Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD & Chancellor Arnold Eisen, PhD – March 15, 2019
From the Rabbi David Lyon
This blog has been reissued by request.
In the new year 2019, let us strengthen each other
When I was a child in a sprawling Chicago suburb, I remember the farmer’s field at the end of our street. It was one of the last remaining empty soybean or corn fields that hadn’t been developed by home builders. That would happen years later. In the field, my brother and I, with our childhood friends, biked, ran, and jumped. At the bottom of a small hill in the field there was a stream, and for some reason it was always our job to cross it. From one side of the stream to the other, we would throw a found plank of wood or a fallen tree limb. It was never the perfect length. We’d take turns inching our way onto the fragile bridge and then dare each other to jump to the other side. Most of the time we made it.
In Torah, we come to a juncture, too, when we reach the end of a book of Torah. Positioned between two books is like standing at the end of one before jumping across to the next one. In that gap, we’ve been taught to say, “Hazak, hazak, v’nit-cha-zeik” Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other (or let us be strengthened). Then we turn the page or the scroll and begin to read the next book of Torah. It’s a journey we take with our community of family and friends. It’s a journey during which we accumulate wisdom and insights that strengthen us. There’s no question but that we’ll continue, so as we end one book and say, “Hazak, hazak, v’nit-cha-zeik,” we begin the next book of Torah with confidence and anticipation, stepping onto secure ground with firm footing.
There are few ends that don’t require a leap to a new beginning. It can be a leap of strength, a leap of courage, or even a leap of faith. Then we jump. We land in a new city, a new job, or a new relationship. And, we keep on walking. Our ability to leap and thrive where we land may depend on what we bring with us. It might be old habits, old friends, or old ideas. But, it might be new habits, new friends, or new ideas. Our strength might come from a combination of what we must leave behind and what we must embrace for the first time.
As the first day of 2019 nears, let’s see it as a milepost we’ll pass on our way to a new secular year filled with life experiences. There will be weddings this year; there will likely be family members or friends in the hospital or at home recuperating and we’ll pray for their health and well-being. There will be new babies this year. There will be deaths of loved ones and families will learn how to gain strength from memories of them. There will be new jobs and homes, and new challenges and opportunities. How will we do it all? We say:
Hazak. Be strong. Find strengths from the past. They’re lessons and models that served you well. They provided you meaning and success. They still can.
Hazak. Be strong. There are sources of strength in the future. Don’t go it alone. There are people, organizations and your congregation ready to support your next best steps.
V’nitchazeik. Let us strengthen each other. We need each other. Let go of grudges and past hurts. Embrace family and friends. Seize new opportunities.
As I recall, the plank of wood or tree limb my friends and I laid across the stream provided only a partial way over the water to dry land. The rest of the way was built on confidence we helped each other find inside ourselves. You never heard so much cheering when one boy and then the next made it over the water and we all kept on running, together.
Keep on running. In 2019, bring great expectations for joy, health, love and peace. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year 2019!
Rabbi David A. Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, TX. Rabbi Lyon serves on the Board of Trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and chairs its professional development committee. He can be heard on “iHeart-Radio” KODA 99.1 FM every Sunday at 6:45am CST, and he is the author of God of Me: Imagining God Throughout Your Lifetime (Jewish Lights, 2011) available on Amazon.com.