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)
This past week our kids had winter break. With limited options due to Covid, we asked the kids what they wanted to do for their vacation.
Unanimously, they opted to drive to Monsey, NY, where lots of their cousins live. Considering that nearly all of us have already had Covid, it seemed like a great (albeit freezing) plan.
We spent the week at my brother’s, thoroughly enjoying relaxing time with family. Thank God, both Sruly and I come from large families, and it isn’t often we get to spend one-family-on-one-family time that isn’t also a simcha or a holiday. We were all having such a great time that we spontaneously decided to stay for Shabbat. The only question was if we should start driving back Saturday night, or do virtual Sunday school from my brother’s dining room and drive back the 461 miles all on Sunday afternoon. (Do you hear the suspenseful music yet?) With much filibustering and lobbying from our offspring, we caved and decided to wait for Sunday.
And then we heard the weather report.
“Winter Storm Warning,” our phones intoned, with red font and scary yellow outlines. It was to snow for three days straight, from the east coast through Bellefonte, PA and Clarion and all the way to Cleveland. (We checked.)
What could we do? We started driving and prayed for the best.
The problem was that our “best” was 35 miles per hour, with snowy, slippery roads and fat white flakes blowing straight into our windshield without letup. At which rate, we quickly realized, it would take us 16 hours to get home. We debated (among the young politicians filibustering and lobbying from the back) the pros and cons of pulling into a motel for the night vs. continuing and getting in late. By 10 pm safety won and we decided to pull over at the Hampton Inn in Clarion, PA. (Ask for Bill. Nice guy.)
Monday morning, we looked out the window of our room and saw that the roads were plowed and clear. The rest of the trip took a mere two hours and we were home before noon with a good night’s sleep under our belts and way less stress.
The long way (stopping over) turned out to be the short way (safe, comfortable, less driving time), and the “short way” would have turned out to be the long way.
What Rabbi Yehoshua was trying to teach in the opening quote of this ramble was that in life, we sometimes try to short circuit the normal processes of things because we are impatient or lazy. But as my father-in-law likes to say, “The lazy man works twice as hard.” The “shortcut” often ends up costing us more than we had bargained for. Often, we are left with a compromised situation where we have to start over or apologize to others for a shoddy job. But if we have the stamina and consistency to stick around, plan properly, and do things right, we often save ourselves time and aggravation in the long run.
And maybe Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah and I have something else in common: sometimes, it really does pay to listen to a child.