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The Road Best Travelled

08/10/20 14:25:26

Oct8

The celebrated American poet laureate, Robert Frost, wrote famously about “the road not taken”. Its central theme is about the two roads a hiker comes across in the forest:  

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood 

And sorry I could not travel both. 

And be one traveller, long I stood... 

Two roads diverged in a wood and I -  

I took the one less travelled by, 

And that has made all the difference” 

It’s a poem about choice although it has been argued than on a more subtle reading the poet doesn’t actually make a choice! Nonetheless it is about the enigma of choice and chance. 

 

It’s a poem that resonates for me because of its Biblical undertones and its contemporary overtones. It reminds me of the Torah’s own enigmatic challenge: “I place before you today a blessing and a curse” (Deut 11:26) and the even more dramatic. 

“See, I have placed before you today, 

Life and good, death and evil... Choose life” (Ibid 30,19).  

It is a puzzling dilemma - after all, who wouldn’t choose life and blessings? 

 

It’s contemporary because of the recognition that the right path is often not obvious, the best path is often hidden. The blessings aren’t always apparent. Life is rarely a simple black and white equation. The road less travelled doesn’t always make the right difference. 

 

We are living through a time of turmoil and tempest. This week our Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, mapped out a path for our economic future. As a society we, however, need a map for our spiritual future as well. 

 

Here are 5 suggestions about what should inform our choices for a better world, a more caring and value - driven society: 

 

  1. Acknowledge that we won’t change anything unless we deliberately decide to do so.  

A post-Covid world won’t be a better, more caring, and principled one unless we work at it with clarity, discipline, and purpose. The great Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira coined the phrase ‘conscious community’ to convey this very idea of intentionality. 

 

  1. Recognise that choices are rarely binary but usually complicated and complex and that they demand thoughtfulness and reflection. In a time of polarisation, principle and persistence are more valuable than impulse and forcefulness; grey is the primary colour of choice making. 

 

  1. Accept that you can’t do it all on your own.  

Your choices impact on others and imposing your way on others is ultimately fruitless. People need people. Consult with your significant others. The key to healthy decisions is so often about healthy and strong relationships. 

 

  1. Avoid instant gratification.  

It’s easy and illusory to go for the instant hit; to elect immediate satisfaction above delayed fulfillment. 

In an age when popularity is measured by how many Facebook friends you have and success is decided by how many hits you get on social media, it takes strength and resolve to wait and deliberate. 

It was Freud who wrote that a civilisation can be assessed by its capacity to delay gratification. It was our wise Torah teachers who long before recommended that waiting is the art of maturing. 

 

5)    Keep on learning, keep your mind open. 

When we are faced with overwhelming change, choosing wisely is harder but even more vital than ever. One of the critical factors is, to use the Yiddish expression, ‘to hold kop’ to hold onto your head, to keep you head when others are losing theirs...  One of the best ways of holding onto your head is to keep an open mind and to keep on learning. That is why the Mishna celebrates Torah learning as the highest virtue (“Talmud Torah Keneged Kulam”). 

That is why “teaching your children well” is an integral part of our most treasured prayer, the Shema and repeated twice – daily. Life – long learning is cherished by the Torah and our tradition. Life – long teaching of your children and grandchildren is deeply valued by both. 

 

So, as we farewell this strange season of festivals, as we move from the fragile Sukkah back into our vulnerable Sukkah-like future let’s be sure to be strong and strengthen one another, to make good choices, to travel on the right roads... In words of the special Yom-Tov tefillah when the ark is opened: 

“So may it be your will, Lord  

Our God and God of our ancestors 

That we be worthy to do actions 

That are good in your sight, 

And to walk before you on the  

Roads of the upright, [the paths of integrity]” 

 

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach 

 
Rabbi Ralph 

Tue, 20 October 2020 2 Cheshvan 5781