Tag Archives: strength

Vayechi: Being Strong Until the End

Lion of JudahThe scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the lawgiver from his descendants, until the Moshiach comes . . .

Genesis 49:10

Every soul possesses a spark of the soul of Moshiach

—Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

After the passing of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch in 1772, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Horodok led a group of chassidim to settle in the Holy Land.

One day, a somewhat deluded individual climbed the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and sounded a shofar. Soon the rumor spread that Moshiach had arrived, setting off a great commotion in the street. Rabbi Mendel went to his window and sniffed the air. “No,” he said, “unfortunately, the redeemer has not yet arrived. On that day, ‘the world shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea,’ and ‘all flesh will perceive’ (Isaiah 11:9 and 40:5) the reality of the Creator. I do not sense the divine truth that will permeate the world in the era of Moshiach.”

Said the renowned mashpia, Rabbi Grunem Estherman: “Why did Rabbi Mendel need to go to the window to sniff for the presence of Moshiach? Because the all-pervading truth of G‑d was already a tangible reality within the walls of Rabbi Mendel’s room.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Moshiach in the Air”

I know this commentary seems rather fanciful and not particularly realistic (can you smell Moshiach in the air?), but as I read it, I was reminded of how in certain corners of Christianity, the topic of the end times and the second coming are very prominent, almost to the point of obsession. It’s as if we haven’t read the Gospels in our own Bibles.

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.

Matthew 24:23-28 (ESV)

Why are we so worried about the coming Messiah? He gave us great advice about what worry is all about.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:30-34 (ESV)

But as I said before, it’s very difficult for us to change our thinking and to rise up out of the darkness as a light. It is very difficult to let the world be the world, to just do our best, and to have faith and trust that everything will work out according to God.

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Luke 18:7-8 (ESV)

Who is Moshiach?Is waiting and rumor a test of faith? It’s been nearly 2,000 years since the ascension and we’ve been waiting ever since. Jews cry out “Moshiach now” but Moshiach has yet to come. Rabbi Mendel said that the world will be filled with the knowledge of God before the Messiah’s coming (return) but that’s just one of many different thoughts about what must happen beforehand. We can’t be that sure of our facts. In many ways, the Bible is a mystery containing clues we struggle all our lives to interpret.

This Shabbos is called Shabbos Chazak, “the Shabbos of reinforcement,” because of the custom of declaring, Chazak, Chazak, Vinischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened”) at the conclusion of the Torah reading, in acknowledgment of the completion of the Book of Genesis.

The awareness nurtured by the reading of Vayechi generates strength. When a Jew knows he has been granted a heritage of life expressed through a connection with the Torah, and that there will come a time when this connection will blossom, he will acquire the inner strength to confront the challenges presented by his environment.

By heightening the expression of this potential in our people as a whole, we hasten the coming of its fruition in the Era of the Redemption. May this take place in the immediate future.

-Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
“True Life”
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, p. 160ff; Vol. XV, p. 422ff;
Sichos Shabbos Parshas Vayechi, 5751
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayechi

So Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were likewise born upon Joseph’s knees. At length, Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die. God will surely take notice of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.”

Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.

Genesis 50:22-26 (JPS Tanakh)

chanukah-josephs-tombThe final verses of this Torah Portion and the book of Genesis find Jacob and Joseph dead and Jacob’s descendants continuing to live in Egypt. This sets the stage for the birth of Moses and the centuries of slavery of the Jewish people under a “new king who arose over Egypt and who did not know Joseph.” If Jacob understood prophesy, he must have known what was going to come after his death, just as Joseph did. True, he was reassured by God that He would go down into Egypt with Jacob and his family, and that God would bring Jacob’s descendants back out of Egypt (Genesis 46:4), and yet what a bitter thing to go to your grave knowing your children and your children’s children will suffer.

As Rabbi Touger states, at the end of this Torah portion, it is customary to declare “Chazak, Chazak, Vinischazaik (“Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened”).”

