Heartbreak Hotel
Mishpatim 2011/5771
KOSHER SUTRA 'I love my master…I will not go free' (Exodus 21:5).
SOUL SOLUTION Stop holding ourselves back
BODY BENEFITS Flexibility for back

Sometimes we get so used to seeing ourselves in a certain way that we limit our potential. We stop ourselves from changing. Although we’re quick to blame others, we are the ones who hold ourselves back.

The Book of Exodus is the key story of human liberation that provided inspiration for many revolutions including the American Civil Rights movement. It tells of a people who are no longer content with being slaves and start the long walk to freedom after 400 years under the whip.

All except for one man, that is.

“I love my master…I will not go free”, he says (Exodus 21:5).

We can just imagine the master’s response.

‘Excuse me?’
‘Yep. I want to carry on being your slave’.
‘Well, because, it’s comfortable. Better the devil you know, eh? Besides, my wife and kids are also slaves. I mean, I could get a job on the outside, buy them all their freedom in a couple of years, but, well, you’ve got a really nice house. Freedom’s probably overrated.’
‘You sure about this?’
‘Ok. I’m going to have a bore a hole in your ear as a sign that you’ve given up your freedom’.
‘That’s fine. I’ve even brought a hammer and nail. Here you go’.
‘As you wish’.

And so it went, there were Hebrew slaves who chose to stay in slavery. We know that 80% of the Jews actually stayed in Egypt anyway, because they couldn’t imagine life on the outside. This makes total sense and it’s a known phenomenon in our society that a certain proportion of released prisoners will reoffend so that they can live out their days in prison because it’s what they know best.

How are you holding yourself back?

The first principles of Ashtanga yoga are yama and niyama, the codes for moral behaviour. BKS Iyengar explained how ‘one becomes the slave of the senses of perception and organs of action’ and that the process of yoga is gaining freedom through the practice of yoga*. We gain control over our behaviour, learn to control our desires and realise our potential through this process.

We can tie ourselves to a bad situation through being scared of choosing something we don’t know, and this might happen with our job, behaviours or relationships.

Shakespeare parodies this in A Midsummer Night’s Dream where the lovelorn Helena follows Demetrius into the woods, with the hope of enticing him. Despite Demetrius’ continual insults and rejections, Helena still dotes on him, with very funny results;

Do I entice you? do I speak you fair?
Or, rather, do I not in plainest truth
Tell you, I do not, nor I cannot love you?

And even for that do I love you the more.
I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
What worser place can I beg in your love,--
And yet a place of high respect with me,--
Than to be used as you use your dog?

Tempt not too much the hatred of my spirit;
For I am sick when I do look on thee.

And I am sick when I look not on you. A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act 1 Sc 2

How often do we do this? Aim to get someone’s respect when they are turning the other cheek, or keep slaving away at a project that is fruitless. Sometimes it’s time to say that it’s time to move on.

Today’s yoga posture is an expansive backbend. Try looking at the world from another perspective, stretch yourself a little, and consider where you can free yourself from a limiting situation to experience the more expansive version of yourself.

Shalom v’Ahava


*Yoga – Freedom Through Discipline. Essay in Astadala Yogamala, Volume 1, Allied Publishers Ltd., Mumbai 2000.