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Vayechi 5784 - Strength in Numbers

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This morning we did something that is done 5 times each year.  We finished a Sefer of the Torah.  And we know, the minhag is, as quoted by many achronim, that when we finish a sefer the community says “Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik”  “Be strong, Be strong, and be strengthened!”


This morning I would like to explore with you WHY we have such a minhag.  What is this phrase all about, and why is it said upon the completion of a book of the Torah?  And I want to share THREE PERSPECTIVES with you this morning:


This idea emanates from a gemara in Brachos 32b:


תנו רבנן, ארבעה צריכין חזוק ואלו הן: תורה, ומעשים טובים, תפילה ודרך ארץ.


There are 4 things that need CHIZUK:  Torah, Tefillah, Good Deeds, Derech Eretz (profession).


תפלה מנין - שנאמר קוה אל ה' חזק ויאמץ לבך וקוה אל ה'; 

How do we know Tefillah needs chizuk?  Because the pasuk in Tehillim says, “Call out to Hashem, strengthen your heart, and then call out to Hashem again.


Rashi there explains:

קוה - והתחזק, ולא תמשוך ידך, אלא חזור וקוה.

Daven, then strengthen yourself, DON’T LET GO, rather daven again.

Says Rav Soloveitchik, you see from here that the idea of CHIZUK means that even though you have already finished something, a section of learning, a tefillah, you should go back and do it again.


And with this, he writes, we can explain a number of minhagim we have:

1)   Whenever some makes a siyum, the minhag is to begin the next masechta right at the siyum!

2)   On the same Shabbos when we finish a sefer of the Torah, we begin the next sefer at Mincha.  On Simchas Torah, we finish V’Zos HaBracha and immediately begin Breishis.

3)   And this is also the reason behind the minhag to recite the tefillah of Adon Olam at the END of davening.  Why?  Because really the tefillah of Adon Olam is supposed to be said at the beginning of davening, and so, as we complete tefillah for the morning, we “BEGIN AGAIN” with Adon Olam.  As if to say, that even though we finished, we’re ready to start again because tefillah always needs more chizuk.


So, when we approach the end of a sefer of the Torah, we say “Chazak V’Chazak V’Nischazeik” to remind ourselves that our journey through Torah is not finished.  We are only just beginning.  So, we have to give ourselves the chizuk to start again.


But I want to share with you a different approach that I saw in a Sefer called ‘Divrei Tova’, authored by Rabbi Avraham Taub:


He points out that there is a fourth item on the list of things that need chizuk and are often overlooked:  Derech Eretz.


What is Derech Eretz?  Rashi explains it means one’s profession:


אם אומן הוא - לאומנתו, אם סוחר הוא - לסחורתו, אם איש מלחמה הוא - למלחמתו.

If he’s a professional, a salesman, or a CHAYAL, a SOLDIER.  Each of them need CONSISTENT CHIZUK.  And this comes from a different source:


In Shmuel II, when Yoav, David HaMelech’s General is going out to war against a collection of multiple nations, approaching from multiple fronts.  And the TANACH writes:

שמואל ב פרק י

(ט) וַיַּרְא יוֹאָב כִּי הָיְתָה אֵלָיו פְּנֵי הַמִּלְחָמָה מִפָּנִים וּמֵאָחוֹר וַיִּבְחַר מִכֹּל בְּחוּרֵי בישראל יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיַּעֲרֹךְ לִקְרַאת אֲרָם:

Yoav saw that that the war front was approaching them from multiple fronts, and he called upon all of young men from Am Yisrael, and they prepared to fight Aram.


And as he sets up the plan, he tells those who are fighting with him:


(יב) חֲזַק וְנִתְחַזַּק בְּעַד עַמֵּנוּ וּבְעַד עָרֵי אֱלֹקֵינוּ וַיקֹוָק יַעֲשֶׂה הַטּוֹב בְּעֵינָיו:

Chazak, Strengthen yourselves, and also Nitchazeik, we should also be strengthened on behalf of our nation, the cities of Hashem, and Hashem will do what is good in His EYES.


Explains Rav Taub, that what Yoav was saying to his soldiers was, of course, we need to strengthen ourselves over and over.  War is such  a difficult, draining exercise, and we have to everything at the same time. But our real chizuk that we will receive is when we do so on behalf of Am Yisrael, on behalf of Eretz Yisrael, knowing that WHATEVER HASHEM DECIDES HE WILL DO.


