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The Longer Shorter Way

The Longer Shorter Way


Said Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah: "Once a child got the better of me."

"I was traveling, and I met with a child at a crossroads. I asked him, 'which way to the city?' and he answered: 'This way is short and long, and this way is long and short.'

"I took the 'short and long' way. I soon reached the city but found my approach obstructed by gardens and orchards. So I retraced my steps and said to the child: 'My son, did you not tell me that this is the short way?' Answered the child: 'Did I not tell you that it is also long?'"

(Talmud, Eruvin 53b)

Also in life there is a "short but long" way and a "long but short" way.

In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi sets down the fundamentals of the Chabad-Chassidic approach to life. On the cover page of this "Bible of Chassidism" he defines his work as follows:

"[This book is] based on the verse,1 'For [the Torah and its precepts] is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it'-- to explain, with the help of G‑d, how it is indeed exceedingly close, in a long and short way."

The Torah and its commandments (mitzvot) are the Creator's blueprint for creation, detailing the exact manner in which He meant life to be lived and His purpose in creation to be fulfilled. But is a life that is ordered by Torah indeed feasible? Can the ordinary "everyman" be realistically expected to conduct his every act, word and thought in accordance with the Torah's most demanding directives?

The Torah itself is quite clear on the matter: "For the mitzvah which I command you this day, it is not beyond you nor is it remote from you. It is not in heaven... nor is it across the sea... Rather, it is something that is very close to you, in your mouth, in your heart, that you may do it." Torah is not an abstract ideal, a point of reference to strive toward, but a practical and attainable goal to achieve.

But how? In the Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman develops the Chabad approach — a holistic approach to life in which the mind and intellect play the leading and pivotal role. First, a person must study, comprehend and meditate upon the quintessential truths of existence: the all-transcendent, all-embracing, all-pervading reality of G‑d; the root and essence of the soul and its intrinsic bond with its Creator; man's mission in life, and the resources and challenges that are extended to him to fulfill it. Since these concepts are extremely subtle and abstract, one must toil "a toil of the soul and a toil of the flesh" to grasp them and relate to them.

The next step of this approach is to translate this knowledge and comprehension into emotional feelings. Because of an innate superiority of the mind over heart that the Creator has imbued in human nature, the understanding, assimilation and meditation upon these G‑dly concepts will compel the development of the appropriate emotions in the heart: the love and awe of G‑d. "Love of G‑d" is defined by Rabbi Schneur Zalman as the unquenchable desire to cleave to Him and be unified with His essence; "awe of G‑d" is the utter abhorrence towards anything which erects barriers between Him and man.

Finally, when a person has so oriented his mind and so transformed his heart, his observance of the Torah's precepts becomes not only possible, but a compelling need. He craves the fulfillment of the mitzvot with every fiber of his being since they are the bridge between him and G‑d, the means — and the only means — by which he can connect to his Creator. And any transgression of G‑d's will, no matter how attractive to his material nature, is literally revolting to him, since it disrupts his relationship with G‑d and runs contrary to his own true self.

But a person may argue: Why spend a lifetime pursuing this demanding regimen of mind and heart? Why must I toil to understand and feel? Why not take the direct approach — open the books and follow instructions? I'm a simple Jew, this person may maintain, and the attainment of such lofty spiritual states as "comprehension of the Divine", "love of G‑d", and "awe of G‑d" are way beyond my depth. I know the truth, I know what G‑d wants of me — the Torah spells out the do's and don'ts of life quite clearly. I have a material and egocentric nature? An inborn inclination towards evil and self-destructive desires? I'll control them. My faith, determination, and willpower will do the job.

This, however, is the short but long way. As the most direct and simple line between two points, it is misleadingly the surest way to town; but in truth, the direct approach is a dead end. As with the route which Rabbi Yehoshua first chose, it seems to lead straight to the city — only somehow it never quite makes it. For it is a path of never-ending struggle, the scene of perpetual duel between the self-oriented animal soul of man and his upward-reaching G‑dly soul. True, man has been given free choice and furnished with the necessary fortitude and spiritual staying power to meet his every moral challenge; but the possibility of failure, G‑d forbid, also exists. No matter how many times he will triumph, tomorrow will bring yet another test. On the short and long road one may win battle after battle, but there is never a decisive victory in the war of life.

