Saturday, August 23, 2014 Av 27, 5774

Spiritually, You Must Both Move and Stay Put

September 10, 2009 By:
Rabbi Joshua Runyan
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NITSAVIM/VA-YELEKH, Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30

On the bell curve representing all possible drivers, the incredibly timid among us occupy one small section at the end. The other end is where the uber-aggressive reside.

As the vast majority of people are, on the whole, calm, cool and collected, the existence of either of the above populations presents no great problem. But what happens when four timid motorists arrive at a four-way stop sign at exactly the same time?

Now wrap your head around this one: Four stereotypical New York or Israeli drivers navigate the same intersection ... (I've actually seen something like this happen).

As funny as it may sound, this week's double Torah portion has an unusual resolution to similar "go, no-go" dilemmas.

The name of the first portion, Nitsavim, comes from Moses' statement that the entire Jewish people -- from the tribal heads, elders and officials down to the woodchopper and water carrier -- are "standing firmly," ready to enter into the covenant of the Torah. But the name of the second portion, Va-Yelekh, comes from the Hebrew root indicating "movement."

According to Rabbi Saadia Gaon, both portions should always be viewed as connected; even in those years when they're read separately, the instructions of both are intertwined. In essence, then, one of the Torah's central messages this week is to both stand and walk, to stop and to go.

In the physical world, both actions cannot exist at the same time. But in terms of your divine service, in how you approach the world outside, it is not only possible, but necessary, that you both constantly move and, at the same time, keep your roots intact.

The question, then, is on what should you stand?

Moses' call at the beginning of the Torah reading provides an answer: "You are standing firmly this day, all of you." Put simply, the Jewish people were united before entering the Land of Israel.

But the announcement goes further: After saying "all of you," Moses emphasizes exactly who he means: the high officials, the men, the women, the children, the rich and the day laborers.

Not only were the people unified, but they were united in such a way that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

We now find ourselves firmly in the middle of the month of Elul, the last month of the year and the gate to all of the blessings of Rosh Hashanah. The month is so important that many people follow the custom of blowing the shofar every day (except on Shabbat) as a call to correct their shortcomings and as an expression of the soul's desire to be closer to the Almighty.

Chasidic thought explains the significance of the month with a metaphor of a king returning from a long journey. When he is found in his palace, sitting on his throne and wearing a crown of jewels, very few people can gain entrance to see him. But when the king makes his way through the fields on his way back to the palace, anyone can approach. In fact, the king is happy to see them.

In the month of Elul, a revelation of divine favor and mercy is drawn down into the world that, in turn, arouses the desire to declare the majesty of God's kingship over all of creation.

The potential is unlimited. Individuals need only root themselves to the Torah and its commandments to go out and seize every opportunity to bring more goodness into the world.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at: jrunyan@chabad.org.

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