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03/23/2020 02:15:00 PM


Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz

Five times a year synagogues resound with the words: chazak, chazak, vnitchazek (from the book of Daniel,10:19), admonishing congregants to be strong, stronger than strong and then to strengthen one another.

These words are reserved for the special occasion when we conclude each of the Five Books of Moses as we are about to commence the next sefer. Why is that the blessing we ask from Hashem precisely at this time is a blessing for strength? Is not the engagement with Torah of itself strengthening, etz chayim hi lamachazikim bah? Why now do we need additional strength to proceed to the next book of Torah? Some sources, most notably the Zohar, suggest that in fact delving into Torah (Torah mateshet kocho shel adam) has a weakening effect (Sanhedrin 26:2). It is so powerful, so awesome, so overwhelming that it can indeed take our breath away as we put our heart and soul into
these letters and words of holiness. Therefore, before we advance to the next book, we ask for strength, yes, even additional strength so we may invigorate others.

I write about this now because the most common word we hear lately from Rabbanim is CHIZUK. More than teaching, more than preaching, rabbis see their immediate, most vital role to be "chizuking," giving chizuk to their members and to the entire Jewish community during these trying times - by counseling, comforting and offering moral fortitude to Klal Yisrael. Keep in mind that the Five Books of the Torah are contiguous, each one begins where the previous one left off until we come to the death of Moshe Rabbenu. There really is no beginning and no end, only ups and downs in the lives of our matriarchs and patriarchs. Life for them, as it is for us, is never linear. It is circular: "Galgal chozer b'olam," life is like a revolving wheel (Baba Batra 16:2). Sometimes, we are on the top, and sometimes we are on the bottom. When we are on top, be assured the time will come and we will be at the bottom, and when we are at the bottom, just hang in there for, assuredly, the wheel will once again revolve and we will find ourselves back on top.

Chaverim, it appears that at this moment of our lives, we are at the bottom. We sense a feeling of isolation from our world, our routines, our friends, families and our shul. We face celebrating our seder without guests, without parents, without grandparents, without grandchildren, with real "distancing" and a real diminution of simchat hachag.

And yes, less preparing which reminds me of the story of Chayim who long ago served as the royal treasurer in his small country. The king was very fond of his Jewish treasurer and loved him for his honesty and loyalty, but some of the other advisors resented having a Jew hold such a high office. Finally, they pressured the king into demanding that Chayim either convert or give up his position. Sadly, the king came to his friend and said: "Listen, you know it doesn't matter to me but my advisors are up in arms. If you want to be my treasurer, you must convert." Chayim thought about it and agreed and converted.

As the months passed, the matter weighed heavily on Chayim. How could he give up his heritage? After several months, he came to the king and said: "Your highness, I can't do it anymore. I can't pretend that being Jewish isn't important to me." The king understood and let him return to his faith. Chayim was elated and rushed home to his wife: "Shprinza, I HAVE WONDERFUL NEWS. I ASKED THE KING AND HE SAID WE CAN BE JEWISH AGAIN." She scowled at her husband and said: "Couldn't you wait until after Pesach to ask him?"

Who would ever believe the time would come when we wish we could complain about all the arduous work entailed in preparing for Pesach? Now we need that "chizuking" as no other time before. In addition, we need to strengthen and encourage our friends and neighbors - no time for weakness. As days turn into weeks, we need to employ collective responsibility and mutual kindness because we are - yes, all of us - in this together. And we have to keep in mind the advice of Rav Nachman: Kol haolam gesher tzar meod, this whole world is but a narrow bridge - Vhaikar lo l'phached, but the main thing to remember, hold on and do not fear!

Isn't it true that we cannot control what happens to us only how we react to it?

I take my cue from the lesson of the Daf Yomi:

One daf a day,

One day at a time.

By: Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz

Mon, May 29 2023 9 Sivan 5783