When we finish reading a book of the Torah, as we did last weekend, we say חזק חזק ונתחזק (chazak chazak v’nitchazake) – Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.
When I first began attending high school football games when my daughter Ellie joined the color-guard, I realized that this saying is similar to the chants of the cheerleaders between plays. Like the cheers, חזק חזק ונתחזק is meant as an encouragement as we move from one section of the Torah to another.
Rabbi Avi Weiss points out that the end of each book of the Torah is not an ending. As each book ends, new events are on the horizon, and many things are left unfinished. He writes, “An important lesson emerges. Often, in life, we think that there is nothing we cannot accomplish. The culmination of each book teaches us—no. No one leaves the world fulfilling all of their dreams, all of their hopes and expectations. In the words of Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot, it is not for any of us to complete the task (Avot 2:21).”
In other words, the five Books of Moses are inextricably linked one to another, just as we Jews (and all humans) are linked one to another. The story of the Children of Israel continues, book after book, season after season, century after century. We continue to write the story today, praying that it will persist far into the future.
I heard a sermon recently in which the rabbi said that every rabbi has only one sermon, which we deliver week after week to our congregants, in the hope that they’ll get the message. I realized that I am one of those rabbis. Because I live by, and have tried to communicate, the second half of Rabbi Tarfon’s saying, which teaches that although we might not complete the task, we are not free to desist from it.
I believe with my whole heart that we each are given the gift of life, to use it to make the world a better place, even if that is only for one person.
Life is an uncertain undertaking at best. We can live it carefully, avoiding problems, and incidents, staying away from trouble. But it doesn’t matter; problems and troubles arise. What matters is how we deal with them, how we choose to live our lives.
I am retiring from serving as the rabbi for Congregation Kol HaNeshama. Aside from being a mother and bringing up two amazing women, serving the congregation has been my greatest joy and the greatest gift I could ever receive.
My retirement message to my congregation is this: Don’t stop. Keep participating in the congregation, keep supporting each other and your clergy, keep bringing whatever gifts you have to the congregation, to the community, and to the world.
And since today is January 15, it is fitting to end with my favorite quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?’
I hope that I have done much for others as a congregational rabbi, and look forward to continuing to try to make the world a better place.
And my final message to my beloved congregants: You are my heroes. It has been a honor to serve you. Chazak chazak v’nitchazake — may you go from strength to strength.
This is an edited version of my remarks at the retirement celebration my congregation hosted for me.