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Vayeleich – Eternal and Internal Strength

Yehoshua Steinberg

 

Be strong and resilient (חזקו ואמצו), do not become terrified and do not become frightened because of them (the Canaanites). And Moses called to Joshua, and he said to him in (front of) the eyes of the entire Israel{ite nation, ‘Be strong and be resilient (חזק ואמץ)!’ (Deut. 31:6–7).

And [Moses[ commanded Joshua, son of Nun, and he said, ‘Be strong and be resilient (חזק ואמץ)! (Deut. 31:23).

The root אמץ appears in Parshat Vayelech more times than in any other Parashah in the Torah. The authors of books about synonyms in the Holy Language all agree that there are at least fifteen different words that express the notion of strength / resilience. They are: koach (כח), ometz(אומץ) , chayil(חיל) , gevurah(גבורה) , oz (עוז) , tokef(תוקף) , otzmah(עוצמה) , onim(אונים) , eyal(איל) , eitan(איתן) , chozek(חוזק) , adir(אדיר) , avir(אביר) , kabir(כביר) , and atak (עתק). 1

We will focus on the root ‘אמץ’ and its counterpart ‘חזק’ and try to understand: 1)What is the unique meaning of the word ‘אמץ’, 2)What is the difference between ‘אמץ’ and ‘חזק’? 3)And finally, why do these two words often appear adjacent to each other as a pair? 2

We will begin by first addressing the latter two questions, as Malbim discusses the difference between ‘אמץ’ and ‘חזק’ many times. Isaiah says: Behold! Chazak (חזק) and Amitz (אַמִּץ) to G-d (Isa. 28:2). Malbim (there) explains that ‘חזק’ refers to timely strength, while ‘אמץ’ refers to the ability to continually retain strength, i.e. resilience. For this reason, explains Malbim, these two words always appear in the same order. ‘חזק’ always comes first because it denotes the raw strength, while ‘אמץ’ always follows because it denotes the ability the perpetuation of such power over time. The consistency of the order of the two terms, first ‘חזק’ then ‘אמץ’, is thus Malbim’s main evidence in differentiating between the two roots. However, we believe that further substantiation can be brought to bear by carefully studying the words themselves.

The underlying biliteral root of ‘אמץ’, according to Yeriot Shlomo (2:62a) is the two-letter string ‘מץ’. We find a common thread amongst all Hebrew words containing this letter pair. They all refer to various forms of contraction, minimizing (including the notion of a minimal quantity), capturing, pushing, pressure (including pressure or hardships in an emotional and/or physical sense), squeezing, squashing, and sucking. In short, they all refer to something related to restriction, constraint or pressure. We find eight different words of this variety, 3and we will now examine each one separately:

