“Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Chananya said: In my entire life I was only outsmarted by a woman, a young boy and a young girl. [The Talmud tells all three stories. Let’s get right to the story with the young boy.] One time I was walking and I saw a young boy by the intersection. I said to him, ‘Which way should I take to the city’? He said to me, ‘This way is short but long and that way is long but short‘. I went on the short but long path. When I got to the city, I found it to be surrounded by gardens and orchards. I turned around, went back and said to him, ‘My son, didn’t you tell me this was the short path’? He said to me, ‘Didn’t I tell you it was a long path?’ I kissed him on his head and said, ‘Fortunate are the Jews, who have wisdom in their old ones and in their young ones'”. (Eruvin 53b)
What does it mean to take the long but short path and why is that better than the short but long path?
There are no quick-fixes in life. Ask any professional athlete how they became successful and they will tell you it was due to their hard work. To us it might seem easy, because we only see them perform that one time in the spotlight, but they practiced that exact scenario countless times before. They were ready to execute because of all the hard work they put in before that moment.
The same is true in our relationship with Hashem. There is a short path, using drugs and alcohol, to make you feel high. It works fast. In a short moment you might feel very connected to Hashem. It’s like all the doors opened for you and everything is clear now. You might like even talking about spiritual matters, singing and dancing in that state. It makes you feel alive. But it doesn’t get you into the city. It takes you right to the gate, but then the high wears off and you’re left stuck in an overgrown orchard. There’s heavy mud, thickets, and long vines in your way. To pass through the plantation will take you a very long time. But then there’s the long path that is short. It’s long because you need to put the work in. There aren’t any shortcuts on this path. It takes dedication. It doesn’t always feel good. You don’t always feel connected and alive. But you trust that you’re on the path and eventually you make it right into the city, way before the guy on the short-long path.
I think Rebbe Nachman taught us the long but short path with the advice of Hisbodedus. He said to talk to Hashem every day (for an hour) in our own words. It’s hard work. Sometimes you can’t get out to a nice spot. Sometimes you have a busy day and you’re very tired, late at night, when you get the chance. Sometimes you feel like you have nothing to say. It doesn’t matter. It’s a long path. It doesn’t always feel good. It doesn’t always flow. Sometimes you feel like your pulling teeth. You might leave the session questioning, “Was that a waste of time”? This is the long path. We’re not trying to get high here. We’re trying to build a relationship. Relationships have highs and lows and are fostered by dedication and faithfulness. It’s ok if it doesn’t feel good every time. We need to keep going at it.
I sometimes think that this blog is really no different than all those videos that get sent around social media with ‘one minute of inspiration’. Those nice vortlich are the short but long path. We get chizuk (encouragement) from them, but it wears off quickly. I hope following this blog is somehow different. I’m not only looking to share words of encouragement, but rather to encourage personal growth through hard work.
Pushing ourselves to talk to Hashem daily is a long path, but in the end it’s really the short path.