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    Chazak Chazak – Vayyechi

    This Shabbat sees us at the end of the Book of B’reshit.

    As always, the final words are followed by the exclamation, Chazak Chazak V’nit’chazzek – “Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other”.

    The phrase derives from II Samuel 10:12. In the war against the Ammonites, Yo’av says to his brother Avishai, Chazak V’nit’chazak – “Be strong, and let us prove strong for our people and for the cities of our God”.

    Synagogue practice has doubled the first word (Chazak twice, not once) and slightly changed the vowels of the second (V’nit’chazzek, not V’nit’chazzak), but the effect is unaltered.

    In popular tradition the message is understood as, “Let us have the strength to begin (and complete) the next Book of the Torah”.

    In eras when persecution made Jewish life fragile and uncertain, the thought might have been, “It is a wonder that we have survived to complete the reading of this Book. Let us hope we will get the end of the next Book unscathed.”

    Yo’av, however, seems to have had internal, not merely external, conditions in mind – not just, “May we be safe from our enemies”, but “May our own morale and determination not falter”.

    If Jews waver in their own Jewishness, the battle will be lost before it even begins. As Chief Rabbi Hertz used to say, “The answer to more antisemitism is more Semitism”.

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