In the Bavli Talmud we learn from Rabbi Joshoua the son of Hanania that he has never lost to a human but for a woman, a young girl and a young boy.” He continues on that young boy an explains, “What about this young boy? Once I was walking and I saw a young boy sitting at a fork of roads and asked him: what is the road I should take to the town? He told me: this one is short but ling and the other is long but short. So I decided to take the short but long way. Once I arrived to the twon I found it surrounded by gardens and groves, so I had to go back and told him: Son! You said it was ‘short’ and he responded: have I not told you ‘long’?” Many times we find ourselves pondering on which is the right way for us to select the short but long or the long but short, it is a test put before us.
In this week’s portion of the Torah we find that this deliberation is not only for humans. It is described there, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” The short way to the Promised Land is not the one selected for the Israelites to go. The reason for that is, “God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” It seems like even the control of God on events has its limitation and that the return to Egypt for the fear of war it would be impossible to prevent. A different solution is therefore sought, the long way to the Promised Land, “the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.” It may be the long way round but also the shorter one to reach the desired destination. It will not result in the People spending more time in the land of Egypt.
What is puzzling about this situation of the fear of the Sons of Israel not willing to fight their freedom through is the following description: “the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” So whether they were simply well organized or actually had weapons with them when they left Egypt, it seems that they could technically fight their way through, otherwise, why add this curious sentence. But they did not have all the weapons to wage war; they lacked the spirit and its integration within them as a People. With the spirit lacking it was inconceivable to choose the short road to the land of Canaan because of its great challenges to the spirit of the people. It is therefore sensible to take the long but short way around in order to overcome this challenge successfully.
Since my election, and then reelection, as chair of the Israel Reform Movement I continuously stress that we must internalize that we are Marathon runners, running 42 kilometers and 195 meters (some 26.2 miles) of a demanding race. It is not enough to just make a decision and run it on the day of the race. It requires preparation, training, getting the body ready to the distress of the body and the ways of dealing with it, and training of the spirit to confront those breaking points and overcome them, and getting used to the fact that one needs to deal with crisis situations that will come and will challenge both body and spirit. Some of those challenges will be new and unfamiliar and still we must continue the race, continue to run, move forward, as we have important goals and objectives to accomplish. It is part of our job to plant trees even if we are not going to be the ones to enjoy their fruit.
Going back to the Bavli, we find there the story told by Rabbi Yohanan about Honi, “That was quite sorry about the verse ‘When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” (Psalms 126, 1). He said: ‘is there someone who sleeps seventy years in a dream?” – once he was walking and saw a man planting a Carob tree. He said to him: in how many years will this tree bear fruit? He responded: in seventy years. Honi told him: do you think you will live for seventy years to enjoy the fruits of this tree? The man responded: as I found the world with Carob trees; just as my ancestors have planted for me so will I plant for my offspring”.
It connects us back to the story about the short and long way and the long and short way, both important and at times we need to select one from the other. Sometime we must plant plants that provide fruits in the short term, at other times those that take decades to bear fruit. And this may take longer than our lives. So, on this TU BeShevat we find ourselves thinking not only of the trees but also of our choices. First of all to keep the world that we live in, hopefully leaving it at least as good as received, and if we are really good, even in a better state of affairs. And like the People of Israel we are also armed, we are armed with ideas, goals, objectives, love and passion to build a better and more just society in Israel. One that will bear the best of fruits and in the long run will justify also our effort leaving our very own Egypt behind.
Shabbat Shalom and a Happy TU BeShevat.
Reuven Marko, 10 February 2017, 15 Shevat, 5777