On the other hand, the long but short way is winding, steep, tedious, and long as life itself. It is full of ups and downs, setbacks and frustrations. It demands every ounce of intellectual and emotional stamina the human being can muster. But it is a road that leads, steadily and surely, to the aspired-to destination. When one does finally acquire an aptitude and intellectual taste for the G‑dly, when one does develop a desire for good and abhorrence for evil, the war has been won. The person has transformed himself into someone whose every thought, deed and act is naturally attuned to his quintessential self and purpose in life.

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Betty Lou kelly San Juan Capistrano Ca December 11, 2014

I love the study today! It makes it so expectional that Rabbi has the restart of our emotions and minds for today. Thank you I am truly grateful! Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles September 15, 2014

footnotes? B"H
Love this article. Would love to do some reasearch. Can we get some footnotes, please? Thanks so much for the fantastic work. Reply

Yossi Simonds Brooklyn January 15, 2014

As part of my job here at a home for adults, I lead a weekly smoking cessation group. In order to research my group topic this week, I went into the "smoke room" I interviewed one man and asked him why he smokes (suffice it to say the room was choking with smoke). He told me he smoked to get rid of his depression. This struck me as interesting because, although I never smoked, I had to give up many bad habits in my life, and I was able to do it by telling myself the exact opposite: the habit made me depressed, and quitting took the depression away! Thinking about this further led me to the idea of the "short, longer way." This man may have solved the short term problem: his habit took away the immediate, physical symptom of depression: yet ultimately he was still prone to suffer the long range emotional symptom. As for myself, by abstaining from my bad habit, I had to undergo the longer and more difficult struggle; but, finally, I found the shorter path to victory! Reply

Dr Gilly August 31, 2013

The longer Sforter way There are two different approaches to Torah and the fulfillment o the commandments - reading it and getting the message, on the one hand, living and experience the reading by virtue of the cluster of our love to G4d and His love for us.
The first one is the direct way that implies a purely intellectual or academic approach to the commandments that dissolves the very truth of Torah and its uniqueness into something comparable to all sets of purely academic approaches to normative settings. On the contrary, the second one is the long way, however shorter for it provides, by supplanting the purely cognitive approach to norms by that transcending which refers to the love for and of G’d, the experience of Torah’s uniqueness, its singularity, regarding the very truth of its norm-setting. Hat way is a long one, however it is shorter than the former, for its leads to the spirit of Torah and its practical relevance, by short-circuiting any attempt to draw analogy between Torah and other normative settings.
On this account, the comment of the verse of our Parashah points in an excellent manner the way in which Torah, by means of a seemingly simplistic aphorism, addresses a very big challenge Reply

Anonymous montreal, canada September 23, 2011

very nice but.... like evreywhere i went u are saying what to do but not how to do Reply

Pamela Rhoten LOWELL January 15, 2018
in response to Anonymous:

Torah in your mouth and in your heart Reply

Anonymous margate, us September 18, 2011

Response to R' Yankel's "Longer Shorter Way" I am no Chasid, but I have an admiration for Chasidut's "Kabbalah for the masses" approach, and have long enjoyed R' Yankel's particular talent for encapsulating the philosophy of Tanya and making it comprehensible to laypeople, even laypeople who have some learning. Kol hakavod, and shana tova! Reply

Anonymous January 24, 2011

Tanya is health-promoting This article also summarizes the wonderful health-promoting concepts, with the addition of forgiveness, of course. Thanks for all of your inspiring articles. Reply

Mia Sherwood Landau Sherman, TX August 27, 2010

My life It was a pleasure to read this today because it describes my life so well. I understood perfectly about long and short ways from having lived them. Thank you for the very excellent, profuse abundance of knowledge and wisdom that provides. May you all be blessed in all your endeavors! Reply

David Margulis Roswell, Georgia September 27, 2008

Keeping thiings in sight This is a beautiful teaching, to which I'd like to add this comment. As we strive to be close to G-d, to tame our animal selves to allow us to learn and to perform mitzvot, I think we need to be very careful that we don't forget about those closest to us: our spouses, our children, our parents. As I struggle through the ups and downs of my life, it has become apparent to me that working on these relationships is not unlike working on my relationship with G-d. I think that Torah and Talmud and contemporary teachings (such as one can find at this marvelous web site) can lead us to the proper relationships with our precious family members even as they teach us about our relationship with G-d. None of this is particularly "easy." Perhaps the modern Jew is here for the purpose of laboring to understand and then to enhance his relationships with his loved ones and with his G-d, thus making the world a place more fit for G-d and His creations. Reply

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