Tending To Our Spiritual Lives
We are all born with a natural yearning to grow, expand our horizons and discover. We are also fixed with the seemingly opposite need to settle into a secure life upon firm ground.
The healthy and appropriate balance must then be to combine the two, by always seeking to move forward and progress while standing firmly upon everything that has been gained so far. A drive to change while placing an effort to hold secure and firm ground.
Parshat Nitzavim/Vayelekh: Deuteronomy
29:9-31:30; Isaiah 61:10-63:9.
This phenomenon is hinted to in the meaning of the names of this week’s combined Torah portions Nitzavim-Vayelech. The very titles themselves portray the prime underlying messages held in the Torah portions.
Nitzavim is literally translated as “standing firm,” while Vayelech means “and he went.” These two names signify the divergent qualities mentioned above of movement and stillness. Yet they are read together (on the same Shabbat), thereby signifying the need to simultaneously incorporate both.
While this double-themed message can be applied to many aspects of human behavior, it is also very relevant to the spiritual life of every single Jew. Let us apply this to the three pillars upon which the world stands (Ethics of Our Fathers 1:2): (1) the study of Torah, (2) the service of God — prayer, (3) acts of lovingkindness.
- Torah study — Our daily service references “Grant us our portion in your Torah.” We are entrusted with the mission of learning innovatively and contributing to Torah depth in our own personal and unique way. However, the discoveries must be predicated upon the principles that our talmudic sages have inherited from Sinai. So, our Torah is ever-growing within the steady parameters of tradition.
- The service of God — prayer is dubbed “the service of the heart.” We ought to use the time of prayer to focus on enhancing our personal and emotional relationship with God. However, the text of our prayers is, nevertheless, confined to the liturgy which the Jewish people have been using for generations. So our prayers are packaged in the methodical formula of our siddur, while packing the potential for endless dynamic depth and connection.
- Acts of lovingkindness — Like all other mitzvot —commandments, there are rigid guidelines for how they should be fulfilled. However, depending on our feeling and connection to a mitzvah, the passion we can infuse in its fulfillment is boundless, and its enhancement, therefore, is endless. This again spells limitless personal growth and flavor within the Divine systematic structure.
We read this Torah portion days before the entrance of the new year, highlighting the preparation for the High Holidays and renewed awareness of the sovereignty of God. It is a time for fresh resolutions. Most importantly, we should strengthen and enhance our bond with God on both fronts of our “fixed” and “dynamic” spirituality.
Menachem Mendel Polter is a rabbi at the Woodward Avenue Shul in Royal Oak.
In your personal life, are you the one who leans toward change and “breaking out of the shell?” Or do you lean toward standing on very secure, firm ground and consistency? What would you resolve to add to your “fixed” and “dynamic” spiritual life? What is the primary element of the High Holidays?