  1. Mitzah (מִצה) – An expression of squeezing4 and pushing / pressure. 5Radak in Sefer HaShorashim (s.v. מצה) cites various Biblical passages in which this root is used in this sense. For example, Lev. 1:15 tells of squeezing (ונמצה) the blood of a bird unto the altar, and similar examples can be found in Lev. 5:9, Jud. 6:38, Isa. 51:17, Ps. 73:10, and Ps. 75:9.
  2. Mitz (מיץ) – This word means juice and refers to the act of sucking liquid from inside something else. Radak (s.v. מיץ) cites examples of such usage in the Bible at Prov. 30:33 and Isa. 16:4—both cases in which מיץ refers to sucking. 6
  3. Matz (מץ) – This two-letter string serves as the root for the word Matzoh (מצה, poorman’s bread). Radak (s.v. מץ) proposes (alternatively) that the root of Matzoh is מצץ, apparently because such baked wafers have had all their moisture sucked out or squeezed out of them. For Biblical examples, he points to Ex. 12:15 and Lev. 2:5 which refer to unleavened breads as Matzoh. Radak also suggests that the root of Matzoh is ‘נצה’.
  4. Shemetz (שמץ) – This word appears twice in the Book of Job (Job 4:12, 26:14) and both times the Targum translates it as the essence of an entity. Nachmanides compares this to מיץ חלב (literally, “milk juice”) which is a term that refers to butter because it is extracted from milk. 7
  5. Kometz (קמץ) – This word has three distinct meanings, one in Hebrew and two in Aramaic:
    1. In Hebrew, ‘קמץ’ refers to a contracted hand, 8 as a Kohen officiating at a meal-offering is commanded to contract his hand and scoop out flour (Lev. 2:2). 9
    2. A second, Aramaic, meaning of ‘קמץ’ is grasshopper, as the Targumim (to Num. 13:33, Isa. 40:22) translate instances of the Hebrew word chagavim (grasshoppers) as kamtzin (קמצין). We propose that a grasshopper is called a kamtza (קמצא) in Aramaic because its legs are generally in a contracted position, ready to suddenly spring forth and jump.
    3. Another Aramaic meaning of the root ‘קמץ’ is pit / ditch, as Radak (s.v. גמץ) writes that the word gometz (גומץ) which appears in Ecc. 10:8 is synonymous with kometz (because the letters ג and ק can be used interchangeably10)—with both words referring to a deep pit. So a pachat (I Sam. 18:17) is translated into Aramaic as a kometza, 11which means pit. We propose that the word kometz in this sense is related to constriction / pressing because one who finds himself inside a deep pit feels constricted (in terms of his movement), as though the walls of the pit are pushing or pressing on him.
  6. Gometz (גמץ) – As we already explained, this word refers to a pit or ditch. With the interchangeability of the terms ‘קמץ’ and ‘גמץ’ in mind, Rav Hai Gaon12 elucidates an otherwise enigmatic aphorism in the Talmud. The Talmud (Brachot 3b) says: A ‘קמץ’ cannot satisfy a lion. R. Hai Gaon explains that this means that if a lion is stuck inside a pit, and it does not have the freedom of movement to seek out its prey, 13 it will not be satisfied. We again see here that the term ‘גמץ’ is an expression of constriction or constraint.
  7. Chametz (חמץ) – This word has three different meanings: 1) Leavened14 dough or sourdough, as in Lev. 23:17. 2)Anger, as in Ps. 73:21: my heart will become חמץ, which Radak explains is a form of anger. 15 Similarly, Targum translates words for sadness (Prov. 14:13) 16and embarrassment (Prov. 25:8) as other nuanced meanings of חמץ‘. 3)Rashi (to Isa. 1:17) explains that chamotz (חמוץ) refers to something stolen. The common denominator amongst these three meanings is that all refer to different forms of pressure or pushing, whether in an emotional or physical sense. Leavened bread undergoes fermentation which causes the bread to expand (and as a result of the pressure of escaping gasses, it causes cracks in the dough). 17 The concepts of anger, sadness, and embarrassment all refer to pent-up emotions which are bursting forth in outward expressions. Finally, robbery or stolen goods cause the victim emotional stress and pressure.
  8. Remetz (רמץ) – Rashi (to Ex. 28:4) explains that the word tashbetz means a slot within which one can set stones on clothes or jewelry, and Targum translates tashbetz as remetz in Aramaic. This is related to what we wrote about the roots קמץ and גמץ because just as one who is stuck inside a pit feels that he is under pressure and his freedom of movement is minimized, so precious stones -which are set snugly into clothes or jewelry- are literally constricted in place and cannot move.

In summation, all words containing the biliteral ‘מץ’ string are linked to the concepts of minimizing / pressure / restricting.

