Monday, May 20, 2024

Sources of Chizuk for Us all


Ever since the horrific events of last Simchas Torah, everyone has been asking for the same thing. There are chizuk events, chizuk speeches and chizuk writings. As someone who has already given several and listened to quite a few others, we must wonder what chizuk really is and if it will do any good.

Of course, almost no one is actually asking for mussar and no one wants empty platitudes and banal bromides. But people who read and listen want to feel better afterward. They want to understand, if possible, what is happening and why. The problem, of course, is that no one really knows. In what is already a cliché, October 7th was the worst day for Klal Yisroel since Churban Europa, the Holocaust. That indisputable fact cannot be washed away with fancy language, poetic phrases or even valid daas Torah and historical perspective. So what is this elusive chizuk that many are seeking?

Let us begin with what Chazal teach us requires chizuk. The Gemara (Brachos 32b) teaches, “Four things require strengthening (chizuk): Torah, worthy actions (maasim tovim), prayer and derech eretz (proper etiquette). Now, we might be surprised at this list. Surely, these are four of the most wonderful things in the world. Why do they require support and maintenance?

The Maharal (Be’er Hagolah 4) answers that “anything that generates antagonism must be upheld and sustained.” He gives the example that “Torah requires chizuk, since it was given to human beings who are a composite of body and soul. The body will bring us down unless the soul provides the chizuk for the spiritual to triumph over the physical.”

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner, used to say pithily that whenever something good comes along, someone will demand its destruction. Thus, from the moment man was created, there were angels who demanded his destruction.

In any case, it would seem that one aspect of chizuk is to be aware that anything we do that is good will generate animosity. It is reassuring to know that when we are accomplishing and performing virtue, there will be tremendous resentment and even anger and vitriol. The Torah itself was given on Har Sinai because as soon as we were given the Torah, sinah (hatred) descended into the world. This was inevitable, but that doesn’t make it easier. The chizuk is just a reminder that we should not falter, because doing the right things comes with initial negative consequences, although in the long run our efforts will be requited. The implication and validation of this approach is that chizuk does not mean avoiding the reality or even horror of something that has happened or is happening. It strengthens our resolve to continue on a good path or return from an improper one by returning to the basic fact that we are doing what is correct and will therefore be condemned by the forces of evil.

A proof from our upcoming parsha and a story are now in order. The Torah tells us that Sarah Imeinu passed away at the age of 127, which Rashi declares to have been “all equally good.” Over the centuries, people have questioned how this could possibly be, since she had experienced long periods of extreme adversity. Furthermore, the division of one hundred, twenty and seven doesn’t seem to make sense, since a little girl of seven has little in common with a centenarian. One answer is that Hashem does not judge us upon our accomplishments, but only according to our efforts. If at each stage of our lives we have attempted to do the best we can, we have fulfilled our mandate for that period of our lives. That was Sarah Imeinu, but that can also be us, as long as we do the maximum with the tools we are given. There is no reason to be depressed or disappointed in ourselves as long as we have not wasted our gifts and abilities. That, too, is chizuk.

The Chazon Ish was such a person. He lived with almost constant pain and physical weakness for most of his adult life, never was zocheh to children, and suffered from other disappointments in life. But his nephew, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and other people who knew him well testified that he lived a happy life of incredible accomplishment and virtually created the yeshiva world as we know it today. He himself explained to his niece, Rebbetzin Greineman, that the reason he was able to accomplish so much was that we have no control over the yissurim (suffering) that come upon us. But we do have absolute control over how we react to them. The chizuk is that what counts is the latter not the former in the evaluation of heaven.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach added that we can see this approach to life in a posuk in the Torah. The posuk (Devorim 31:17) states, “Many evils (ra’os) and (tzaros) distresses will encounter it. It will say on that day, ‘Is it not because…these (ra’os) evils have come upon me?” Now, what happened to the “distresses” (tzaros)? Rav Shach answers that ra’os are the actual bad things that sometimes befall us, but the tzaros are our reaction to them. When one gains emunah and bitachon, the evils might still be there, but they are no longer tzaros, because we recognize that they are just the antagonisms that come upon us because we are doing so well. That, too, is a great chizuk.

Another approach to offering chizuk may be derived from a statement quoted in the name of the Arizal (see Eliyahu Rabbah 669 and Likkutei Torah) to say chazak three times to someone who received the final aliyah for any one of the five Chumashim. The reason given for this is that chazak times three adds up to the same gematriah as Moshe (345). The significance of this gematriah might be that on the one hand, Moshe Rabbeinu was one of the most successful people who ever lived on the planet. However, on the other hand, he began life completely severed from his family, and grew up in the house of Paroh with idolatry and defilement all around him. Yet, he triumphed over these and many other obstacles and became the greatest prophet who ever lived. This, too, gives us chizuk that a person can become the Moshe Rabbeinu of his generation just by effort alone. Interestingly, the Debreciner Rov (Be’er Moshe 3:28) rules against saying chazak chazak venischazeik, because adding this last world ruins the gematriah, which evokes Moshe Rabbeinu, and has no real source in early poskim (see also Rav Dovid Cohen in Birkas Yaavetz 2:310).

Another source for divrei chizuk was once offered by the mashgiach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin. He asked why it seems that everyone was always offering Yehoshua chizuk, both in the Torah and in his own sefer. His answer was that although in general we believe in yeridas hadoros – the downward trend of the generations – there are always exceptions. For instance, the Gaon of Vilna was considered to be greater than a number of generations before him. However, of Moshe Rabbeinu, the Torah testified that there would never be anyone as great as him. Therefore, Yehoshua needed chizuk to be able to make his own place in human history and in the mesorah of Torah. He did, indeed, but it required chizuk from the Creator Himself and from all of Klal Yisroel.

We may conclude that not only does adversity make us great, but it is the very essence of our creation. We would do well to embrace it, but we certainly can’t escape it until the final redemption, may it come very soon, bimeheirah beyomeinu.




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