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Feel the power…

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As Moses passed the torch of leadership to his protégé and successor Joshua, he said to the younger padawan, Chazak V’Ematz — “Be strong and be strong” (Deut. 31:7, 31:23). After Moses’ passing, G-d Himself reiterated that messaging, using this expression four more times when speaking to Joshua (Josh. 1:6-18). Generations later, when King David gave a pep talk to his son and future successor Solomon, he too said, Chazak V’Ematz (I Chron. 22:13, 28:20). What is the deeper meaning of this seemingly redundant expression that uses two words for “strength” — chozek (chizzuk) and ometz (imutz)? What other words in Hebrew mean “strength” or “power,” and how do they differ from the words that opened our discussion?

Rabbi Avraham Bedersi HaPenini (a 13th century Spanish sage) and Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) both explain that ometz refers to an above-normal amount of “strength,” while chozek remains the standard term for “strength.” For example, if a person grew especially weak, but was then nursed back to health and was now “strengethened” to be as strong as a normal person, the word chozek is appropriate. In such a case, the term ometz cannot be applied because the “strength” in question is no more than that which a regular person possesses.

The Vilna Gaon (to Josh. 1:7, Prov. 24:5) explains that chozek refers to outer “physical strength,” while ometz denotes strength “in the heart.” This explanation is echoed by the Malbim in his work Yair Ohr on synonyms in the Hebrew language. But, elsewhere, the Malbim (to Isa. 28:2) seems to take a different approach. There he explains that chozek refers to a sort of temporary strength. With time, such strength tends to atrophy, slowly, but surely, losing its potency. On the other hand, ometz refers to a more resilient form of strength that constantly recharges itself and never weakens or falters.

In his work HaRechasim LeVikah (Gen. 25:23), Rabbi Yehuda Leib Shapira-Frankfurter (1743-1826) departs from this model and speaks about three types of “strength.” In his assessment, gevurah refers to “physical strength,” ometz refers to the “strength in one’s heart” (i.e. one’s spiritual resolve), and chozek refers to the “strength of will” (i.e. courage). To illustrate the difference between the latter two he explains that chozek is necessary for entering a battle or any dangerous situation without being scared, while ometz is the courage to remain in battle and not run away when things heat up.

The Talmud (Berachos 32b) explains that when G-d told Joshua Chazak V’Ematz through Moshe He meant to encourage Joshua in two specific areas. With the word chazak He intended to motivate Joshua to strengthen himself in Torah study, while with the word ematz He meant to encourage Joshua in the performance of........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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