Slow Down, You Move Too Fast
Wed, 12/04/2013
Special To The Jewish Week
Rabbi David Wolpe
Rabbi David Wolpe

In Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” General Kutuzov exasperates his comrades by refusing to take action Napoleon. “Maneuver,” they urge him, “outflank, attack!” But the general, except for ordering an occasional retreat, insists on doing as close to nothing as he can. Napoleon, on the other hand, is a frenzy of activity. As a result, his supply lines are overextended, and the Russian winter devastates his army. Failing to lure the czar’s troops into a decisive confrontation, he is forced to withdraw, beaten, back to France. Tolstoy summarizes Kutuzov’s philosophy as “the less you do, the less you err.”

In a frenzied world that praises each active principle, Shabbat instructs us on the benefits of inaction. What would the world look like if occasionally we were Kutuzov, if we took Milton’s counsel that they also serve who only stand and wait? Stopping is not indolent or lazy; it is taking the time to survey one’s life, to step back, to gain perspective.

These days we seem to be doing nothing only when we are thwarted — in traffic, waiting in line, sitting while the computer loads. But observing Shabbat is a deliberate nothing, a productive nothing if you will. Stop for a day. You will begin again differently, and better.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe.

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Comments

Should I sit back and do nothing, or should I tell you that you should have written "against Napoleon" in the first sentence?

Nice essay though. As always.

while r wolpe is off "doing nothing", the children of his congregants are intermarrying at record numbers

perhaps he should be "doing something"

The art of "doing nothing" is rapidly becoming a lost art. I teach my staff to "do nothing" until there is convincing evidence to do something. Otherwise we just flail about. And Shabbat is a good, therapeutic discipline in the art of DOING nothing, by which our BEING is renewed and restored. Baruch Hashem!

this is a guideline not only for Sabbath but for life. I eventually realized this after my brain surgeries. The less you do the better it is .depending on the situation ,a rush like napoleon will take you more in trouble. In my case ,I have learned to take it one day at the time. Relax on Sabbath or any other time I can and don't let doctors with god complex rush me into something with napoleon "waterloo" result.

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