Seemingly unrelated things can make a whole lot of sense together when the Bible gets involved. For example, what do Vayelech, divine statistics, Pythagoras, and Plato have in common? The number three! Okay, let’s take a look at parts of verses from Vayelech first…
“Be strong and courageous!” – Deuteronomy 31:6.
“Be strong and courageous!” – Deuteronomy 31:7.
“Be strong and courageous!” – Deuteronomy 31:23.
Although they each do not take up a whole verse, this sentence is said three (3) times in three (3) verses in the portion of Vayelech, which has a total of thirty (30) verses in it (not counting the Haftarah, which makes it the shortest parsha in the Torah). Three is a divine number because G-d is called the Triune G-d, and is 3 in 1. The Greek philosopher Plato thought that the number 3 was special because there are 3 sides in a triangle, the most basic spatial shape. There’s something special, in my opinion, about the repetition of that sentence. By the third time something is written, it really means that the reader needs to pay attention. The fact that this sentence appears in 3 out of the 30 verses in this portion means that 1/10, or 10% of the verses have this sentence in them. That’s a pretty large number for one single clause. So, it must have some significant meaning as well as significance in general.
Looking at this clause in context (in this portion), it is said each time before saying that G-d H-mself would be with the Israelites. Why would the Israelites and Joshua have needed that sentence of encouragement? They needed it because they were to fight the kings of the Canaanite nations who lived there. Joshua, who would be Moses’ successor, would be in charge of the fighting (a famous example is the Battle of Jericho), and needed the strength and courage given in those sentences. However, we can’t forget the Israelites either. They would be fighting as well. So, this sentence was also for them as well as for their soon-to-be leader, Joshua. They especially needed these strengthening words because Moses would soon not be with them anymore. Whereas in previous battles Moses had been praying for them (once when he held his arms up until he couldn’t anymore; then two people held his arms up for him), doing the spiritual fighting, and Joshua had been doing the physical fighting, Moses would no longer be there to fight the spiritual fight for them.
According to an article on Chabad.org (that further cited another source, Eliyah Rabah 669:18; Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 139:15), “Some have the custom to say the word chazak (חזק) three times, because it has the numerical value of 115, and 115 x 3 = 345, which is the numerical value of ‘Moses’ (משה), the receiver of the Torah” (Shirpin 14). Furthermore, according to my dad, when you reverse the letter order in “משה,” the numerical value stays the same but the letters become one of G-d’s names: Hashem. This means that G-d himself will indeed be with the Israelites, even though Moses would not be with them for much longer.
Later in the Tanakh, or the Bible, (depending on religion) in the book of Joshua the idea of strength is brought up again. This idea of strength is still frequently mentioned in Jewish culture today. Whenever a Jew finishes reading a part or a book of the Torah (depending on whether they are Sephardic or Ashkenazic), they say, “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,” which translates to “Be strong, be strong, and we will be strong!” Chabad.org says that strength is gained through the study of Torah. In general, a person is strengthened whenever he or she does a mitzvah. It could be mitzvot in general, not just reading Torah. Similar phrases are also used for other mitzvot.
Now, you may be asking, “How does this apply to me?” Each one of us needs to study torah, and do mizvot, and trust G-d will be , no matter what the circumstances are. We need to trust the G-d will lead us to our “land flowing with milk and honey,” our “Promised Land”. Even though there’s sure to be some bumps and blips (challenges) along the way, G-d will prevail and will give us strength. Spiritual strength is different from physical strength. To obtain physical strength, you can sort of do your own thing, follow a training plan, and come through stronger. Of course, with anything it is G-d who makes it happen. However, to obtain spiritual strength, G-d is even more so involved because we actively need to trust in H-m. So let us all be strong, and we shall be strengthened!
(The above is an Essay on Parashat Vayelech, written by mijiale’s daughter, when she was about 13 years old.)