Chazak, Chazak, V'Nitchazek!

Thursday, 28 December, 2023 - 11:22 pm

The prevalent Jewish custom is that upon finishing one of the five books of the Torah, the entire congregation declares, “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek - Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened.”

The thrice repeated theme implies a sense of permanence. In Judaism something that is done three times becomes the accepted norm. Kohelet teaches (4:12) “A threefold cord is not easily broken.” This is the obvious explanation for the triple expression of “Chazak – be strong.”

However, nothing in Judaism is random. I would like to explore this a little deeper and apply what we discover, to the current situation facing Jewish people in Israel and around the world.

There are two sources of origin for this expression. One from Deuteronomy/Joshua where G-d tells Joshua (through Moses and then directly) “Chazak V’ematz – be strong and resolute.” The second is from Samuel II (10:12) where the two generals of King David’s army say to one another, “Chazak V’nitchazek – be strong and let us be strengthened.”

The first Chazak is to be strong with regards to Torah. This is an instruction to strengthen our Judaism via the study of Torah and observance of Mitzvot.

The second Chazak is in the context of war. Israel was attacked by the armies of Amon and Aram. Yoav the military commander of David’s armies, says to his brother, Avishai, a fellow general and warrior, “Let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our G-d.”

Jewish people today are facing a challenge. The war in Israel has brought to the fore that our very identities as Jews are under threat. We must respond on two interdependent fronts. Chazak! We must be strong and proud as Jews. We must not cower or demonstrate weakness about our Jewishness. How do we successfully accomplish this? By engaging in the second Chazak! We are strong in our Judaism. We increase our Torah and Mitzvot. We seek out and implement avenues of Jewish connectivity. We are more engaged in our Jewish communities. We are more visible about our Jewish practices and observances.

Then there is “V’nitchazek – Let us be strengthened.” At any given time, I may need to be strengthened by you or you may need to draw strength from me. When one of us is feeling vulnerable, someone else must be their source of strength. We must be there for each other.

The secret of our people’s strength and vitality is the Torah which connects us to Hashem. Thus, when we complete a book in the Torah, we draw strength from that completion. The triple declaration of Chazak affirms this and reminds us from whence we derive our power.

So, my dear fellow Jews, I say to you, and you say to me: Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek! Indeed, let us draw strength from the Torah to be resolute in our Jewishness and our Judaism. A strength that is more powerful than any foe we may face, and a vitality that enables us to overcome any threat and vulnerability we experience.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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