[Prefatory note: I was recently honored by my Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, to give this talk during our synagogue’s Kol Nidre (all vows) service which begins Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement)].
Life is hard, and on the night when we begin to contemplate those whom we have wronged, and those whom we need to forgive for wronging us, it seems even harder. Of course, some days are harder than others, and some of us struggle more than others, but without question, life on this earth is often hard.
Over 42 years ago, when I had my Bar Mitzvah, it just so happened that my Torah portion happened to end one of the 5 books of Moses. It is Jewish tradition that when we finish each book, the entire congregation stands up and says aloud, Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek, which means, Be Strong, Be Strong, & Let us Strengthen Each Other.
So, my mother thought that putting these powerful Hebrew words on my Bar Mitzvah invitation and thank you notes was a good idea, and those words have had profound meaning to me ever since.
I was raised as a fairly observant Conservative Jew. I attended Hebrew school through High School, and attended Jewish camps and started traveling to Israel at age 17. But, by the time I finished college, I had become disillusioned with much of what mainstream Judaism had to offer and did not belong to a synagogue for a number of years.
However, almost 25 years ago, I realized that I had both a spiritual and communal void in my life, and recognized that I had never abandoned my Jewish faith and traditions. So, along with my wife, Sheryl and a small group of other Jews looking for a more meaningful Jewish community, we founded our synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim (Gates of Heaven), as a progressive, inclusive Jewish Reconstructionist & Renewal congregation, where I now serve as Vice-President.
When Jewish sages analyze the repetition of Hebrew text, they recognize that the repetition must add meaning, and not simply be superfluous. As I examine my life and my various struggles, as well as the struggles of others around me, in the context of this 5 times per year, communal declaration, “Be Strong, Be Strong, Let us Strengthen Each Other,” I now realize the 3 aspects of strength brought to us by this beautiful Jewish tradition.
The first “Be Strong” speaks to oneself. As I said earlier, life is hard, and when it is particularly hard, we must remind ourselves to find the inner strength to get through those difficult moments.
The second “Be Strong”, is a reminder that at many times in our life, simply being strong alone is insufficient to get through life’s most challenging moments. At these times, we need to receive strength from our close friends and family, and of course, to return that strength to them when they are in need.
Finally, “Let us Strengthen Each Other”, reminds us that we need community in order to truly survive our most difficult challenges and through community, we can and do strengthen each other.
So, when life is hard, and it often is, remember these powerful words from the Jewish tradition, and then put them into practice:
Be Strong, Be Strong & Let us Strengthen Each Other.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.