Rabbi Yehoshua said: Once I was walking along the path, and I saw a child sitting at a crossroads. I asked him: Which path will lead me to the city?He said: One path is short and long, and one path is long and short.I took the short and long one. Once I arrived at the city, I found the passageway blocked off by meandering gardens and orchards.I turned back, and said to the child: My son! Didn’t you describe this path as short?“Didn’t I also say it was long?!” he retorted.(Talmud Bavli Eruvin 53b)
Now it was, when Pharaoh had sent the people free,
That God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines,
Which indeed is nearer,
For God said to himself: Lest the people regret it. When they see war, and return to Egypt!
So God had the people swing about by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.
וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם,
וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים,
כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא.
וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר, יַם-סוּף...
(שמות יג: יז-יח)
…the position that is prevalent nowadays in religious circles, whether in Protestant groups or in American Reform and Conservative Judaism, [is] that the religious experience is of a very simple nature – that is, devoid of the spiritual tortuousness present in the secular cultural consciousness, of psychic upheavals, and of the pangs and torments that are inextricably connected with the development and refinement of man’s spiritual personality. This popular ideology contends that the religious experience is tranquil and neatly ordered, tender and delicate; it is an enchanted stream for embittered souls and still waters for troubled spirits. The person “who comes in from the field, weary” (Gen. 25:29), from the battlefield and campaigns of life, from the secular domain which is filled with doubts and fears, contradictions and refutations, clings to religion as does a baby to its mother and finds in her lap “a shelter for his head, the nest of his forsaken prayers” and there is comforted for his disappointments and tribulations. […] This Rousseauean ideology left its stamp on the entire Romantic movement from the beginning of its growth until its final (tragic!) manifestations in the consciousness of contemporary man. Therefore, the representatives of religious communities are inclined to portray religion, in a wealth of colors that dazzle the eye, as a poetic Arcadia, a realm of simplicity, wholeness, and tranquility. […]This ideology is intrinsically false and deceptive. That religious consciousness in man’s experience which is most profound and most elevated, which penetrates to the very depths and ascends to the very heights, is not that simple and comfortable. On the contrary, it is exceptionally complex, rigorous, and tortuous. Where you find its complexity, there you find its greatness. The religious experience, from beginning to end, is antinomic and antithetic. The consciousness of homo religiosis flings bitter accusations against itself and immediately is filled with regret, judges its desires and yearnings with excessive severity, and at the same time steeps itself in them, casts derogatory aspersions on its own attributes, flails away at them, but also subjugates itself to them. It is in a condition of spiritual crisis, of psychic ascent and descent, of contradiction arising from affirmation and negation, self-abnegation and self-appreciation. […] Religion is not, at the outset, a refuge of grace and mercy for the despondent and desperate, an enchanted stream for crushed spirits, but a raging clamorous torrent of man’s consciousness with all its crises, pangs, and torments.
Rabbi Mishael Zion | Bronfman Fellowships | Beshalach 2012 | Text and the City