There is as an old Zen teaching, "Life is so short. We must move slowly."
Of course to say something is a Zen teaching is to say it is paradoxical. And of this teaching it is no less true. I would think if life is short we must move more quickly, mindful of all the things we need to accomplish in a short period of time. Yet the opposite is true.
Our Torah this week in the parsha of Vayechi, the final parsha in the Book of Breishit, the first book of the Torah, frames for us the problem with "going too fast".
Yaakov before his death addressed each of his children. He set before them their strengths and weaknesses. To Reuvain the eldest Yaakov said:
"Reuvain you are my first born, my might and the beginning of my strength. You have excellence of dignity and power. Yet you are unstable as water. You shall not have the excellence because you went up to your father's bed and thereby defiled my marital relations."
Reuvain was entitled to special portions in as much as he was the first born. Moreover Reuvain had with in him the personal gifts and excellences that made him worthy of greatness above his siblings. The problem with Reuvain was that like "water", he was unstable. He moved too fast. He saw a situation that needed to be addressed and he rushed in to resolve it. His intentions show his unique sensitivity and capacity to lead. Yet his performance, hurried and impulsive, made his eforts futile.
Look at the stories of Reuvain. He is the one son of Leah who feels her hurt. He brought his mother a gift of the mandrakes to comfort her over the rejection she felt from her husband. Yet rather than serve to make Leah less focused on Yaakov's love the mandrakes became his mother's bargaining chip to gain another night with Yaakov. Later Reuvain is the one who saved Yosef from death by telling the brothers to throw him in the pit rather than kill him. Reuvain's intentions were excellent. He hoped to return to the pit and rescue Yosef. But there was no opportunity. Yosef was taken from the pit and sold. Again good intentions left unrealized.
And when the brothers returned from their first sojourn to Egypt to buy food and Shimon was held captive until Binyamin is brought, Reuvain tried to prevail on Yaakov to send Binyamin with him. His efforts were well motivated but poorly timed and poorly stated. Only later when Yehuda spoke did he successfully convince Yaakov to send their youngest brother. Reuvain took the lead, but again here his leadershp was compromised by his anxiety to get it done.
And finally their is the incident Yaakov made reference to in his critique of Reuvain, the story of his intervention into Yaakov's sleeping arrangements with his respective wives. Here too, Reuvain, in tradition, was well intentioned. He felt his mother's insult when Yaakov chose the tent of Bilha, Rachel's former maid, over his mother's following Rachel's death. There was no faulting Reuvain's sensitivity. He was unique in this regard from the rest of his siblings. It was his impulsive response that was at issue.
Reuvain's problem was he "moved too fast". He had not the discipline to wait for the right time and setting so as to get the results that mattered. Many of us know that truth in our own lives. We feel deeply and often correctly the hurt of another or their need. We want to make a difference. We respond immediately and impulsively.
And yet despite our passion we fail to make a difference. Our feelings, though noble, and necessary to our motivation, got in the way of our ability to wait for the right time and setting to actually be effective in engendering change.
It's important to distinguish between "z'reezut", freely translated as "alacrity" and speed. Yes, in our tradition "z'reezut" is a virtue. To be "zariz" in the service of G-d and in doing mitzvot is important. But to be zariz is not about the speed with which one does something but rather with the level of intensity and fullness of self we invest in being where we are. We are called to serve G-d and do mitzvot being fully present and mindful. There is no room for laziness. But that does not mean we need to move quickly. On the contrary when we move too quickly we are often less able to be fully present in the moment. We miss being where we are because we are focused on where we have to get to.
I found myself understanding the lesson of Reuvain this week and identifying with him. For several days I had lower back pain. Besides the hurt, it made walking difficult. I am by inclination a fast walker. I struggle to be patient and go slow.
The more I tried to push myself to get to my destination this week, the more I hurt.
Only in going slow would the pain subside.
My life experience of this week and the Torah message I see in the parsha teach me to stop running. With reference to my tendency towards haste my daughter would sometimes say "I only know Daddy from the back!"
In pushing to reach the ends I often miss the vistas I am meant to see on the way. Still more, in moving too fast I may make impossible accomplishments that would be possible only with time and patience.
The lesson here for me and perhaps for you is best captured in the verse from an old Simon and Garfunkel song, "slow down you move too fast..."