Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, p. 298ff;
Vol. XXIX, p. 173ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 5ff;
Sichos In English, Vol. 51, p. 161ff.

To Luxuriate in Torah Study

Our Rabbis speak of גן (53) weekly Torah readings.1 The Hebrew word גן means “garden.” Like a garden which affords material pleasure and relaxation, the Torah provides us with spiritual satisfaction.

To develop the analogy further: A home provides shelter, and a field enables a person to produce the requirements for life. A garden, by contrast, does not have such a practical purpose. Instead, it is a place for repose and enjoyment.

Similarly, a person’s connection with the Torah is not merely required for his spiritual survival; it should serve as a source of inspiration and vitality that endows his life with meaning and satisfaction.

A Single Entity, At Times Divided

There is, however, a basic difficulty with the above concepts: A count of the weekly Torah readings produces a sum of 54, not 53.

One of the explanations offered for this is that the parshiyos Nitzavim and Vayeilech are counted as a single reading, thus reducing the sum to 53. We find a hint of this in the allusion cited2 to discern when Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read together, and when they are read on separate weeks.

That allusion is taken from a phrase in the Book of Daniel :3 (פתבג המלך) pasbag hamelech. This phrase is interpreted to mean that when hamelech Rosh HaShanah, the day on which we crown G‑d as King of the Universe,4 begins on bag, i.e., Monday or Tuesday, the second or third day of the week, pas, a division is made, and Nitzavim and Vayeilech are read separately. If Rosh HaShanah begins on other days, i.e., Thursday or Shabbos, the two are read together.

Pas, making a division, implies the acknowledgment of the existence of a single entity, the combined reading Nitzavim-Vayeilech. In certain years, however, this one reading is divided into two portions.5

Fusing Opposites

But the conception of Nitzavim and Vayeilech as a single reading is problematic, for the two names appear to have opposite connotations. Nitzavim means “standing,” and implies the adoption of a firm and unswayable position of strength.6 Vayeilech, meaning “and he went,” by contrast, points to the need to “go from strength to strength”7 in our Divine service.

It can be explained, however, that this fusion of opposites reflects the foundation of our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. For the Torah and its mitzvos are channels of communication between a never-changing G‑d and ever-changing mortals.

As such, there are certain elements of our Divine service which are unchanging (Nitzavim), reflecting the Torah’s source. And there are other elements which teach man to use the potential for change in a positive manner (Vayeilech).

To emphasize the fact that these thrusts are complementary, Nitzavim and Vayeilech are usually combined as a single reading. But in some years, each of the concepts is underscored by having a separate Torah reading devoted to it.

Reading Vayeilech separately thus highlights the need for ongoing growth. This concept is reflected in the narrative which begins the reading. The subject of the verb Vayeilech is Moshe. Although Moshe Rabbeinu was 120 years old,8 and had attained the highest peaks of Divine understanding, he was not prepared to “rest on his laurels.” Instead, he understood the imperative for continued progress, and even on the last day of his life strove to conquer new horizons.

Progressing In Teshuvah

Whenever Vayeilech is read separately, it is read on Shabbos Shuvah, the Shabbos of Repentance. There is a thematic connection between the two, for in a full sense, Vayeilech implies not merely gradual progress, but radical change. Just as “going” means changing one’s place, its spiritual parallel involves rising to a previously inconceivable level of Divine service.

In a like vein, teshuvah involves leaving one’s previous spiritual level and beginning a new phase of Divine service. For teshuvah involves a firm decision to abandon one’s previous mode of conduct,9 and on a deeper level, to remake one’s personality. As the Rambam explains,10 a baal teshuvah should feel that: “I am another person; I am not the same individual who performed these deeds.”

Never-Ending Progress

When speaking about the need for constant progress, the verse states: “They shall go from strength to strength, and appear before G‑d in Zion,” implying that the ultimate goal of our spiritual progress should be the Redemption, when we will again appear before G‑d in Zion.

Teshuvah also shares a connection to the Redemption. As our Sages taught:11 “The Torah promised that Israel will turn [to G‑d] in teshuvah towards the end of her Exile, and she will be redeemed immediately.”

It must, however, be emphasized that the Era of the Redemption will not involve a cessation of activity, for “the righteous have no rest, neither in this era, nor in the World to Come.”12 We will continue to progress spiritually. The difference is that the internal and external tension which presently accompanies spiritual growth will cease, and our advances will be characterized by harmony and peace.13