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Avoid the shortcuts

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

When using GPS apps for driving directions, such as Google Maps or Waze, one often encounters an interesting phenomenon. Upon entering an address, the app will provide you with its precise distance from your current location, but when you select that address as a destination and get step-by-step directions, the distance suddenly gets longer and seemingly further away. The reason for this is that in the initial step, the app is only giving you the distance from point A to point B as the crow flies, but when it comes to actually getting there, it calculates the route you would have to actually take.

Since cars aren’t airplanes (or birds), the only way to arrive at your destination is by taking designated roads. Attempting to reach your destination by just going straight and ignoring the recommended route—which takes into consideration important things such as terrain and construction—you may eventually reach your destination but it will not be shorter.

The Talmud describes an incident of a rabbi traveling towards a certain city, reaching a fork in the road. Unsure which way to continue, he asked a young child sitting on the side of the road what the best route to the city was. The child replied, one path is “long but short” and the other is “short but long.” The rabbi, in somewhat of a hurry, chose the “short but long” route. In short time he reached the city’s limits, but he could not find a way to actually enter the city. Having no choice, he turned around and returned to the fork with the child still sitting there. Asking the child why he said that route would be “short,” the child replied, “But I also told you it was long.”

In other words, it may have been a shorter distance physically, but to actually arrive at your destination, taking the longer route ends up being shorter.

Shortcuts are always tempting. When faced with two paths to reach a destination, one requiring more effort and the other less, the easier and less arduous path seems to be the obvious choice. If both paths reach the same destination, why exert the extra effort? The answer, of course, is that it is almost never the same thing. Taking the shorter route might make the journey easier, but will it actually get you to your destination? And if you do eventually make it in, at what cost was it?

When weighing the benefits versus the pitfalls of a shortcut, one must consider the end goal. Do you want to just arrive there and be comfortable, or is your goal to have actually accomplished something? Do you want to be able to say you got there, or do you want to actually arrive?

Taking the time to properly travel through the journey of life, with all of its ups and downs, is the most fulfilling thing a person can do.

The book of Tanya, authored by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad movement, is predicated on the above story. Over the course of 53 chapters, the author describes how having a relationship with G-d is easy when you choose to follow the appropriate steps, the long but short route. Of course, it takes 53 chapters and a lifetime of dedication to achieve that goal, but taking shortcuts will not result in a lasting relationship.

Sure, there can be some residual benefit from a brief moment of inspiration; that’s the short but long route. Your soul surely appreciates even the slightest spiritual experience you offer it, but in order for that inspiration to last, it requires effort. Coming to services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a great thing and every Jew should do that, but the real connection with G-d occurs throughout the year, on a daily basis. It’s hard work, but there are no shortcuts to having an eternal relationship with the divine.

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