This week we will be concluding the book of Exodus with Parashat Pekudei. Whenever we conclude a book of Torah it is tradition for the congregation to rise and exclaim the following phrase, “chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek.” The translation for this phrase is “be strong, be strong, and let us summon up our strength.” The origins of this phrase come from the time when Joab, King David’s general exclaimed before battle, “Be strong and let us summon up our strength chazak v’nitchazek for the sake of our people and the towns of our God.”1
This phrase is most commonly found in Ashkenazic communities with Sephardic communities traditionally reciting “Hazak u’varuch!, be strong and be blessed!”
As Jeffrey H. Tigay notes in the Etz Chayim Torah Commentary, “Recitation of this phrase on completing a book of the Torah reflects the transformation of an exhortation to physical, military prowess into a wish for spiritual strength… Because reading the Torah is a form of learning, some interpret this exclamation as encouragement to persist in learning the Torah. Others understand it as encouraging and wishing strength for the Torah reader because serious learning of the Torah – including accurately preparing the public reading with all of its vocalization, punctuation, and cantillation – can be exhausting …”2
Regardless of the specific phrase or intention, it is nonetheless interesting to note the connection between military fortitude and spiritual strength. As we continue to watch with horror, events unfolding in a land so many of our ancestors called home, we continue to pray for the strength of those who resist as well as for the calls for peace to be heard and acted upon.
At the end of Pekudei, we learn that the work on the Mishkan, the Tabnernacle was completed. Here the Torah teaches, “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting (Ohel Moed), because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle.” 3 And what enabled God’s presence to dwell among the Israelites we wonder? The answer, peace.
On this Shabbat may we and all humanity be inspired to look to find more peaceful resolutions to our conflicts, so that God may dwell among us.
In the meantime, if you wish to support the Jewish communities in Ukraine, we encourage you to donate through the World Union for Progressive Judaism https://wupj.org/give/ukraine/
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff
1 2 Samuel 10:12
2 Lieber, David L., Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary, JPS, 1999, pg. 1504
3 Exodus 40:35