A New Year’s Challah Braided with Strength, Community, and Aspiration

December 29, 2023

As we conclude the Book of Genesis with the Torah portion Vayechi, we find ourselves at the intersection of sacred tradition and the secular New Year. It is a moment of reflection, a juncture where the past and the future converge. Just as we bid farewell to one year and welcome another, Jews worldwide, at the conclusion of each book of the Torah, recite the powerful phrase, “Hazak, Hazak, v’nitchazek” – be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened.

Vayechi begins with the frailty of Jacob, the patriarch, as he nears the end of his life. Yet, in his final moments, Jacob gathers strength to bless his sons, imparting words that resonate through the ages. In Genesis 49:10, we encounter a verse that encapsulates the theme of strength and aspiration for a harmonious future: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, … which will bring the unification of the people.”

In this verse, Jacob foretells the enduring strength of the tribe of Judah, symbolizing the unity and leadership that the community must uphold. It is a vision of a future where the gathering of the people is directed towards a higher purpose, fostering a sense of collective responsibility and harmony.

As we draw parallels between the conclusion of the Book of Genesis and the end of the secular year, the phrase “Hazak, Hazak, v’nitchazek” becomes a bridge between the Torah’s teachings and our aspirations for the future. It echoes the resilience of the Jewish people and, by extension, all humanity. In a world that is turbulent and unpredictable, this call for strength is a reminder that through unity and determination, we can weather any storm.

Vayechi is not just about the individual blessings bestowed upon Jacob’s sons; it is like a braided challah made of strands of community, strength, and anticipation of a better tomorrow. This sacred loaf extends beyond the confines of the Torah, transcending time and cultural boundaries.

As we stand on the cusp of the secular New Year, the phrase “Hazak, Hazak, v’nitchazek” reverberates with a renewed significance. It is a call to fortify ourselves individually and collectively, drawing strength from our shared heritage and values. In doing so, we contribute to the creation of a future embodied by peace, health, and happiness.

The tradition of reciting this phrase at the conclusion of each book of the Torah signifies not just an end but a beginning—a continuation of the journey toward a brighter and more harmonious existence. It encourages us to look back at the wisdom embedded in our sacred texts, learning from the experiences of those who came before us, while simultaneously casting our gaze forward with hope and determination.

In the spirit of Vayechi, let us embrace the coming year with the strength of Judah, the unity of a community intertwined by shared values, and the aspiration for a world where the unification of the people is directed towards the pursuit of peace, health, and happiness. May the challahs we braid in the New Year be ones of strength, resilience, and collective well-being. Hazak, Hazak, v’nitchazek—be strong, be strong and we will be…


Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!