This sidra brings the book of Sh’mot to an end, and it is customary for the congregation to stand for the final verse and to proclaim chazak, chazak v’nit’chazzek – “Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen each other”. Though a long entrenched feature of Jewish life, the custom is probably medieval in origin.
An early reference in the Sefer Hamanhig of Avraham Hayarchi of Lunel (12th century) traces its origin to the verse, “Only be strong, and let not this book of the law depart from your mouth” (Joshua 1:7-8). Exclaiming chazak chazak encourages us all to embark on the next book of the Chumash and to be faithful to the age-old cycle of commitment to the reading, study and observance of the Torah.
History has proved that the more strength a Jew has given to the Torah, the more strength the Torah has given the Jew. Jews often had to leave material possessions behind, but they would never abandon their Torahs. Nor would they let themselves weaken in their devotion to Torah study.
However bitter life was in the concentration camps, Talmud study was taken seriously, often without books. In some places there were veritable universities, for example in Theresienstadt, where Leo Baeck was such an inspiration. Even in Australia, in the internment camps, study circles were held on a regular basis.
As the Talmud itself put it, just as a fish is lost without water, so is a Jew lost without Torah.