[Rabbon Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi] would say... Make that His will should be your will...

Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4


The Talmud relates:

Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Chanania: "Once a child got the better of me.

"I was travelling and 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 that 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?' "


In life, too, there is both 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 chabad-chassidism" he defines his work as follows:

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

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

The Torah itself is quite clear on the matter: "For the mitzvah which I command you this day," it states, "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's vision of life is not an abstract ideal, nor a point of reference to strive toward, but an achievable goal.

But how? In Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman develops the "chabad" approach, a "whole person" approach to life in which the mind plays 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 -both external and internal- 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 is to translate this knowledge and identification into emotional drives. In creating human nature, Rabbi Schneur Zalman taught, the Almighty instilled an innate superiority of mind over heart, of reason over feeling. So the proper understanding and assimilation of these concepts will compel the development of the appropriate emotions in the heart: the love and awe of G‑d. Love for G‑d is the unquenchable desire to cleave to Him and be unified with His essence; awe of G‑d brings the utter abhorrence of anything that violates His will and erects barriers between Him and the transgressor.

Finally, when a person has so oriented his mind and transformed his heart, his observance of the Torah's precepts becomes a given. With every fiber of his being, he craves the fulfillment of the mitzvos, as they are the bridge between him and G‑d, the means, and only means, by which he can connect to his Creator. Any transgression of G‑d's will, no matter how attractive to his material nature, becomes literally abhorrent to him, for 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, he 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 dos 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 will-power 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 Joshua 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 a perpetual duel between the self-oriented animal drives 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 that 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 taste for the G‑dly, when one does develop a desire for good and abhorrence of 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.