Be Strong and Be Strengthened

The Fellowship  |  October 2, 2018

An olive tree against a concrete wall.

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed. —
Proverbs 3:18

Today, Jews around the world observe Simchat Torah, which literally means “rejoicing in the Torah” or “Joy of the Torah.” This day marks the completion of the annual reading of the Torah from Genesis through Deuteronomy. Because this is a non-working holiday, this devotion was prepared in advance for you. Discover more about the Jewish view of the Bible from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s DVD Bible study on the Torah.

 “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek!” Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened!

These are the words that millions of Jews around the world will utter on the holiday known as Simchat Torah as we read the concluding verses of the Bible. Every year, the five books of Moses are divided into portions and read over the course of the year. But what is the significance of these words?

Another Hebrew phrase might seem more appropriate for the occasion. When Jews celebrate anything from a wedding to a new job, we say “Mazel Tov!” — our version of “Congratulations!” Shouldn’t this expression of joy and accomplishment be used to celebrate the completion of reading through the Torah? Why are the words “be strong” used instead?

The origin of this expression can be found in the book of Joshua. Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses. The next book in the Bible is Joshua. Three times in the first nine verses, God told Joshua to “be strong.” This expression was not only relevant to Joshua, but also to us.

Usually, when we reach a goal, we pause and celebrate. But there is a danger in reaching an endpoint. The risk is that we will stop moving forward. It’s hard to begin a new task, especially after having just completed one. Our tendency is to rest and relax and relish our accomplishments. However, there is no such thing as “accomplishing” the Torah. There is no such thing as “finishing” the Bible. There is always more to learn and deeper layers to study. The Bible is not a book simply to be read; it’s filled with words to be lived and it requires constant study. This is why as soon as we complete the last verse we strengthen ourselves — we resist the urge to stop — and we immediately start reading the Torah again.

In the book of Proverbs we read: “She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:18). “She” is the Torah, and when we strengthen ourselves and hold onto her, it is we who benefit, we who are blessed. When we are strong, we are strengthened in return by the “tree of life,” the source of all blessings.

Friends, as Jews around the world embark upon a new cycle of reading through the Bible, please join us in making Bible reading a part of your routine through these daily devotionals.

Be strong, be strong, and be strengthened!