D’var Torah for May 7, 2021
This week we have reached the conclusion of the book of Leviticus with the double portion of Behar-Bechukotai. Whenever we conclude a book of Torah it is tradition for the congregation to recite the following phrase, “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik” or “be strong, be strong, let us strengthen one another.” This custom, which is performed in Ashkenazic synagogues (in Sephardic communities, it is customary to recite, chazak u’baruch meaning be strong and blessed), the origins of this tradition are not really known. Perhaps it is related to the words Moses offers to Joshua near the end of the Torah, “Chazak ve’ematz“, “Be strong and courageous” (Deuteronomy 31:23).
Regardless of its origins, there is something profound in the phrase, “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik.” As Rabbi Joshua Davidson wrote for ReformJudaism.org, “The first part of the phrase uses the singular form; the individual should be strengthened. The second part uses the plural form, indicating two key outcomes of individual strength: not only the individual, but also the collective of which she or he is a part can be encouraged by the message and add its efforts to those of the individual.”1
I’ve been reflecting upon this notion especially in these times. Each day we need to get up and find the strength to get through the challenges, the fears, and the anxieties that can seem insurmountable and overwhelming. What is so amazing is in our resiliency, we have been able to do it. Yet to find this strength each and every day alone can be wearing and exhausting. How do we refill the well when it feels like there is nothing left to give?
It is not merely enough to be strong and courageous alone. We are creatures of community and engagement. Herein lies the key, not only can we be sources of strength for ourselves, but our connections with one another are how we can tap into that greater reserve. The Holy resides in our encounters with each other and seeing the Divine in each other’s faces. I truly believe that one way we can strengthen one another is through our virtual worship services (though the return to in-person services is around the corner). There we can see each other, even if it is not in person. There we can tap in to each other’s reserves, and there we can encounter God through each other. Or to put it more succinctly, how do we find the strength to keep going? We find it through our encounters with each other.
On this Shabbat where we recite the aforementioned phrase, may we continue to be strengthened together. I hope to ‘see’ you soon, I could use some of your strength.
Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik! Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff