B'har (May 16, 2009)
It is completed and fulfilled, blessed be God, the Creator of the world.
— Prayer said at the conclusion of
a book of the Torah
Excerpted from The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Revised Edition, editor W. Gunther Plaut (NY: URJ Press, 2005). Used by permission of URJ Press, www.urjbooksandmusic.com.
I arrived at the synagogue and soon realized that it was not all that different from the synagogue to which I belonged. I recognized many of the tunes; the words were the same; and the only thing I couldn’t really get a handle on was how quickly they all could read. I had studied Hebrew and knew the b’rachot (blessings), but wow, they sure prayed quickly. After a little while, they came to the Torah reading. This was Yishai’s opportunity to shine. I had read from the Torah at my bar mitzvah service a few months earlier, but I only did a few of the aliyot (the divisions of the Torah portions for which a different person is honored) — leaving the rest to my sister, my father and mother, and a few family friends. Yishai did them all. I really was impressed.
At my synagogue, when the Torah reading was over, there was often a moment when the bar mitzvah boy would come up and everyone would wish him mazal tov. At Yishai’s service, something strange happened. At the end of the seventh aliyah, everyone sang out in a lilty tune, Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik. “What is this,” I wondered to myself? In all of the times I had been to synagogue, I never had heard that. Then, quietly, all of my friends (who seemed to know what was going on) muttered to themselves in the same lilty tune, “My mother made me a chocolate cake.” Now I was more confused then ever, but I do like chocolate cake, and I realized that even though this service seemed somewhat foreign, it was not all that different.
When the service concluded, I went over to two of my close friends and asked them, “What’s with the chocolate cake line?” They quickly responded that it was just a funny line. I guess they didn’t understand that I didn’t really want to know about the chocolate cake part but was more interested in what the Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik line meant. After clarifying my question, they told me that it literally translates to, “Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!” and is said whenever you conclude a book of the Torah. (The Torah is broken up into five books.) They also explained another way of saying it: Tam ve’nishlam Shevach La’el Boreh Olam, which means, “It is completed and fulfilled, blessed be God, the Creator of the world.” Both are congratulations to the community, of a sort, for reaching that milestone and a reaffirmation of God as well.
Well, years have passed, and aside from occasionally singing to myself (primarily when I am kind of hungry) “My mother made me a chocolate cake,” I had not thought of this story — that was, until I starting reading the Torah portions of this week, which are B’har and B’chukotai. As I read through the portions, I noted that B’har is all about the Sabbatical and Jubilee years, and B’chukotai is about God’s response to oath making and how he would respond to those who are not remorseful. Nothing struck me, until I reached the very last line and saw… Tam ve’nishlam Shevach La’el Boreh Olam.
I then realized that these two chapters are the final chapters in the Book of Leviticus, and my experience as a younger man stormed back to me, cake and all. In thinking about both of these lines, “Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened,” and “It is completed and fulfilled, blessed be God, the Creator of the world,” I realized that one was focused toward the community and the other toward God. As I continued to think about these lines, I realized that all of our accomplishments, big and small, are worthy of taking note and also are worthy of praise for God.
We often remember to congratulate ourselves (and sometimes God) for the big things: the major holidays, the birthdays, the weddings, the true milestones. But, we often forget that making it through each minor milestone also is worth noting, honoring and blessing.
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