by Linda McMillan
I have found a remarkable manuscript. It’s the diary of a young girl who lived at the same time as Jesus. I would guess that she’s about 12 years old, and not that different from a lot of 12 year olds in that she finds life unfair and her brothers boorish. It might be an authentic diary, or just something I wrote a long time ago, but… Well, it’s better than anything else I’ve got. Sit back with me and enjoy her story. You never know, she might have something to say…
I hate being a girl. I hate all the girl jobs I have to do. I would rather tend the sheep with my brothers and study Torah. I am strong enough to do it too. But, my father and brothers tell me to be a respectable girl. It is bad enough that I write, they say.
Well, off to grind some grain. More later, dear diary.
My brother Ruben has had another talk with me about the amount of time I spend writing and reading. He warned me not to get caught because, according to him, literacy is not a good quality in a wife. He told me to be more like Sarah, and Rivka, and Rachael. It really made me mad. I didn’t ask to be a girl. I didn’t ask to be youngest.
Sometimes I console myself with the fact that Rivka had a difficult brother too… Laban. When she became engaged to Isaac, all Laban cared about was the money! Standing there in his white robe he told the messenger, “Come in…” but what he meant was, “How much?” I want to be more like our ancient mothers, but I want to be free from my brothers too. Sometimes I feel like a captive.
There are only a few more years until I will have to be married. I hope HaShem comes up with some answers for me by then. In the meantime, I shall continue with my duties.
Life is not fair. My stupidest brother has been accepted into a yeshiva. He will be yoked with Rabbi Ben’Levi and then he’ll be a rabbi too. Everybody is so proud of him. But, in my heart I just can’t believe it! How is it possible that such a dullard could be accepted into a yeshiva and I am doomed to domestic work and – let’s face it – marriage.
I aspire to holiness and humility, dear diary, I really do. But, I am a better Torah student than any of my brothers. Not to brag, because I would never, but I should be the one yoked to a teacher. It really isn’t fair.
Why am I a girl? I want to study Torah too.
In an unusual twist of fate, it may be a blessing that I am not yoked to a rabbi for Torah study. My brother says that the lessons are difficult and that the rabbi’s demands are harsh. He is miserable.
I still long to learn Torah, but I know it is impossible for a poor girl like me. And, to hear my brother tell it, I don’t think I would do well under such a yoke.
I mean, “Dear Diary.” I am so excited I can hardly hold my stylus! There is a new rabbi in town. He is a traveling rabbi, but they say he takes untraditional students.
My family is poor. And, I am a girl. That’s all pretty untraditional. I wonder… I just wonder if it is possible… Ruben would be unhappy with my “big thoughts,” as he calls them. It’s crazy to think that a girl could learn Torah. But, I want to study, with all my heart I want it. I heard that the new rabbi has some tax collectors and sort-of questionable types hanging around him, but I want to see him for myself.
I went to hear the new rabbi speak today. His name is Jesus. He is unlike any rabbi I’ve ever heard before. He really spoke to the political divisions of our time, the fact that nobody listens to one another. Politics has become nothing more than a blame game. Jesus really told it like it is. He said that people behave like children sitting in the market blaming one another for not doing the right thing. He’s right on!
And what I heard was true. He has some women disciples! I couldn’t take my eyes off them. I mean, I was listening to Jesus. But, I was watching these women… Women! I felt spellbound by them. Is it possible??? For me??? Could I be a student of Rabbi Jesus too? It’s unlikely, I know. And being his disciple is probably very difficult. And there is always some reason I can’t study Torah. How well I’ve learned that. But, this certainly is hopeful!
The women disciples were so lovely, so graceful, and kind… like real Jewish mothers… Sarah, Rivka, and Rachael. Could I be like that? Is it possible?
I went to see Rabbi Jesus again. Everybody knows that I can’t be yoked to a teacher because I am a girl, I am poor, I have to get married, and, and, and… There’s always some reason.
But it seemed like Rabbi Jesus was talking directly to me when he spoke about being so tired… so tired of being kept down, pushed out, and excluded. He said, and this is a direct quote, “If you’re fed up with the way things are, come to me,” and he said that he would give us a break from it all. But, wait, Dear Diary, there’s more! What he said next shocked and thrilled me. I could hardly move. He started talking about his yoke, as if we could join him as students. And he said that his yoke is easy and his burdens are light. The traveling rabbi actually asked us – just a crowd of unlikelies – to be yoked to him, to learn from him!
In that moment I made up my mind to take on this yoke.
Now that I have found my teacher I have more questions than ever. As usual, the way forward is not clear. But every word of Rabbi Jesus has become my guide.
A bunch of us are planning to meet in the synagogue next week to talk about the things Jesus has said and all the things we’ve learned from him. Jesus and his disciples will continue traveling. I think he said they were headed for Jerusalem. But, we will continue meeting here, learning together what it means to be yoked with HaShem in love.
My heart is so full to know that absolutely everybody is welcome to join our great yeshiva! It is true that some of Jesus’s followers are tax collectors, and even prostitutes! But Jesus welcomes all. I suspect that there are all sorts and conditions of other people who will be welcome too! Maybe even Gentiles! Imagine it!
It is a miracle for me! I am still just a girl. My family is still poor. And, yes, I might have to get married. But, I have found a Torah teacher who welcomes me into his yeshiva. I am so happy to be yoked to Rabbi Jesus.
The diary entries end there. I don’t know what happened to this young girl. Maybe she got married and became a good Jewish mother like Rivka. Maybe she became an evangelist, or a deacon, or a teacher. It’s a story so we can imagine any ending we want.
What I do know is this: The same traveling rabbi who offered a tender yoke to the down and out of his time makes the same offer to us today. If you’re tired of it all, if you somehow got yoked to a worrisome old dogma or doctrine, toss it off. That thing is not the yoke of Jesus. His yoke brings rest; it is an easy thing.
From the first century to the twenty-first, things are not too different. We all long for Torah to light up our hearts with love of HaShem. It’s innate in every human. But you don’t have to choose a particular path, or be accepted into one yeshiva or another. Jesus did not come for the ones who get it right. He came to ask the outcasts, the rejects, those most unlikely to be holy to join him on this most holy mission of reacquainting the world with its creator.
The greatest yeshiva you could be accepted into is the one Jesus calls you to. It is not filled with scholars or those of high status, it’s filled with the unlikeliest of characters who simply got their yoke on.
Linda McMillan is still enjoying the big blue Texas sky… and being with the dog.
Image: Ox Yoke
Some Notes of Possible Interest
It is unlikely, very unlikely, that a poor girl in first century Palestine would be able to read, write, or keep a diary. But, this is a story.
HaShem means the name. It is used when you don’t want to say God.