Always Moving Forward - two motions in positive growth
Rabbi Y. Johnson
I know that Rosh Hashona is a time for making new resolutions and increasing our observance. But I don’t quite feel ready to take on something new and that if I did I would struggle to keep it. I feel that I just need to consolidate where I am holding at the moment. Is this a problem? Am I just being lazy?
Your desire to consolidate is the perfect new year resolution! That’s real positive growth.
This week we read the combined Parshios of Nitzavim-Vayeilech. The names of the two Parshios describe two completely different movements. Nitzavim means to stand firmly in one’s place. Vayeliech means to move. Yet we read them together as one Parsha with one message. How does that work?
Man is distinguished from the angels by being called a mehalech - a mover. Unlike the angels, we have the ability to grow and progress in our spiritual lives. Striving for constant growth and self-improvement is expected of us.
So Vayeilech makes sense - we have to move! But where does Nitzavim fit in? What is the Avodah of standing still when we are supposed to be moving?
The answer is that sometimes stopping is actually moving. Let me explain through the following Halacha:
On Shabbos we are not allowed to carry something from a Reshus Harabim (halachically defined public domain) to a Reshus Hayachid (halachically defined private domain) or vice versa. It is also prohibited to carry an item a distance of four Amos in the public domain.
To be Biblically liable for carrying, one needs to complete the full act of both picking up the object (Akira) in one domain and placing the object down (Hanacha) in the other. Stopping while carrying the object also qualifies as Hanacha.
The Talmud (Shabbos 5b) teaches that if someone carries all day between the public and private domain without once stopping, they have not violated Shabbos on the Biblical level. This is because whilst there was Akira, there was no Hanacha.
But not every stop is considered a real stop. Stopping to rest (Omed Lafush) is a real stop and would qualify as Hanacha.
Stopping to adjust the load you are carrying (Omed Lakatef) is not considered a stop. Rather it is an integral part of moving. Unless the load is comfortable and properly balanced, moving forward would be counter-productive. It would be uncomfortable and you would risk the load falling altogether. This type of stopping is not considered Hanacha.
What makes a stop a stop? It really comes down to what is the purpose of the pause.
This is the message of Nitzavim-Vayeilech. Both modes are parts of our quest for spiritual growth. Sometimes we grow by moving forward and sometimes we grow through pausing to consolidate and adjust our load.
We read these Parshios before Rosh Hashona because they are the model for how to ensure we will successfully fulfil our new year resolutions.
Standing still to ‘rest’ or to take a break from having to move forward - the attitude that I’m just fine where I am and don’t need to do any more - is not positive. This is stagnation.
But sometimes we do need to stop in order to progress. Implementing a new resolution is difficult. Many times we don’t succeed straight away.
When you take on a new resolution or Hiddur Mitzvah, you have to integrate it and adjust to it until it becomes comfortable. Once you have it securely in place, then you are ready for the next step. You can’t move forward to a higher goal before having acclimatised to your current state. By moving ahead to far and to fast we risk losing everything. This would be the opposite of growth.
You sound like you are definitely committed to growing but just need to consolidate in order to spring forward with your next step. This type of ‘stopping’ is not a stop at all. Rather it is a necessary part of your forward movement. This is Nitzavim which is a perfectly satisfactory step forward on your journey until you are ready for your next Vayeilech.
Wishing you a sweet new year filled with meaningful and lasting growth in your observance and relationship with Hashem.