We will now return to the topic at hand to examine the root ‘חזק’. As previously mentioned, Malbim explains that ‘חזק’ refers to timely strength. Meaning, even though ‘חזק’ refers to power / strength, after some time, such strength tends to attenuate, slowly but surely losing its potency. We propose that this tendency is actually alluded to in the very word ‘חזק’ which seems to be a portmanteau of the roots ‘חז’ and ‘זק’. The root ‘חז’ in Rabbinic literature consistently refers to outward appearance, 18 such as when the Rabbis warns one not to look like (מתחזיא) a hunger-crazed person (Brachot 39b), or when certain transactions look like (מחזי) interest (Bava Metzia 14b). In both of these cases, the root ‘חז’ is used to demonstrate something giving a certain outward appearance. The word ‘זק’ refers to strong chains in Ps. 149:8 or pure, unadulterated and strong metal in Ps. 12:7. 19

Accordingly, the word ‘חזק’ may refer to apparent strength, but its strong appearance does not guarantee lasting endurance. In other words, constant re-invigoration is needed to ensure the durability of the initial strength. This resilience / reenergizing is called ,’אמץ’ and is indeed the counterpart to the concept of ‘חזק’. Still, we must try to understand exactly by what mechanism the ‘אמץ’ can revitalize the power of ‘חזק’.

We find the word ‘אמץ’ in the context of something which is closed or sealed. For example, the Tosefta (Shabbat 17:19) writes that R. Shimon ben Elazar said: One who wishes to לאמץ the eyes of a corpse20 on Shabbat should blow wine into his nose. 21 According to this, the word ‘אמץ’ means closing an object. In the context of retaining ‘חזק’, it seems that ‘אמץ’ serves to close in or lock in one’s strength to prevent its weakening. We find allusions to this meaning of ‘אמץ’ in the Targumim in their Aramaic renerings of the expression ‘חזק ואמץ’.

The Targumim tend to translate the Hebrew word ‘אמץ’ into the Aramaic word ‘אלים’. Examples of this can be found in Targum to Gen. 25:23, Deut. 3:28, II Chron. 11:17, and I Chron. 32:7. The word ‘אלים’ is familiar to us from the Talmud, in which it appears (Bava Batra 34b) in one form of conflict resolution known as כל דאלים גבר (he who is strong, overpowers) and (in Bava Metzia 39b) as an excuse for why witnesses have not appeared to support one side of an argument (because of their fear of the opposing party, who is a גברא אלימא, a strong man). We propose the etymology of the word אלים is related to the word אלומות – bundle, which denotes a wad of stalks tied and closed together. Indeed, R. Chananel ben Shmuel, in his commentary to Alfasi (Kiddushin 43a) 22 writes that the prime meaning of the word אלים is related to אלומות, 23 as both denote something tied up and strong. This too supports our contention that ‘אמץ’ denotes locking in strength or power the loss of such power over time.

Interesting, there are cases in which we find that the Targumim translate ‘אמץ’ not as ‘אלים’ but as ‘עילם’, such as in Deut. 31:6–7 and Deut. 31:23. 24 This might just be a classic case of the letters א and ע being used interchangeably, 25 however, based on the sefarim Ohel Moed26 and Redifi Maya27’ there may be a substantial difference between אלים and עילם. Those two sefarim add to the list of synonyms of strength another Hebrew word: netzach (נצח).

  1. I Sam. 15:29 reads: The Strength (נצח) of Israel will not lie—which Gersonides and Metzudat Tzion explain refers to God who is the One who gives strength to the Jewish People.
  2. Ezra 3:8 speaks of לנצח the work of the House of Hashem, and again Ibn Ezra explains that in this context, it means strengthening the construction.
  3. Lam. 3:18 speaks of losing one’s נצחי, which Targum renders as תוקפי (my strength). The same is found in Isa. 63:3 and Rashi/Targum there explains that נצח refers to one’s blood which is the source of his strength.

Even when the word נצח refers to strength, it does not lose its plain meaning which is everlasting; נצח would thus refer to a specific type of strength—an everlasting strength, i.e. the most complete and sturdiest form of strength possible. We suggest that the word עילם is related to עולם – forever, in that the form of strength denoted by the word עילם (again, the Targum of the word ‘אמץ’) is an everlasting strength which never weakens. With this in mind, we can now understand the true meaning of the term ‘חזק ואמץ’, or as the Targumim render it, ‘תקף ועילם’. It is call for one to radiate strength (חזק), but not just any type of strength, specifically a type of on-going, everlasting (לעולם) strength.

