Following are some of the ideas, insights and interpretations that emerge from our weekly Chumash learning group at the Young Israel of Oceanside, Long Island. We cite sources when possible. Some of our interpretations may derive from ideas we may have seen elsewhere, possibly without attribution. Or we may simply have forgotten the source. For this we apologize. We invite your comments, observations and participation.
Moshe’s fourth and final speech…eternal covenant with God…ingathering of exiles…accessibility of the Torah and Tshuva to all…choosing Life and Good
Two Parshiot that are one
The Lubavitch Rebbi cites Rav Sa’adia Gaon’s opinion that Netzavim-Vayeilech is one Parsha; it is only in some years (like this) that they are read separately.
In the opening verse Moshe reminds the people: “Atem Netzavim Hayom”, “You are standing firmly today, all of you together before God your God”. The Lubavitch Rebbi notes the use of the more forceful word Netzavim instead of omdem (also meaning standing) emphasizes that we are to stand firm and unshakable in our belief. We stand fully conscious of the presence of God, bound together as one nation—“Ish Echad B’Layv Echad”.
Parshat Vayeilech begins with “Moshe went and spoke the following words to all Israel.”
The word Netzavim suggests stability, reliability and strength. Vayeilech is about movement, growth and expansion. The Rebbi concludes that the linking of “standing still” and “moving” is the eternal reminder that that our growth (financial, social, personal) needs to be steeped in-- and never at the expense of-- our core, solid religious foundation and beliefs.
In Chapter 30 we find a seven-time recurrence of the verb “return”, pointing us to the key underlying theme of this section—Tshuva. The Hebrew word, whose root means return, also has a deeper unique definition as a transformational process that leads to regeneration and rebirth ( according to Rav Jacobson in his Meditations on the Torah).Like the snake that sheds its skin and gains almost a new identity, the person who does Tshuva sheds his old self and is spared from the punishment that was to be inflicted on the old self that no longer exists.
If we the Jewish nation ponder over and grasp the lesson of history and decide to return to God in word and deed, He will turn to us, gather us, ”circumcise our stuffed up hearts” and help each of us transform ourselves into a “new,” better person. (Note the linkage with the Bris, circumcision, which was performed by Avraham Avenu on his son Isaac, at which time God promised His everlasting Covenant for creation of a Jewish people with our own land.)
God promises us that He will cut away (circumcise) the layers of rationalization, cynicism, apathy and laziness that block us from experiencing the essential goodness that exists deep inside each of us. Excision of this negativity permits us to act on our “real” sparks of devotion/faith/ethical behavior/love.
In beautiful, poetic language the Torah describes that no matter how far away we are, literally and psychologically, we have the ability to return to God (i.e., do Tshuva). The initial stages of the Tshuva process are, in the words of Rav Kook (as explained by Nechama Leibowitz) purifying and refining as we move first toward God, then to the higher stage of onto God, being one with Him. This two stage process is seen in the subtlety of the text where initially the Torah’s words are “…And you return upto the Lord your God…” then later the terminology is”…If/when you return unto the Lord your God.”
The mechanics of Tshuva are straightforward. One must consider one’s past behavior; sincerely express remorse for his actions and verbalize his commitment to not behave or speak that way again. The ultimate test is one’s behavior when confronted with a repeat of a situation.
The elements of the Tshuva process are: Remembering; Reliving;Repenting and Regenerating.
The predominant theme of the month of Elul (when this Parsha is read) is Tshuva. The words ”to love God your God with all your heart” prompts the Lubavitch Rebbi to stress the theme of love during the month, particularly His deep-rooted love for the Jewish people (which we in turn reciprocate as best we can). It is good to feel love and be loved. The positive feelings stirred up in us facilitate our confidence and readiness to tackle the difficult, painful introspection that is the start of the Tshuva process of reconciling with both God and Man.