Parsha: Behar Bechkoitai (2023)

Message Behar bechkoitai

Chazak Chazak Venitchazek! – Be strong, be strong, and we will be strong!

We will be saying these words, this Shabbat morning as we conclude the 3rd book of the Torah.

But why the message of strength? Is this a value we should focus on?

Yes, Power and strength are important parts of our value system. But not the typical classic view of strength and power.

True strength is not, physical power. Nor is it even financial power, or power that comes from royalty, or from someone who is in a high position. Rather, true power is about self-control. In the words our sages איזהו גיבור הכובש את יצרו – “Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations”.

This is the type of strength that requires humility, and hard work.

The very first Halacha in the code of Jewish law (Shulchan Aruch) has a similar message.

It begins with this:
“Be bold as a leopard” – one should not be embarrassed when confronted by scoffers. “Strong as a lion” — strength is mainly lodged in the heart, enabling one to overcome his [evil] inclination and conquer it, like a mighty man who overcomes his adversary, vanquishing him and throwing him to the ground.

It takes a lot of “strength” to do the right thing.

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau was teaching a group of girls for their upcoming Bat Mitzvah. One of the girls was very stressed about speaking in public. She didn’t think she had the strength to speak in front of her community, friends, and family.

She said to Rabbi Lau: “I know that you speak in front of the whole country and the entire world with enormous confidence. Could I possibly ask your advice for building self-confidence?”

Here’s the surprising answer that she received:

“All of us know a little bit of Tanach (Bible) and a little history. Many nations have been here before – Ammon, Moav, Aram, Tzidon, and Amalek, as well as Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia. Where is even one of these nations? And none of them endured expulsion from Spain or extermination at Auschwitz. They were not driven from their homes, so why are none of them, despite their power at the time, no longer on the map? They disappeared, were erased, and left the world stage. Where are their ideologies? Down through the generations, no nation was smaller, suffered more, or was persecuted more than one nation – the Jewish nation. And yet this nation lives, thrives, is full of joy, and continues eternally. When I get up to speak, I am reminded of this. I represent this nation and its story.

So tell yourself this: I will get up and say what I have to say, because it’s not just me who is speaking. Rather, generations with an eternal message are speaking through me. Generations that did not exchange one ideology for another, but remained faithful – and here we are, alive and well. This thought has given me the confidence to speak with the Pope, with Fidel Castro, with the rulers of the former Soviet Union and the United States, and perhaps it will give you confidence to deliver your Bat Mitzvah speech. We all have something to say to the world.”

May we always have the courage and moral strength to fulfil our mission in life.  

Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Zalman