We have to strengthen ourselves practically in war, but the real strength comes when we know that ultimately we place our faith in HKBH, NOT that all will be fine - there is so much pain and loss and suffering -  but that whatever happens is part of His plan, and will lead to the ULTIMATE GOOD.


This has been a message we have heard from so many soldiers for months now.  That they are doing their part, but they need us to daven for them, and that all of us need to remember that ultimately it isn’t the strength of our tanks, our aircraft, the iron dome, or any government officials that will determine the outcome of this war.  It is the Ribbono Shel Olam.


Answer #2 as to why we say Chazak, Chazak V’Nitchazeik is to remind ourselves every time we accomplish something meaningful in our Avodas Hashem, like the completion of a Sefer of the Torah, that when we put in our efforts we recognize it is ultimately HKBH who helps us find that success.


And I want to share with you one more explanation as well:


The language of the pasuk is Chazak V’Nitchazeik, which grammatically is translated as be strong, and we will be strengthened together.  Chazak is the ACTIVE language and Nitchazeik is the REFLEXIVE, something that happens to us as a result.


Yoav is telling his troops that if they show strength, if each of them is willing to find the strength within themselves to push forward, that effort will multiply and reinforce itself within the group. 


The more CHAZAK, the more we each strengthen ourselves, we don’t LOSE OUR STRENGTH, we don’t become WEAKER!  Rather, V’NITCHAZEIK, WE ALL BECOME STRONGER!


And I would like to suggest that this is another reason we say Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazeik when we finish a sefer of the Torah.  We declare out loud, Chazak Chazak, the more we continue to push forward in our dedication to a life of Torah, no matter the pressures from the outside world and horrors that at times our people face, V’NITCHAZEIK, we are sewing the seeds of even greater strength for all of us an AM, as a Nation.


One of my friends, who is also a community rabbi, told me he was meeting with a certain Talmid Chacham, and the rav asked him how things have been going.  My friend responded that things are going well, but he is just so tired.  And this rav, who is not a young person and is constantly running around and doing for others, quoted him a pasuk in Yeshayahu (40:31):


וְקוֹיֵ ה' יַחֲלִיפוּ כֹחַ יַעֲלוּ אֵבֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִים יָרוּצוּ וְלֹא יִיגָעוּ יֵלְכוּ וְלֹא יִיעָפוּ


Those whose faith is in Hashem will have renewed strength.  They will grow wings like Eagles, they will run and not grow tired, they will walk and not grow weary. 


When we strengthen ourselves to do the things we know we can do on behalf of Am Yisrael, when we are pushing ourselves l’shem shamayim, not only will we not lose strength, we will be reinvigorated with the koach to do more.


This Chazak is a challenging one.  The war began as we began sefer Breishis.  Today we finished the sefer, but the war is far from over, and we need more chizuk.


It’s hard to find the strength to keep doing the things we know we need to do on behalf of Am Yisrael.  The news each day of more chayalim losing their lives, hostages still not released, and an uncertain destination in terms of the war can cause us to feel depressed and down.  And yet,  Yoav reminds us:


(יב) חֲזַק וְנִתְחַזַּק בְּעַד עַמֵּנוּ וּבְעַד עָרֵי אֱלֹקֵינוּ וַיקֹוָק יַעֲשֶׂה הַטּוֹב בְּעֵינָיו:


When we can find the strength to do what we can on behalf of our Am, on behalf of the cities of HKBH, to give HKBH more reasons to do that which is GOOD in His eyes, we don’t just give ourselves strength, but NITCHAZEIK, we ALL feel that strength together.


At the end of the story in Shmuel II, we are told that Yoav and the young men he had gathered to fight the enemy approach the front lines,


(יג) וַיִּגַּשׁ יוֹאָב וְהָעָם אֲשֶׁר עִמּוֹ לַמִּלְחָמָה בַּאֲרָם וַיָּנֻסוּ מִפָּנָיו:

and when they see this strong, unified Jewish army, they FLEE.


So, yes, there are at least 3 reasons for saying Chazak Chazak V’Nischazeik:

1)   To remind us that no matter how much we have accomplished in our Avodas Hashem, there is always more we can accomplish.


2)   To remind us that even as we put in our own efforts, our greatest chizuk is in knowing that HKBH has some kind of plan for us.


3)   To remind us that when we are willing to strengthen ourselves as individuals, we end up strengthening each other, and that strength only grows and gives us more energy.


And, of course, they can all be true.  May we find that strength within ourselves to keep pushing forward, to keep giving strength to ourselves and to others, and may that strength result in V’Nishchazeik, a community and an Am that remains stronger than ever.


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