Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek! Be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened! We traditionally ready these words as we finish each book of the Torah. In fact, if one looks at the phrase in Hebrew, one notices we are pretty much saying the same word three times in repetition with some added in words on the last time. So why do we proclaim these words at the end of each of the five books of the Torah? Why do we do what we do?
The first and simplest explanation is: it is tradition! To be exact, Ashkenazi tradition. The Sephardic custom is to say “chazak u’barukh” at the end of every single individual Torah reading, which means “strength and blessing.”
The rabbis teach that no word, not even one single letter in the Torah is not without meaning. They even say that the white spaces between the letters are filled with meaning. We even have a saying that one can find Messiah in every word of the Torah. We may be stretching it a bit with that one, but its not far off from the truth. Look at this phrase:
If we are pretty much just saying the same word three times, we might want to know more about this word. “Chazak”, as with most Hebrew words has multiple meanings. What does this word mean if we crack it open? The word carries the meaning of the following in it:
- to be bound to
- to be attached to
- to support
- to preserve
- strong / strengthen
- to conquer / to hold fast
- to encourage
- to retain / to keep
- to prove helpful
- to uphold
This should speak volumes to us about this phrase. Each time we speak it we are stating that we will be bound to what we read in the Scriptures, that we will retain and keep the words we heard. We are stating that we will let the Holy Words strengthen us and preserve us and be helpful to us in our lives. Because of the words of the Torah, we will be courageous and be bound to them; they are a part of us.
This ritual reminds us that Torah is the bedrock of life. 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. We are stating that we are studying Scripture with purpose. To read the Bible without purpose is like getting into a boat that will just drift on the ocean. You don’t have any direction and you never know when or where you will end up.
However, there is still a deeper meaning. The phrase is based on Proverbs 3:18 in part:
“It is a tree of life to those who take hold of it, and those who support it are praiseworthy.”
It is also based on Joshua 1:6-9 (hence the three repetitions):
“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the Law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
If taking hold of Scripture and supporting it are so great, why do we need the strength? Why did Hashem say to Joshua three times in a row to be strong and courageous? Think about it. To take up HaShem’s way of living life is not easy. It is downright hard! It if full of blessing and great and wonderful things, however, on the other hand, it is hard, lonely and puts us at odds with the world and the people around us. It makes hard demands on us. It is completely and totally opposite to how the world around us lives and wants us to live. Everything around is is saying go left, but the Torah says to go right. This shows the wisdom of Yeshua in saying:
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” – Luke 9:23-25
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:12-14
The Talmud tells us that a life of obeying the Most High “weakens the strength of a person” (Sanhedrin 26b). So, in following Yeshua, being His disciples, obeying His Word…we need strengthening. We need courage. We need support. We need to attach ourselves to the Word.
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 (Matthew 12:36). Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!