Of the seventeen times that the expression ‘חזק ואמץ’ appears in the Bible, seven of them were directed to Joshua in the Pentatuch28 and in the Book of Joshua. 29 Joshua’s challenge, to assume the role of his teacher Moses, seemingly terrified him—and justly so. Therefore, Hashem commanded Moses to bless him with extra strength, and indeed Hashem too blessed Joshua with a strength—an everlasting strength.

However, Joshua was not the first person to merit such an everlasting strength, as the rabbis teach us that in reality, Adam already had such a potential before he sinned with the Tree of Knowledge. Bereishis Rabbah (§16:1) expounds on Job 14:20 to teach that the strength which Hashem granted Adam was supposed to last forever. However, after Adam sinned and he fell from this lofty position, this great strength was taken away from him. Nonetheless, Hashem’s blessing to Joshua teaches us that this everlasting strength is something which continues to exist and is still attainable, as it says: And also the Strength (נצח) of Israel will not lie, and will not repent (I Sam. 15:29).

1 [כל אלו המלים מוסברות בי”ש (ב:נט.-סב:). יש ספרים שמנו גם מלים נוספות, וניגע בכך בהמשך המאמר].

2 [שבע עשרה פעמים בתנ”ך מופיעות מלים אלו בפסוק אחד, רובם צמודות ממש].

3 [ג’ מלים לא כללנו בקבוצה זו: 1. “מצא”, 2. “מצח”, 3. “מצר”, בגלל שבעל החשק שלמה רואה את אות המ’ בכולן כנוספת (“מ’ האמנתי”ו”), ושרשן ‘צא’, ‘צח’, ו’צר’, עיין שם בערכים הנ”ל לנימוקיו].

4 [ראה רש”י יומא כד:, זבחים סה., מנחות ב:, מעילה ט.].

5 [מהרי”א קרא (ישע’ טז:ד), אלשיך (ויקרא א:ו), תומר בקודש (לבעל התפארת ישראל ו:ז). רד”ק (ערך ‘מצה’) נקט בלשון מציצה, וכך מצ”צ בישע’ סו:יא (וע”ש רש”י). ושים לב שמציצה אינה אלא מנגנון של מיצוי].

6 [ובערך ‘מצץ’ הביא רד”ק עוד פסוק המורה על מציצה]: לְמַעַן תָּמֹצּוּ וְהִתְעַנַּגְתֶּם מִזִּיז כְּבוֹדָהּ (ישע’ סו:יא).

7 [להרחבה, ראה ספר המקרא ותרגומיו (ר’ חיים חמיאל, ירושלים, תשס”א, דף 227-228)].

8 [שיעור מועט של לפחות ב’ זתים]: ירושיומא ב:א – ר’ חמא בר עוקבה בשם ריב”ל אין קמיצה פחות מב’ זתים.

9 [ומכאן לשון הפסוק]: ברמא:מז – וַתַּעַשׂ הָאָרֶץ… לִקְמָצִים; רשי – לקמצים – קומץ על קומץ, יד על יד. [היינו מידה מועטת ומצומצמת (ראה רש”י ביצה יב:, ערכין כא:, וראה גם משנת דר”א למדרש ב”ר צ:ה)].

10 [וכן ת”י ש”ב יז:ט. ומצינו גם גירסת “כומצא” (בחילוף גיכ”ק) – ראה ישע’ כד:יז-יח, יר’ מח:מג-מד].

11 [והשוה את מאמרינו לפ’ כי תשא (קטע #3 “קפץ”)].

12 [מובא בספר פירושי הגאונים למשנה ותלמוד, דף ק”מ].

13 [והשוה את מאמרינו לפ’ חיי שרה (קטע #4 “גמץ”)].

14 [בהשאלה מ”חומץ יין”, כפי שהסביר רד”ק (ערך ‘חמץ’)]: וחֹמֶץ יַיִן (במדבר ו:ג), וחָמֵץ ענין אחד הוא, כי הבצק כשהוא חמוץ יותר מדאי טעמו טעם חומץ.

