We tend to think that the names of the weekly parshiot have little intrinsic meaning; they are just taken from the opening word or two of the parsha . Thus Bresheet being the first word of the Bible becomes the name for both the first book and the weekly parsha. Nonetheless closer examination of the names of the parshiot suggest that it might not be quite that simple. For example two of the parshiot in sefer breisheet begin eleh toldot Noach and Eleh toldot Yitzchak (these are the generations of Noach and Isaac). Yet the first parsha is known as Noach whereas the second one is referred to as Toldot. It could just as easily have been the reverse; we would first read parshat Toldot (a.k.a. Noach) followed a few weeks later by parshat Yitzchak (strange as that may sound).
Similarly parshat Yitro, korach and balak could just as easily be named Vayishma (and Yitro heard) vayikach (and Korach took) and vaya'ar (and Balak saw) being as they are the first words in their respective parshiot . Those verbs would fit in nicely with such parshiot as vayetze (and Yaakov left), Vayishlach (and Yaakov sent) vayeshev (and Yaakov sat).
This week's (second) parsha which begins vayelech Moshe (and Moshe went) is known as vayelech, not Moshe. Would it not have been fitting to name one parsha after Moshe Rabbeinu? While in all of the above parshiot it is either the first or second word which is chosen, there does seem to be most interesting pattern. Those parhsiot in which the subject is either a non Jew (Noach, Balak, Yitro) or people unworthy of emulation (korach) it is the name that is used. Those parshiot that refer to our Jewish role models, be they Yitzchak, Yaakov or Moshe the parshiot take the name of the word preceding the name (vayishlach yaakov, toldot yitzchak, vayelech Moshe). Perhaps we have a lesson in humility. For the righteous it is not the name that counts but rather one's actions. As Rashi in another context notes "the primary legacy of the righteous are their good deeds".
The names of this week's double parsha is interesting from another perspective. The titles Nitzavim and Vayelech are actually contradictory. In parshat Nitzavim Moshe address the people who are all "standing" before him. The word nitzav actually connotes being anchored in one place, listening attentively to the words of their leader. This is the exact opposite of the opening of the second parsha, Vayelech , which details Moshe's moving around from place to place. In other words this week we will read about standing still and moving about.
I do not believe this is a mere coincidence but rather is reflective of the themes of the individual parshiot . In Parshat Nitzavim Moshe reiterates that the Sinaitic covenant was meant for all generations and warns of the dire consequences that will befall the Jews if they abandon the path of Torah. Moshe then offers words of comfort promising that one day the Jewish people will do complete Teshuvah allowing us to fulfil our historic mission. Faith in the ultimate righteousness of the Jewish people is part and parcel of the belief system accepted at Sinai. This is a most serious message; one in which we must stand anchored in one spot to properly absorb.
Serious messages, if they are to have any meaning, must lead to action. In Vayelech Moshe passes the torch of leadership to Yehoshua exhorting all to be strong and brave under his successor. The last two mitzvoth of the Torah, the gathering together of the entire Jewish people to hear the king read the Torah every seven years, and the command to personally commission the writing of a sefer Torah round out the parsha . Leadership, community and personal growth require action not talk.
A Jew has to know when to stand still and listen and when to be pro-active and on the move. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are Nitzavim, spending many hours in shul, contemplating ways to learn and grow from our mistakes. Immediately thereafter follows Sukkot , the festival representing the many different types of Jews. We move around the bimah , we dance and we leave the comfort of our homes. We are on the move. Most years Nitzavim and Vayelech are read together as we both stand still and move forward. If we manage this tension successfully then we can look forward to v'Zot haBracha, the blessings of Torah. Shabbat Shalom!
Postscript: There are of course 2 other parshiot referred to by their name, Pinchas and Chayeh Sara which do not seem to fit this model. Regarding parshat Pinchas perhaps here too our tradition is giving us a subtle hint that while in Pinchas's unique circumstances his zealotry was warranted, it must not be a model for us. Regarding Chaye Sarah I am at a loss to explain why, based on my theory above, that our first matriarch has a parsha named for her. One could suggest that we do not call it Sarah but chayeh sarah reflecting the rabbinic teaching that the legacy of the righteous endures after their physical demise. I welcome other possible suggestions.