As a rabbi, I have had the pleasure to teach many students, to share my thoughts on life with them and to hear theirs. Confirmation students question everything strongly, challenging each other even concerning the question, “Why be Jewish?” and thinking about what the consequences are of making that choice? Finishing up their Sophomore year of High School and looking ahead at applying to colleges, they are in the midst of a tremendous period of self analysis, a time not only when they examine their current identities and how Judaism fits into their lives, but a time when they look closely at the world around them and ask themselves who they wish to be. One of my former confirmation students, a young woman with a great passion for social issues, whose parents are both Jews by birth, was particularly troubled by the question, “Why be a Jew?” and decided to write about it in her confirmation speech. She began with the words of Robert Frost.
The Road Less Traveled
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Then took the other, just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
–I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
My student continued, “As a Jew, I take the road less traveled by. The difference is, in the beginning, I did not choose to become a Jew. I was born into a house of Jewish parents, and raised as a Jew as a child, not because of a decision I had made, but one that my parents had made for me. Now, however, I stand at the crossroads for myself. On one side of the path, a road sits. It is worn down; many have walked on it, and many still do. The majority of my friends choose this path, as their parents have. It is mainly foot-printed by Christian soles, but others wear it down, pressing its leaves into the earth, smoothing the gravel into a fine pulp so that it may be smooth for the next pair of boots that cross it. The other side, however, is not so smooth. It is a bit rocky. It is, “just as fair,” and is bright and cheerful, not angry or jealous that the other path has more travelers. It has been scorched and destroyed, but its grass still grows green. Some weeds grow on its surface, other vegetation colors it, thriving where few feet have crossed. It is the path of Judaism.
Being Jewish is not always easy. It has its downsides, as does every religion, brought down by the ignorance of others, or the lack of fellow travelers. I am not saying that there are not other woods where Judaism is more common. There are other countries, states, and cities, and even schools where the path is easier to walk across. Although it exists, it is not mine. I am at a crossroads where very few stand with me. Many of my friends choose other paths. Some ask me to come with them. And sometimes, I wonder where I am headed. Which path do I choose?
How is my life affected by the path I choose? I have yet to see. I do know one thing, and I am sure of it. I take the path less traveled by, and that will make all the difference.”
They were the sentiments of one Confirmation student, yet clearly they are relevant to everyone. There is something powerful that draws us to the path of Judaism, even though we know that the path is a bit rockier and at times we may even have to use a machete to hack our way through the overgrowth. We know that along the road less traveled, we are more likely to find undiscovered treasures, natural beauty less tarnished by the masses hurtling by on the high ways. We also know that there are wonderful things that can only be seen and experienced on other roads, roads significantly more heavily traveled. Some of those things we will miss, others we will come to by a side road and then leave by a side road again. Some things we will experience through the trees from a distance.
Many things on the path that we choose, those on other paths will never experience at all. Some flowers only bloom away from the hustle and bustle. The fruit on the trees on our road less traveled is given more time to ripen before it is picked by passersby-by. On occasion, we may even look down and see the trace of the foot prints of those who walked the same path generations before us. Sometimes we find ourselves walking only with Reform Jews or Conservative Jews. At other times, we find ourselves walking the path along side many others, some of whose reasons for being on the path might be very different from our own.
It is true that on occasion, the road less traveled may be lonely. We may not see fellow travelers often. Yet unlike on more heavily traveled roads, we are much more likely to take notice of travelers on our road less traveled, perhaps even taking the time to greet them, to talk about the sights we have seen, to play “Jewish Geography” or even to share some of the wonderful fruit that we have gathered on our journeys.
Though, as Jews, our footsteps fall on the Jewish path, we may choose at some time to join the others on the high ways, to travel speedily and anonymously in the pack, for every now and then we will come to junctions where our less traveled road links up with others. Many times, others whose journeys have been along the more traveled roads will join with us on our path, sometimes choosing to become one of us, to convert to Judaism. But often with their hearts and minds dedicated to the road more traveled, they take the hands of their loved ones and journey along side them on the road less traveled, our road.
For certain, the road less traveled draws the Jewish soul. In the words of the prophet Micah, “For all the peoples walk, each in the name of their own god, but we will walk in the name of Adonai, our God, forever and ever.”
I do not know what each of us will encounter along the path we will choose, but that along the way, as Micah tells us, we need “to do righteous deeds, to love acting kindly, and to walk humbly with our God.”
I stand before you today without a sigh, as a guide on the road less traveled by. Up ahead there is much more to learn and experience, and if you continue on this road, it will indeed make all the difference.
[Many thanks go to Megan Sass whose Confirmation Speech at
The Valley Temple in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2000 was so inspiring]