In an ideal world we would always be moving forward, aspiring to ever higher goals. We would never rest, because we would feel that every step opens up new vistas of opportunity. The direction would always be "up".
In fact, our lives are more complicated than that. There are many downs before the ups, and we often have to spend time and effort consolidating our position. Only when we have built some sort of firm structure as a base are we able to go forward and upwards with a measure of confidence. Nonetheless, even when we are focusing on establishing this firm structure, we are also conscious that our real direction is movement forwards and upwards.
The double parshah we read this week provides an insight into this process, by virtue of the name of each parshah. In Chassidic thinking, a name is very significant. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the name of any thing whatsoever is the key to its spiritual nature. So, clearly, the name of a parshah in the Torah, which itself is spiritual, must be of particular significance.
The first parshah is called Mattot, the plural of matteh, meaning a "staff". This word is used for the Tribes of Israel. The parshah begins with the words "And Moses spoke to the heads of the Tribes." The word for "Tribes" is Mattot, "staves". The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that this term "staff", meaning a firm stick, cut from the tree, when applied to the Jewish people, carries a number of interesting overtones.
Firstly, the staff has been cut from the tree. The Jewish people is composed of exalted souls which, before they are born into this world, emerge from a spiritual "Tree", an expression of Divine radiance on its highest level. Then, however, the individual soul enters this world, in a physical body. In a sense, it has been cut from the Tree, torn away from its close contact with the Divine. It is now part of the physical world.
Further, in the physical world the soul confronts many challenges. In order to face these, it has to become firm and strong, like a staff. It is interesting that in doing so the soul actually draws on its own spiritual essence, its deepest level of "strength". By entering this world the soul reaches a higher level of spirituality than it had while in the spiritual realms before it descended into this world.
At the same time this leads to the name of the second parshah: Mas’ei. This means "journeys", because the second parshah lists the stages of the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Holy Land. Applied to the soul, the theme of "journeys" means that the soul is moving forward and is achieving ever new spiritual heights.
These two aspects of the soul combine: the firmness of facing the challenges in this world, and the spiritual journeys forward and upward. In fact, the Rebbe points out, the attempt to be "firm" is itself a "journey". When we stand up to the negative pressures around us, holding our own, we are really moving forward and discovering new dimensions.
The combination of firmness and movement applies to all aspects of our lives: running a business, writing a book. And, in particular, making access to our own personal spiritual dimension. Through the right blend of firmness and movement we and the entire Jewish people will reach the Promised Land.