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Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik
by Cantor Jessica Epstein

May 15, 2020

This week, we come to another milestone in our Jewish year — we conclude the Book of Leviticus, the third book of the Torah. 

One more book has been studied, read and brought to life. Through the lips of b’nai mitzvah, lively discussions with the parsha group, divrei Torah, d’rashes and private study — the Book of Leviticus came to us this year in the midst of a plague the likes of which our world has not known for centuries. 

The scroll turns. 

We read of the disease of tzara’at, the mysterious skin affliction which meant some ailing Israelites, or those suspected of having the disease, were quarantined outside the camp until safe. Has any portion ever been more eerily timely? Did we ever imagine ourselves reading the details of inspection and infection while enclosed in our homes hoping the Angel of Death would pass us by? 

The scroll turns. 

Leviticus, the book where we reached for holiness and transcendence is now completed. The priestly rites and rituals are put to sleep for another year. The intricacies of the sacrificial machinations which sought to connect man to God now rest silently in the middle of the scroll until we reach them again next year. 

The scroll turns. 

At the end of each book of the Torah — we recite ancient words dating back to Talmudic times, “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik.” “Let us be strong, let us be strong, let us strengthen one another.” Originally this was recited at the end of every single aliyah, but in Ashkenazi tradition it came to be recited only at the end of a book. Everyone stands as one and recites this after the chazzan’s prompts in the synagogue (except the person with the aliyah, so as not to interrupt before the concluding blessing).

Interestingly in the Hebrew — “Chazak” is in the past tense, while “Nitchazeik” is in the future tense. The juxtaposition is meant for us to understand that we can carry the strength it took to get us this far into the next journey — the next book. Past efforts become future successes. 

We enter the Book of Numbers now, a book of journeying. A book of freedom. The Israelites, no longer waiting for mitzvot at Sinai, organize themselves by family, clan and tribe. They pack up the kids, bowls, rugs and animals. Time to move forward. Time to become. It was a difficult journey. Many troubles and problems lie ahead for this rag-tag group of whom we are the last scattered descendants. None of us know the end of the virus, the path ahead to opening our homes, our society. Our journey is also beginning.  

The scroll turns. 

What we do know is this, we have strength. We have endured. We have each other. 

Chazak. Strength. 

Chazak. Strength. 

V’nitchazeik. Let us strengthen each other.

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