“Tatti,” said Shternie to her father on the way home from shul. “Last week, our Tzivos HaShem club met on Thursday, which was Chai Elul. We spoke about the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe, and our counselor asked us a riddle. I got ten points for giving the answer, but now I’m not sure that I got it right.”

“What was the riddle?” Shternie’s father asked curiously.

“Our counselor said: ‘Torah, Torah, Tanya, Tanya — how does your garden grow?’

“At first, nobody could figure it out. I thought hard about the word garden and suddenly I got it. In Hebrew, garden is ‘gan’ which is spelled גן. That equals 53. There are 53 parshiyos in the Torah and 53 chapters in the Tanya.

“Very good thinking,” complimented her father. “But why do you think you got it wrong?”

“Well, while I was waiting for you to finish talking to Rabbi Stern, just for fun, I sat down with a chumash and counted the parshiyos, and there were 54. But I remember that my teacher said there are ‘גן’ — 53.

“Your teacher was right,” explained Shternie’s father. “The Zohar speaks about 53 parshiyos. But you’re right in counting 54.”

Shternie was baffled. “How can we both be right?”

“You see, our Rabbis teach us that parshiyos Nitzavim and Vayeilech are really one parshah which occasionally we divide. We count the two as one, and that makes 53 parshiyos. But since they are occasionally separated, that can add up to 54.”

“Tatti, there are other parshiyos that are also sometimes combined and sometimes separate, but we always count them separately, right?”

“Yes,” replied her father. “It is only Nitzavim and Vayeilech that our Rabbis say we should count as one. We even have a special sign telling us when they are read separately. And since you are so good at riddles, try to figure this one out. The clue is a phrase in Sefer Daniel: פת בג המלך. I’ll give you some hints. המלך is the day we declare HaShem as King. בג is day ב' and day ג' and פת means to slice.”

Shternie thought hard. “I get it! When ‘המלך,’ which is Rosh HaShanah, falls on ‘בג’ Monday and Tuesday, then ‘פת’ — we ‘slice’ the parshiyos Nitzavim and Vayeilech and read them separately.”

“Bravo!” exclaimed her father, patting her proudly on the head. “And reading Vayeilech separately teaches us an important lesson. Nitzavim means to stand firm. Vayeilech means to go. A Jew has to do both. We need to know how to stand firmly for our Torah ideals, yet we always need to be going — moving ahead. Reading Vayeilech separately teaches us that it’s time to put our energy into moving forward.”

(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIX, p. 173ff, 298ff)