Where ever you are in your life and whatever your experiences are, however you anticipate your future, whether it be long or brief, you…we…all of us must be strong.

But that can be so very hard. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

God be merciful, and may Moshiach come soon and in our days. Amen.

Good Shabbos.

Being Strong

Question: I am a lay leader at my temple. Since our rabbi is away, I will be leading this week’s Shabbat service. I have beginner-intermediate skills for chanting Torah. Your pasha page was very helpful. Could you define the words “Chazak Chazak Venis-chazeik,” so that I can explain it to the congregation?

The Aish Rabbi Replies: Upon completing a public reading of one of the Five Books of Moses, everybody stands up and shouts “Chazak! Chazak! Venis-chazeik!” which translate as “Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!”

Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin (in To Pray as a Jew) explains that this is a cry of encouragement to continue with the reading of the next book, and to return to this one again in due course. The triple use of the word “Chazak” may symbolize past, present and future.

Be strong and may you be strengthened!

“Completing a Book of Torah”
from the “Ask the Rabbi” series

Simchat Torah is the occasion in religious Judaism on which the very last portion of the Torah is read before immediately proceeding back to the beginning and starting another annual cycle. As was explained in the quote above, at the end of the reading of each book of Torah, it is customary to say, “Chazak, chazak, venitchazek” which translates as “Be strong, be strong, and may you be strengthened.”

But be strengthened for what?

Synagogues throughout the world will reverberate this Shabbat with the communal outcry of “Chazak, chazak, venitchazek” as the final words of Chumash Shemot are read.

This rallying cry to strengthen ourselves as we move from one Chumash to another is especially relevant to Jews living in Israel. Faced by the relentless terror from our enemies and the complacence of a world towards those who wish to destroy the Jewish State, there is truly an urgent need to remain strong in spirit as well as in defensive capability.

But this strength must have its source in our Torah, which gives us an undeniable right to our Land. The more that Jews see that there is a direct relationship between loyalty to Torah and security there will be a strengthening of our ability to enjoy Israel forever.

-Rabbi Mendel Weinbach
“Chazak, Chazek, Venitchazek”
Ohr Somayach

We see that this cry of encouragement isn’t just to gather strength to continue with the reading of the next book of Torah. For Jews, this is summoning the strength to continue to face adversity, crisis, and the seemingly perpetual efforts of the nations of the world to exterminate the Jewish people and their state.

I recently read an article about Cyber attackers targeting Iranian oil platforms. My attention was drawn to a particular quote in the article, which was originally published by the British news agency Reuters.

Mohammad Reza Golshani, head of information technology for the Iranian Offshore Oil Company, told Iran’s Mehr news agency that a cyber attack had targeted the offshore platforms’ information networks.

“This attack was planned by the regime occupying Jerusalem (Israel)…

So now the Jews are the regime occupying Jerusalem.” Even this quote from a seemingly innocuous news story takes pot shots at the legitimacy of the Jewish state and the right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Yes, it takes a great deal of strength to be Jewish and particularly to be Jewish in the Middle East.

But what about the rest of us? More specifically, what about we Christians? Is there any relevancy for us in “Chazak, Chazek, Venitchazek?”

I suppose not specifically, since the traditional reading of the Torah cycle is foreign to most churches. Still, if we widen our focus, I think we can consider the principle behind the statement of encouragement to have some meaning for us.

A life of faith is not an easy one. While unlike the Jews, the rest of the world isn’t actively seeking to destroy Christians and Christianity (although there are some parts of the world where Christians are directly persecuted), we aren’t exactly well-loved, either. That’s to be expected, even of the best of us, since holding to a moral standard isn’t exactly a popular sentiment in a world that worships relativity in its morals and ethics.

But then again, what we are most often criticized for is our faults, not our virtues. We are criticized for our hypocrisy, our hostility, our judgmentalism, our bigotry, our sexism, and so on. Much of the time, our critics are right about us. When we compare our actual behavior to our stated values, we come up short. How often are we “caught” feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, providing water to the thirsty, showing respect for the aged and infirm, comforting the grieving, and so on?

