AIMeM would like to thank Samantha Azizo for filling in this week
In this week's Parasha, V'Etchanan, we come across two of the most widely known concepts in Judaism, the Ten Commandments, and the Shema. Of course one can say that this Parasha is filled with insight and depth into the basic tenants of our lives as Jews, however, as important as these concepts may be, it is imperative to realize that in truth, every passuk in this week's Parasha carries depth, insight, and an important message. Having said that, zeroing in on one seemingly insignificant pasuk teaches us an essential lesson.
In perek 3 pasuk 29, the Torah says "וַנֵּשֶׁב בַּגָּיְא מוּל בֵּית פְּעוֹר"- "and we settled in the valley, opposite Beit Peor". At first glance the passuk seems to be simply retelling the history of Bnei Yisrael and their travels in the desert for 40 years. Yet, by breaking down the passuk one can propose a deeper explanation.
The first word "וַנֵּשֶׁב", means to sit or settle, and the next word "בַּגָּיְא" means valley, as translated above. It is from these words that one can derive the message. In Judaism, a person can never "sit" or "settle" on the level that he or she is currently on. Doing so will lead us to a "valley", which is defined as a low place. Being a Jew and striving to create a meaningful life and relationship with Hashem requires constant movement towards growth and ascent. Otherwise, as often seen, a person will tumble right down into a lower level.
To further establish this concept one can take a look at the end of the passuk. It ends, "מוּל בֵּית פְּעוֹר"- meaning that Bnei Yisrael settled near this place. Beit Peor represents the idol known as Baal Peor, and references an incident when Bnei Yisrael succumbed to the enticements of Moav and worshipped this idol. This is meant to reinforce the above idea that if we settle on the level we are on, and we do not attempt to reach a higher level, not only will we be stuck in a valley, but we will likely fall into the most grievous of sins, such as avoda zara.
There is a commonly used analogy to portray the above lesson involving a downward escalator. If a person gets on a downward escalator but wants to climb upwards and remain on the top, one cannot simply stop on a step. Stopping will pull a person downward until he or she reaches the bottom, exactly where they do not want to be. So too in the life of a Jew; a Jew must persistently climb upwards towards the "top of the escalator". Stopping on this incline will only result in a decline, which will ultimately lead to falling back to the lowest point.
The same idea can be seen with the configuration of the Mizbeach (altar). In Shemot 20:23, Hashem tells Moshe that the Mizbeach should NOT have steps, but a ramp leading up to it. The simple p'shat explanation of this commandment is for the sake of preserving modesty within the nation to the highest degree. However, the deeper understanding of drash tells us that the ramp represents a constant need to go forwards. Gravity will pull a person down if he or she stops in the middle of a ramp. In other words, stopping one's spiritual growth is not an option!
It is now clear that this seemingly minor passuk carries a timeless lesson for all of us. Being Jewish means we are always reaching for something more, always trying to climb higher in every aspect of our spiritual health. Of course one should note that rushing one's growth process can be dangerous, but stopping and settling on the level we are currently on is just as bad. Time and time again our nation has never settled for less which has truly allowed us to persevere throughout the ages.
Samantha Azizo is originally from Queens, NY. She studied for three years in Baer Miriam Seminary in Har Nof. She is currently working on a degree in Business Writing. She is a first-time contributor to AIMeM.
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