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)
In our quest for more order, we are sometimes tempted to take shortcuts to get things done or arrive at our destination more quickly. Some things just seem so beyond our grasp or too difficult to attain; and because of this, we attempt to find a shorter, easier path. Occasionally this is possible, but often we discover that this "shorter" path is actually more costly to us, creates greater hassle, and does not teach us the lessons we are meant to learn along the journey.
We are taught instead that the "long but short way" is steep, winding, tedious, and can take a lifetime. It's full of frustration and setbacks. However, it is the road that leads us through to our aspired destination. Sometimes it is the journey that is the destination, rather than the end point.
The Israelites journeyed in the desert for 40 years so that the children of a generation of slaves could learn to cleave to God and rely on Him during life's journeys. May we learn to appreciate our long but short way, the way of Yeshua, who calls us to a life of holiness and sacrifice.
As we consider our prayerbook, the siddur, as a crucial component of an ordered and prayerful life, remember that it is also the simple prayer of a contrite heart and the proper intention that Hashem desires as well.