The Talmud tells a story about Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah who self-deprecatingly reports how a child once got the better of him. As Rabbi Joshua walked along a path he came to a crossroads. Unsure about which way to get to town, he asked a child standing there to point the way. The child said that one way was short and long, the other way was long and short. Rabbi Joshua chose the way that was short and long. He reached the outskirts of the town quickly but found his access blocked by gardens and orchards that forced him to retreat and choose the other path. He castigated the child saying: “Did you not tell me this way was short?” But the child retorted: “Did I not say the way was long?”

 

Rabbi Joshua was a frequent traveler. Many accounts in the Talmud speak of his participation in delegations sent to Rome. No doubt, Rabbi Joshua would have preferred the shortest route taking the fewest hours and imposing the least hardship. Understandably, then, he was swayed by hearing the route was the shortest. But the shortest route does not always turn out that way – and sometimes for the better.

 

God could have led the liberated Israelites along the short route along the coastal plain and arrive in Israel some two weeks later (See Deut. 1:2). Instead, the Israelites spend forty years in the wilderness. The scriptural justification is that the most direct route would have taken them through the domain of the Philistines and that would have been exceedingly dangerous. However, another way to read the same verse (Exodus 13:17) is that God led them the long way around because the shorter way was simply too short. Or, to put it somewhat differently, the longer trip was worth it. The adventures experienced along the longer journey shaped the character of the people and molded them into a nation now prepared to inherit the Promised Land.

 

The Mishnah (Berakhot 9:1) rules that it is forbidden to take shortcuts through the Temple. That would be a desecration of sacred space. But what is true geographically is also true spiritually. The highest spiritual achievements cannot be attained quickly. Shortcuts will not do. To those who aspire to success, the route is long and sometimes hard. But the journey is worth it.