Be Strong, Be Strong   

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week we read Parshiot Vayakhel and Pekudei and thus complete the second Book of the Torah, Shemot. At the conclusion of each of the Five Books of the Torah it is a custom for the congregation to arise and proclaim “Chazak, Chazak Venischazeik (Be Strong, Be Strong and let us be strengthened).”  This statement is then repeated by the Reader.  The questions arise, what is the reason for this recitation, why is “Be Strong” repeated and what is the meaning of “and let us be strengthened?”

The Talmud in Brachot states, “Four things need chizuk (strengthening): Torah, good deeds, prayer and derech eretz (courteous behavior).”  The meaning of this is that certain activities are contrary to our natural disposition and we therefore become lazy and perfunctory in their performance.  There is nothing in Judaism which is more consequential to religious perfection than the study of Torah.  Everything hinges upon diligence in this area.  The Rabbis say, “An ignoramus cannot be truly pious.”  We must be conscientious in the pursuit of knowledge and expansion of our intellectual horizons.  The public reading of the Torah on Shabbat is for the sake of engaging the entire community in a collective act of Talmud Torah.  The need for chizuk can be seen in the resistance that many congregants implicitly express by their failure to observe this mitzvah properly.  Halacha prohibits any talking or distraction during the Torah reading.  Yet in many synagogues it is a great challenge to keep the noise level down so that the recitation can be heard.

Judaism maintains that here is no greater joy than intense study of Torah.  However, it is a unique type of experience which does not come naturally.  It requires a great deal of intensive effort over a long period of time.  Love of Torah is an acquired taste.  No one becomes a Torah scholar without experiencing a great deal of frustration, and disappointment along the way.  Mental effort, objective analysis and honesty in acknowledging one’s mistakes are some of the virtues that authentic Torah scholarship requires.

This explains why Torah is one of the things that require chizuk.  One must be strong to not surrender to laziness and to forego the instant gratification that serious study demands.  This lesson is incorporated into the public reading of the Torah.  When we conclude a unit of study i.e. a Book, we have a natural sense of accomplishment.  This is the appropriate moment to express the idea that Torah learning requires strength.  The congregation exhorts the Reader (who in this context fulfills the role of teacher) to be strong i.e.. we recognize your great efforts in mastering Torah and urge you to continue.  We say “Be Strong” twice.  The reason, in my opinion, is that we study for the sake of action.  One needs to make the effort to base his behavior on the ideals he has learned. Thus, we say “Be strong” in your study and be equally strong in your effort to live according to the wisdom of Torah.  We then say, “Venischazeik,” let us be strengthened.  The Torah scholar cannot keep his knowledge to himself.  He must be a source of wisdom and inspiration for the entire community.  We are praying that he will be strong and successful and that as a result we will partake of that strength and elevate our lives by the proper study and practice of Torah.

Shabbat Shalom