The long and the short of it

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By Rabbi Alana Suskin

This week’s Torah portion is Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20.


Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah said: “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

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This week’s Torah portion hints at us, “The hidden things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

In our lives, much is not revealed to us. We don’t know what will happen to us in the future. Tradition tells us that during the Days of Awe, those things will be decided. It also tells us that, to some extent, what will happen is up to us.


While in the Jewish tradition we are encouraged to understand the universe as a way of understanding God, ultimately God is ein sof — beyond human wisdom — and we must reconcile our abilities with the fact that some of the universe is beyond our comprehension.

Nevertheless, we have been given a gift, Torah, that allows us to live our days with wisdom and opens our hearts and souls to that which we cannot touch with our hands. Torah is that “thing that is revealed” to us, the revealed wisdom of our people.

But there is also a second meaning to our verse.

It is not only the physical universe’s complexity that is partially beyond us. We do not know our own ends, or those of the people we love. We do not know who by fire and who by water. We cannot even know the unfolding of our year. These are “the hidden things,” known to God, influenced only somewhat by our choices.

Even when it seems the entire world acts badly, we can do the right thing. We cannot halt death, but we can live so that when it comes, we will not regret our lives. When we see a friend drift away, we can call them up and try to reconnect with them. Even when others harm us, we can forgive them, and offer our hand in love.

There are times when it can seem like the right thing to do is to react to death and sorrow and betrayal with anger and hurt and turning away. But that is the short road that is long, because although it protects us in the short run, it makes a shell around our hearts, it raises up thorns and bushes on the path that lays ahead.

Forgiveness and reaching out, though they seem much more difficult, are the long path that is short. It is hard work to live one’s life openly, with the chance that others will hurt us. But in the end, it is the open path. It is the path that belongs to us and to our children forever.

At this time of year, at the beginning of all things, we cannot know the end. We are standing in darkness. But it is in our hands to turn on the light.

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