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Chazak! Be Strong!

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!

Like we did today, we traditionally ready these words 5 times a year as we finish each book of the Torah. If you listen carefully to this phrase in Hebrew, you’ll notice that we are pretty much saying the same word “chazak” three times in repetition with some extra sounds before the last word. So, what is this word and why do we proclaim this phrase at the end of each of the five books?

Well the first and simplest explanation is, of course, it’s tradition! To be more exact though, it is Ashkenazi tradition. The Sephardic custom is to say “chazak u’barukh” at the end of every single Torah Aliyah, which means “strength and blessing.”

Now let’s look deeper into our phrase: Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek! One way to translate this is “Be strong, be strong and we shall be strengthened!”

“You” be strong. And “you” be strong. And “you” be strong. And together, as a congregation, as a community, and as a people, we will be strengthened.

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!

But that’s not all it means. This word, “Chazak,” as with most Hebrew words has multiple meanings and connotations. For example, it can mean:

  • to be bound to

  • to be attached to

  • to support

  • to preserve

  • to be strong / to strengthen

  • to be bold and courageous

  • to conquer or prevail / to hold fast

  • to encourage

  • to retain / to keep

  • to prove helpful

  • to uphold

Well that certainly expands what this phrase means in many ways, doesn’t it? Each time we speak it we are stating that we will be bound to what we’ve been reading in the Scriptures, that we will retain and keep the words we’ve heard. We proclaim our attachment to their message and that we will hold them close. We are stating that the Torah strengthens, preserves, and encourages us and is helpful in our lives. Because of the words of Torah, we will be courageous, and we will prevail; they are a part of us and we are a part of its on-going story.

This ritual of proclaiming “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!” reminds us that Torah is the bedrock for our lives. It is that tree of life for those who hold onto it. And every time we learn from the Scriptures, every time we read from the Bible we have the opportunity, the possibility of experiencing revelation from on High and His wisdom for our lives. As we read Torah we are learning the heart of HaShem so that we can see and connect with Him in the everyday of life.

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek! Is also based on the following lines from Y’hoshua (Joshua) in chapter 1 just after Moshe has died, HaShem says to Joshua:

"Just as I was with Moshe, so I will be with you. I will neither fail you nor abandon you. "Be strong, be bold; for you will cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers I would give them. Only be strong and very bold in taking care to follow all the Torah which Moshe my servant ordered you to follow; do not turn from it either to the right or to the left; then you will succeed wherever you go. Yes, keep this book of the Torah on your lips, and meditate on it day and night, so that you will take care to act according to everything written in it. Then your undertakings will prosper, and you will succeed. Haven't I ordered you, 'Be strong, be bold'? So don't be afraid or downhearted, because ADONAI your God is with you wherever you go."

I hear those words to Joshua when we declare “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!”

I hear them directed to me and to you.

That we should be strong and bold. That we should hold fast to Torah and not turn to the left or right. And that we will prosper because Adonai is Emanuel, G-d with us. But if taking hold of Torah is as great as I’ve described, why do we need strength? Why did HaShem say to Joshua three times in a row to be strong and be bold? He’s G-d! Shouldn’t once have been enough? But think about it. Has it ever really been easy being a Jew? Is it easy living as a minority in the diaspora? Is it easy being Torah observant here in modern America? Is it easy being a Messianic Jew? Is it easy explaining what that even means to others?

Taking up Torah and HaShem’s way of life is not easy. Anyone who has attempted to kasher their kitchen knows that. Certainly, it’s full of blessings and great and wonderful things, on the other hand, it can be hard, lonely and often puts us at odds with the world and the people around us. It makes demands on us. Derech HaShem (the way of G-d) is usually completely opposite to how the world around us wants to live. When everything in the culture around us is saying go left, the Torah says to go right. So, what are we to do?

We re-listen to those words spoken to Joshua. We take strength from Torah. And we listen to Yeshua when he says:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

“Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!” Be encouraged. Hold fast. And we will prevail.

And we listen to Yeshua when he says:

“Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets. Go in through the narrow gate; for the gate that leads to destruction is wide and the road broad, and many travel it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life and only a few find it.” – Matthew 7:12-14

“Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!” Be encouraged. Hold fast. And we will prevail.

The Talmud tells us that a life of obeying the Most High “weakens the strength of a person” (Sanhedrin 26b). So, in following Yeshua, in being His disciples and joining Him in the work of the Father, in obeying His Word…we need Chazak. We need strengthening. We need courage. We need support. We need to attach ourselves to Torah.

Pirke Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) teaches that at the end of our lives each of us will be required to give an accounting of our lives to HaShem (Avot 3:1). Even Yeshua teaches the same thing in Matthew (12:36) where he says, “Moreover, I tell you this: on the Day of Judgement people will have to give account for every careless word they have spoken.”

I am not fire and brimstone and I don’t quote this to scare anyone. I say it to remind us to be strong and bold for HaShem. We can be His partner in the collective and unfolding drama of creation or we can be a speedbump along the road. G-d wants to work with us. That’s why we’re here. Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “The souls of men are candles of the Lord, lit on the cosmic way, … and every soul is indispensable to Him.” We are needed by G-d, as His partners in this world. And this reminds me of a saying by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, (and I love this one!)

“The day you were born is the day G-d decided that the world could not exist without you.” … Isn’t that awesome?

“The day you were born is the day G-d decided that the world could not exist without you.”

I take both these sayings to mean that no matter how we’re feeling about ourselves and about our lives, and about what we’ve done up until this moment, our story isn’t finished, and we are important. What we do with G-d’s creation, with this world, and with our time upon it – that is important. Our lives have meaning in the interactions of everyday living, in community, and in concert with HaShem because this time that we have on earth was gifted to us with expectations. Expectations that we will, “…not spend our life hunting for individual trivial satisfactions while G-d is waiting.”

So be strong and be bold for HaShem. Hold fast to Torah for it is our roadmap and Yeshua is our Sherpa, our guide, and our redeemer.

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!

Shabbat Shalom!

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