Oh, it’s not that we don’t perform the deeds taught to us by our Master. It’s that we don’t make them central to our lives. It’s embarrassing when we see atheists who outshine us at actually behaving with “Christian values.” Where is our strength under these circumstances?

For me though, the need for strength is in trying to sort out my own unique role and place in the world around me and in the Kingdom of Heaven. To employ a well-known aphorism, I’m “neither fish nor fowl.” My self-declared identity is as a Christian, but if I actually showed up in a church, ten seconds after I opened my mouth, I’d fit in about as well as a square peg in a room full of round holes. The same would go for me attending a synagogue, since I’m only marginally familiar with the actual Hebrew prayers and customs and in any event, my presence would make the missus far more uncomfortable than it would me.

I keep toying with the idea of going back to a church. I’ve got one picked out as a likely candidate, but then, given how embarrassed my wife is at the mere fact that I’m a Christian, my actually attending a church would likely add insult to injury. There are a variety of barriers involved which I won’t go into, but if my wife feels uncomfortable in inviting Jewish friends to our home, how would she feel if I joined a church and then invited a few Christians over?

I frankly don’t see a way around all of this and hence the need for personal encouragement. Be strong, be strong, and may we (or rather I) be strengthened. For that matter, may my wife be strengthened so that she can return to the Jewish community and participate in worshiping God among her people.

If the encouragement is generally for a Jew to continue from one book of Torah to the next, then I’ll interpret it for myself (an arrogant conceit, I must admit) as the encouragement to continue as an individual person of faith from one day to the next. I’ll consider it the strength to continue writing meditations from one day to the next.

Joshua was encouraged by God to be strong and courageous, and he had both God and the Children of Israel to support him in taking the Land of Israel for the Jews as was promised by the God of Abraham. Most married couples who are religious are religious in the same direction, attending the same house of worship, and adhering to the same basic expression of faith, whether that is Christian, Jewish, or anything else. Even many intermarried couples will attend both his house or worship and hers, at least on occasion.

Like I said, I’m neither fish nor fowl. This is a season of beginnings for religious Jews. For me, it’s another day, another morning. How many more should I anticipate? How many more should I plan for? Where is the end of the trail and upon reaching it, will God and I part company or is there a future for both of us together?

Some people mistakenly think they have a natural need for approval and there is nothing they can do to overcome it. The truth is that the adult need for approval is based on demand. If a person decides he needs only his own approval and not that of others, he is able to focus on the question, “What is the proper thing for me to do now?” He does not ask himself, “How will other people look at me?”

This change in focus can be difficult, but once you accept it is possible, you will be able to change your attitude.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Focus On What’s Right, Daily Lift #602”

Good question, Rabbi. “What is the proper thing for me to do now?”

My Strength

Do you want to enhance your life? Keep repeating throughout the day, “I love you, Hashem, my strength.” As you repeat this a number of times each day, you will feel yourself being strengthened spiritually and emotionally. You will be able to remember that Hashem is your Rock, your Fortress, and your Rescuer (Psalms 18:2,3). Hashem is the source of your strength. Recognizing this, gives you an inner strength that will sustain you on a high level each and every day.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Sustaining Inner Strength, Daily Lift #581”

As I write this, it is the morning of the last day of Rosh Hashanah as it is traditionally celebrated. Yom Kippur is yet to come but it is fast approaching. Many Jews around the world are rapt in solemn awe of God and praying, repenting and seeking forgiveness and redemption for themselves, their loved ones, the state of world Jewry, and the state of the world.

