Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

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The classic documentary film The Long Way Home which chronicles the Jewish experience in Europe from the liberation in 1945 until the founding of the State of Israel three years later begins by quoting the first verses in Parshat Beshalach:

(יז) וַיְהִ֗י בְּשַׁלַּ֣ח פַּרְעֹה֮ אֶת־הָעָם֒ וְלֹא־נָחָ֣ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים דֶּ֚רֶךְ אֶ֣רֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא כִּ֣י ׀ אָמַ֣ר אֱלֹהִ֗ים פֶּֽן־יִנָּחֵ֥ם הָעָ֛ם בִּרְאֹתָ֥ם מִלְחָמָ֖ה וְשָׁ֥בוּ מִצְרָֽיְמָה׃ (יח) וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱלֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף וַחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

(17) And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, because that was near; for God said: 'Lest the people regret when they see war, and they return to Egypt.’ (18) But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.

The Jews after the liberation did not have an easy road to Palestine and the State of Israel. Rather they continued to suffer for years as refugees. Lasting redemption usually does not take an expected linear path. Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line but a circuitous route.

This is not because God wants to make our lives difficult, rather it is because God loves us.

The Daat Zkenim on Exodus 13:17:1 elaborates on this in answering a difficulty in the text. Why does the verse add כִּ֥י קָר֖וֹב ה֑וּא because it was close? Is it not obvious that the way of the land of the Philistines is the shortest route? Rather the Daat Zkenim states, it is not the road that is close, it is the nation that is close.

כי קרוב. כלומר העם קרוב של הקב"ה שנאמר לבני ישראל עם קרובו. ולכך לא הנהיגם כמנהגו של עולם. 
כי קרוב, “because the people were close to the Lord,” as stated in Psalms148.14: לבני ישראל, עם קרובו הללוי-ה, “for Israel, the people close to Him.” This is the reason why He did not lead them as is the custom of the world...

God did not lead us the way of the land of the Philistines because we are God’s beloved nation. Because he loves us, he knew that we needed to travel a circuitous path through the desert so we could experience 40 years of growth and closeness to God. This would transform us from slaves into a strong and God fearing nation.

Often the shortest distance to life's goals is not a straight line, it is a meandering path. These points of departures are not detours towards reaching greater goals but necessary life experiences to achieve these goals.

This is something we should consider when educating our students. Often as parents and educators we make general statements for all of our children. Every child must learn in a certain Yeshiva, spend a year of more in Israel, or go to a certain college or else they will not turn out as a committed Jew. Each of our children is עם קרובו, a member of G-d's beloved close people, and each need to discover their own path to religious growth. For some this route is a straight path. For other's the shortest distance towards reaching a relationship with God is a circular route.

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