15 [והשוה]: תהעג:כא – כִּי יִתְחַמֵּץ לְבָבִי; מצצ – יתחמץ – מלשון חומץ ובא בדרך השאלה על הכעס.

16 [והשוה משלי י:י, יז:כא, כח:ז].

17 פסחים ג:ה – סִדּוּק, יִשָּׂרֵף, וְהָאוֹכְלוֹ חַיָּב כָּרֵת; רעב – [סידוק] דרך הבצק כשמחמיץ נעשה סדקים סדקים.

18 [הגם שהשרש מקראי, כגון]: כָּל נְבִיאֵי כָל חֹזֶה (מ”ב יז:יג), חָזִיתִי וַאֲסַפֵּרָה (איוב טו:יז). [אבל הבאנו דוגמאות מחז”ל כיון ששם מודגש בד”כ ענין משמעות החזות החיצונית של המלה].

19 [כדברי רד”ק (ערך ‘פז’)]: עֲטֶרֶת פָּז (תה’ כא:ד), הוא הזהב הטוב המזוקק כי יותר הוא חזק המזוקק.

20 [ודומה לכך]: ספרי בהעלותך, פיסקא פד – משל אדם לוקה על ראשו אינו אומץ אלא עיניו. [העיר בני אמ”ש שבשבת עז: מסיקה הגמרא שגורסים “מעצמין” במקום “מאמצין”. וגם בגמ’ שבת קנא: הגירסא של הברייתא הזו היא עם ע’. אמנם בהערת המסורת הש”ס על המשנה שם הביא שהערוך קיים את גירסת התוספתא שהבאנו, וע”ש בדעות אחרות שהביא בענין. ועכ”פ כאן הסברנו לפי הגירסא הפשוטה בתוספתא].

21 [ור’ יהודה בלוי (“הצופה לחכמת ישראל”, בודפשט, תרע”א) השוה את לשונם “אומץ לב”]: תוספתא סוטה יד:ז – רבו אומצי הלב, וכל אחד ואחד קופץ ידו. [לביטויים “אטימין לבא”, “לבו אטום” (זוהר א:כח., ג:יב:)].

22 [ומעין כך כתב החתם סופר (פ’ וישב)]: מאלמים אלומים – לשון גבר אלים וכל דאלים גבר, שיתחזקו זה נגד זה בשעת ההשלכה אל הבור.

23 [ובמדרש, השוו לשון “אילם” ל”אלומות” – כאילו ששפתיו קשורות ואטומות]: בר א:ה – ר’ הונא בשם בר קפרא פתח: תאלמנה שפתי שקר וגו’ (תה’ לא), אתפרכן, אתחרשן… כד”א: או מי ישום אלם (שמ’ ד), ואומר: והנה אנחנו מאלמים אלומים בתוך השדה והנה קמה אלומתי (בר’ לז); ערוך (ערך פרך‘) אתפרכן – פי’ ענין קשירה.

24[וכן תרגמה יונתן בספר יהושע (א:א-יח, י:כה). בתרגום לתהלים (כז:יד, לא:כה) מופיע “עלם”, ובדה”ב (יא:יז) – “אלים”. ויש לציין שבישעיה (כח:ב, לה:ג), עמוס (ב:יד) ונחום (ב:ב) תרגמה יונתן במלה “חסין”].

25[ראה למשל רש”י במ’ יד:מד, רמב”ן דב’ כא:יד, רלב”ג מ”ב ו:ח].

26 [ר’ שלמה בן אברהם מאורבינו, ווינציה, שנת ש”ח].

27 [ר’ יהודה עדל, נולד בשנת תקי”ז בזמושטאץ בפולין. יצא לאור מכ”י, ירושלים, תשס”א].

28[דברים ג:כח, לא:ז, כג].

29[ארבע פעמים ביהושע א:א-יח, לא:ז, כג].

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg

Founding Director, Editor-In-Chief at Veromemanu
Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg is the Founding Director and Editor-in-chief of Veromemanu and it' website BiblicalHebrewEtymology.com.

Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.

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Yehoshua (Jeremy) Steinberg