I said not too long ago that it’s important to take care of yourself. Letting yourself get beaten up too much, even for the sake of Heaven, could inhibit you from performing those tasks that God set before you for the sake of Heaven. While it is important and sometimes even vital to “fight the good fight,” it is also said that you should “choose your battles.” Remember, especially in the blogosphere, there are many, many people who argue for the sake of arguing, though they will always tell you that they have a more noble point to make. I suppose it should be easy to pick out the toxic people who blog or worse, who are part of your face-to-face life, and then avoid them, but engaging such people and trying to “debate” them is like staring at the aftermath of a terrible auto accident. It’s horrible to watch, but you can’t turn away.

But that’s not the point of life nor is it the reason God caused each of us to come into existence.

As young boys, Abaye and Rava were sitting in front of Rabbah, when Rabbah asked them, “To whom do we speak when we are saying a brachah?”

-Berachos 48a

Abaye and Rava both said that it is to ‫ – רחמנא‬the Merciful One— that we daven. When Rabbah asked them where ‫ רחמנא‬is found, Rava pointed toward the beams of the roof, and Abaye walked outside and pointed to the sky. Rabbah declared, “You are both destined to be great Rabbis! This is what is meant when people say that large squash plants can be detected from when they are already just blossoming.”

We often find Hashem referred to as “‫ – רחמנא‬The Merciful One”. This is rooted in our belief that everything Hashem does is only for our benefit. Hashem is infinitely compassionate, and He is merciful and kind in all His ways. When we recite blessings before we eat, it is an expression of our belief in Hashem’s precise supervision and specific care of all aspects of the world. Our proclaiming a brachah inspires an influence of holiness upon the world, and all spiritual entities associated with this food and the process involved in its preparation are activated.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Making of a Gadol”
Berachos 48

That’s closer to the point. “This is rooted in our belief that everything Hashem does is only for our benefit. Hashem is infinitely compassionate, and He is merciful and kind in all His ways.”

For some people, the solemn, august ceremony of Yom Kippur may not particularly emphasize God’s compassion and mercy. Particularly for non-Jews or Jews who were not raised in a religious home, encountering Yom Kippur “abruptly” in the middle of your life may seem not just humbling, but humiliating. You have sinned. You have failed everyone who depends on you, and you have failed God. How is it possible to approach the Throne and beg for another chance, another year, another life? After all, you’ve failed so often and so severely. People don’t change. People can’t change (or can we?).

Last year at this time, I wrote a blog post called Dancing with God on Yom Kippur. Seems like a rather odd image, but actually, it’s more appropriate than you might imagine. God is all about second chances. God, of course, knows how frail and error-prone we human beings are, and how easily we are lead astray, most often by our own delusions and desires. We think God wants us to talk incessantly when He really wants us to be quiet. We think God wants us to be a warrior, battling everyone who has a different theological bent than we do, but He really just wants us to be lovers of peace.

All things being equal, human beings would mess up a free lunch. We are the only elements in all of God’s Creation who don’t understand how to fit in and live our lives purposefully.

It takes great strength to face the worst aspects of who you are. It takes enormous courage to say, “I’m wrong” and “Will you forgive me?” not just to God, but to other people you or I or anyone has hurt. Most people don’t have that kind of strength and courage without humbling themselves before God. Most people defend themselves by becoming defensive and never imagine that they have made mistakes. Well, perhaps in their heart of hearts they do, but they fear the sense of self-humiliation that they think will accompany apologizing and making amends. They think it will trap them in a downward spiral of depression but in fact, it is ultimately liberating.

Remember what Rabbi Pliskin advised: “Keep repeating throughout the day, ‘I love you, Hashem, my strength.’ As you repeat this a number of times each day, you will feel yourself being strengthened spiritually and emotionally.”

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 27:1 (ESV)

It may seem like a strange paradox, but in order to gain the strength we need to serve God in the coming year, we must become the least of all people, humbling ourselves even though we are terrified of feeling humiliation. We must become the least of all creatures, smaller and more helpless than even an infant. In humility, as children of God, we have the right to ask for His mercy. It is in our weakness that we are strong.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. –2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

I love you, Hashem, my strength.