This Shabbat we complete the first book of the Torah, Bereshit (Genesis).
When we read the very last verse of the five books of the Torah, custom is for the congregation to exclaim “Ḥazak Ḥazak VeNit’ḥazek!” which means, “be strong, be strong, and let us all strengthen ourselves!” We encourage the Torah reader and congregation not to see reaching the end of the book as signifying the end of the need for Torah reading or Torah study; rather, we are excited to continue immediately, reading again from the beginning.
In the Talmud (Berakhot 32b) it says that four things require extra ḥizuk (strength, or motivation): Torah study; ma’asim tovim – good deeds; tefila – prayer; and derekh eretz – working to earn a living. All of these four take effort to perform them well, and yet they are all essential. In synagogue, we give each other encouragement to read and study more Torah. “Be strong, and let us all be strong together.” When someone leads a prayer we say to them “Yishar Koaḥ” – “may your strength be aligned.” We should be equally supportive and encouraging of each other for the good deeds, the charitable and kind acts, which we perform. And we should even be supportive and encouraging of each other when we see them working to earn a living.
What a blessing it is to live in a community where everyone is seen and recognized for all the efforts they put in, in every aspect of life! It creates an environment in which people naturally want to do more. It certainly is one of the traits which makes a community Jewish.
Ḥazak ḥazak venit’ḥazek! Shabbat Shalom!