I remember asking many questions. Am I supposed to look "left" or look "right"? Who has "right of way?" Will I wind up like Homer Simpson in one episode of the cartoon series where Homer and his family travel to England, rent a car, and get stuck for hours, unable to leave the roundabout, driving around in circles? Why can't there just be more stop signs and traffic lights?
Thankfully, it wasn't that bad. Roundabouts quickly made sense. Traffic flowed more efficiently. Change, growth, and exposure to new ideas and practices weren't that hard.
But we human beings are often creatures of habit. We grow accustomed to usual behaviors, and learning new cultures and practices can often bring difficulties and challenges. We are taught the value of open communication, but sometimes it seems as if life and our relationships present themselves in anything but a direct way.
This week's Torah portion, Parashat Beshalach, teaches us that sometimes, an indirect path might yield a more favorable outcome. Fresh from slavery in Egypt, preparing to cross miraculously through the Sea of Reeds, the Torah tells us, "Now when Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer; for God said, 'The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.' So God led the people roundabout, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds" (Exodus 13:17-18).
In essence, God is saying about the people, "In order to grow, in order to move forward, the people need to commit to the journey. They can't just go back to what they've come from, they have to go on, they have distance themselves from their past." Sometimes, growth comes when we take the path less travelled or a different path altogether.
The journey might take a little bit longer, but it is well worth the effort. Sometimes engaging in spiritual practice and even religious devotion, putting in the hard yards with prayer, committing ourselves to Jewish learning, finding time to join in the activities of our shul, may seem foreign to our existence in the contemporary, secular world. But many times, a willingness to enter the roundabout enables us to emerge spiritually enriched and strengthened for the journey ahead.