December 11, 2018

Accidental Talmudist: Day 271 – The Longer Shorter Way

R’ Yehoshua ben Chananyah said: Once I was walking down the road and I saw a little boy sitting by a fork in the road, and I asked him, “Which is the road we take to the town?” He answered me, “This road is short and long, and this one is long and short.” (Eruvin 53b)

Two days ago, I was pretty stressed out. Professionally, I’m in the final and most difficult stretch of the biggest project of my life. So much depends on it, for me, for my team, for my family. It demands more hours and energy than I have. It is thrilling to be sure, but the stakes sometimes weigh me down.

Naturally, it was at just this period that I became the Accidental Talmudist, and now bear the added responsibility/privilege of sharing what I have learned during my voyage through Talmud – a voyage that still has three months to go. I still have my daily page to read, and I have only just caught up to the ” target=”_blank” title=”Lubavitcher Rebbe”>Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l, connects this Talmudic story about two roads to the ” target=”_blank” title=”Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi”>Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Rabbi Zalman, also known as the Alter Rebbe, begins his book:

For this thing is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it. (Deut 30:14)

The Torah is full of laws. It takes a year to read, and we reread it every year. The Talmud explores, specifies, amplifies, illustrates, and illuminates those laws in 72 thick volumes. It takes seven and a half years to read. That is a whole lot of information. Who can understand all of it, let alone observe it?

” target=”_blank” title=”Yetzer Hara”>Yetzer Hara, i.e. the evil inclination. And eventually, we will dedicate ourselves entirely to doing G-d’s will, and thereby unite with the Holy One. Such a person is entirely a blessing to his or her family, community, tribe, and indeed, the whole world.

Few get there. Yet all benefit themselves and their loved ones by trying. It is a long journey, with a true reward. This is the longer shorter way.

Sounds great. But isn’t it enough to be a good person, make an honest living, and follow the rules everyone else follows, without necessarily understanding all the deep meanings? Especially when you’re mortally busy?

No, says the Rebbe, that is the shorter longer way. Like R’ Yehoshua’s first inclination to to take the path straight to the town, it is misleadingly simple and doomed to frustration, anger and misery. We all have souls that recognize the difference between purpose and purposelessness. If one simply marches along without seeking meaning, he may win battle after battle, but the war will be lost.

I turned back and I said to the boy, “My son, did you not tell me that this road is short?” He said to me, “And did I not also tell you that it is long?” I kissed him on the head, and I said to him, “Praiseworthy are you O Israel, for all of you are very wise, from your old to your young!” (Eruvin 53b con’t)

The ” target=”_blank” title=”Sefirot”>Sefirot, or the emanations of G-d through which He interacts with His creation. For a good primer, click “> More pieces like this at