, pulling them down and making it unbearable to go on.
Sometimes, we don’t realize the unspoken pressure we exert. But it’s there, explicitly or otherwise. Many years ago, I was telling a friend that I felt I had raised my kids with a relatively light touch, not demanding of them more than absolutely necessary. One of my boys was listening to us talk, and at that point he chimed in, “Abba, what you don’t realize is that even when you said we could do certain things, we knew how much you really were against it and we couldn’t enjoy doing them.”
But it shouldn’t be this way. This isn’t how we’re supposed to raise children and educate talmidim.
When Yaakov decides to leave Lavan’s house after so many years, he summons Rochel and Leah out to the field to discuss the matter with them. First he describes how his honest service of their father was reciprocated with deceit and only then does he mention that Hashem has commanded him to return home to Eretz Yisrael. They, in turn, rue the way their father has treated them, and only then do they tell Yaakov to heed Hashem’s command.
The Ralbag explains that Yaakov and his wives sought first to appreciate how good Hashem’s command to leave Lavan’s house was for them and how much they stood to gain from it. They wanted to make the choice to fulfill Hashem’s will rather than feel they had no choice but to do so, because that is the way of true ovdei Hashem.
The pressure one can feel in his Yiddishkeit can be more overwhelming than that which he might feel in his job, because if he fails at work, there’s always the possibility of finding employment elsewhere. But when you feel you’ve failed in your relationship with the Borei Olam, where do you go?
Rashi in Koheles gives us the proper, spiritually healthy way to view our failures. Commenting on the words in the second-to-last pasuk, “Sof davar hakol nishma, es haElokim yira,” Rashi says, “Do what you can do, with your heart to Heaven.” At the very end of Koheles, which is a lengthy indictment of the utter vanity of everything other than ruchniyus, Shlomo Hamelech reminds us that what Hashem asks of us is only to use all our abilities and have the best intentions to succeed. Once we do so, the results are up to Him, and we must move on to the next challenge rather than wallow in self-pity and blame.
We must enable our children and students to taste ki tov Hashem, that He is good, and doing His will is the best thing for us in every possible way. It is our task to give them the tools to choose to accept Hashem as their personal King, rather than feel forced to do so.
We need to convey that Hashem asks us to not to be spiritual automatons who never fail, but to serve Him with passion and joy to the best of our human abilities.