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Vayelech: Eternal and Internal Strength

Deut. 31:6-7 – Be strong and resilient (חזקו ואמצו), do not become frightened and do not become terrified because of them [the Canaanites]. And Moses called to Joshua, and he said to him in [front of] the eyes of all Israel: Be strong and be resilient (חזק ואמץ)!   Ibid. v. 23And [Moses] commanded Joshua, son of Nun, and he said: Be strong and resilient (חזק ואמץ)!

The root אמץ appears in Parashat Vayelech more times than in any other Parashah in the Torah. The authors of books differentiating between synonyms in the biblical Hebrew 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) , ayal(איל) , eitan(איתן) , chozek(חוזק) , adir(אדיר) , avir(אביר) , kabir(כביר) , and atak  (עתק). 

We will focus on the root אמץ and its counterpart חזק in an attempt to understand: 1)What is the specific denotation of the word אמץ, 2)What is the difference between אמץ and חזק? 3)And finally, why does these two words so often appear together as a pair? 

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 (אמִץ) 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 to continue being strong in the face of opposition. It seems that this last point is the main evidence for Malbim’s explanation in differentiating between the two terms. All that remains for us is to test this theory in other contexts in order to extrapolate the specific meaning of  אמץ.

We find a common thread amongst all Hebrew words which are based on the two-letter string מץ. They all refer to different forms of contraction, minimizing (including the notion of a minimal quantity), capturing, pushing, pressure (including feeling pressed or hardships in an emotional and/or physical sense), squeezing, squashing, and sucking. In short, they all refer to something related to the application of pressure. We have found eight different words of this variety,  and we will now examine each one separately:

  1. Mitzah (מִצה)  – An expression of squeezing and pushing / pressure. Radak in Sefer HaShorashim (s.v. מצה) finds various Biblical passages in which this root is used in such contexts. 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 in Prov. 30:33 and Isa. 16:4—both cases in which מיץ refers to sucking. 
  3. Matz (מץ) – This two-letter string serves as the root for the word Matzoh (מצה, poorman’s bread). Radak (s.v. מץ) proposes, among other suggestions, that the root of Matzoh is מצץ because these baked wafers have 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 may be 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 something. Nachmanides compares this to מיץ חלב (literally, “milk juice”) which is a term that refers to butter because it is extracted from milk.  
  5. Kometz (קמץ) – This word has three different meanings, one in Hebrew and two in Aramaic:
    1. In Hebrew, קמץ refers to a contracted hand,  as a Kohen officiating at a meal-offering is commanded to contract his hand and scoop out flour (Lev. 2:2).  
    2. A second, Aramaic, meaning of קמץ is grasshopper, as Targum (to Num. 13:33, Isa. 40:22) translates instances of the Hebrew word chagavim (grasshoppers) into kamtzin (קמצין). We propose that a grasshopper is called a kamtza (קמצא) in Aramaic because its legs are generally in a contracted (מקומץ) position, ready to suddenly spring forth and jump. 
    3. Another Aramaic meaning of the root קמץ is pit / ditch, as Radak writes that the word gometz (גומץ) which appears in Ecc. 10:8 is rendered קומץ by the Targum (the letters ג and ק are often used interchangeably)—with both words referring to a deep pit. So a pachat (I Sam. 18:17) is translated into Aramaic as a kometza,  which 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 already explained, this word refers to a pit or ditch. With the interchangeability of the terms קמץ and גמץ in mind, Rav Hai Gaon 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,  it will not be satisfied. We again see here that the term גמץ is an expression of constriction or captured.
  7. Chametz (חמץ) – This word has three essential meanings: 1) Leavened 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.  Similarly, Targum renders the Hebrew words for sadness (Prov. 14:13) and embarrassment (Prov. 25:8) with the Aramaic inflections 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 – emotional or physical. 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).  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 a sense of pressure in a physical and/or emotional level to the victim of this thievery. 

  1. Remetz (רמץ) – Rashi (to Ex. 28:4) explains that the word tashbetz means a hole within which one can set stones on clothes or jewelry, and Targum translates tashbetz into Aramaic as remetz. 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 do precious stones which are set snugly into clothes or jewelry, are in fact stuck in their places and cannot move.

In summation, we have seen several different words containing the מץ string that all include the meanings minimizing / pressure / capturing.

We will now turn to examine the word חזק. As previously mentioned, Malbim explains that חזק refers to timely strength. Meaning, although חזק refers to potent power, with time that strength tends to attenuate, slowly but surely losing its might. 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 sight, 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 projects an given outward appearance. The word זק refers to strong chains in Ps. 149:8 or pure, unadulterated and strong metal in Ps. 12:7.  

    Accordingly, the word חזק may refer to strength, but it is the type of strength which is not long-lasting, but eventually diminishes. Therefore, one needs to be constantly reenergized in order to retain one’s strength. This revitalization 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, we find in the Tosefta (Shabbat 17:19) – R. Shimon ben Elazar said: One who wishes to לאמץ the eyes of a corpse on Shabbat should blow wine into his nose.  According to this, the word אמץ signifies closing something. In the context of retaining חזק, it seems that אמץ serves to close in or lock in one’s strength so that it does not weaken. We find allusions to this meaning of אמץ in the Aramaic Targumim when dealing with the expression חזק ואמץ.

    The Targumim often render the Hebrew word אמץ with 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 they fear of the opposing claimant as being a גברא אלימא, a strong man). We propose the etymology of the word אלים is related to the word אלומותbundle, which denotes a wad of stalks tied and closed together. Indeed, R. Chananel ben Shmuel, in his commentary to Alfasi (Kiddushin 43a)  writes that the prime meaning of the word אלים is related to אלומות,  as both denote something tied up and strong. This too supports our contention that אמץ denotes locking in whatever strength or powers one has so that he will not lose those powers over time.

Interestingly, 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.  This might just be one of many examples of the letters א and ע being used interchangeably,  however, the sefarim Ohel Moed and Redifi Maya seem to suggest that there is actually a 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 Metzudot 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 נצח, which Targum translates as תופקי (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. Putting two and two together, we realize that נצח refers to a specific type of strength – an everlasting strength, i.e. the most complete and strongest form of strength possible. We suggest that the word עילם is related to עולםforever, in that the form of strength denoted by the word עילם (again, the Aramaic form 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 strength (אמץ). 

Of the seventeen times that the expressionחזק ואמץ appears in the Bible, seven of them were said to Joshua in the Pentateuch and in the Book of Joshua.  Joshua’s challenge, to assume the role of his teacher Moses, seemingly frightened 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. Genesis Rabbah (16:1) expounds on Job 14:20 to teach that the strength which Hashem granted Adam was meant to last forever. However, after Adam sinned and 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 be reversed (I Sam. 15:29).


1 [כל אלו המלים מוסברות ביש (ב:נט.-סב:). ספרים אחרים מנו עוד מלים רבות, וניגע בכך בהמשך המאמר].

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

3 [גמלים לא כללנו בקבוצה זו: 1. “מצא“, 2. “מצח“, 3. “מצר“, בגלל שבעל החשק שלמה רואה את אות המבכולן כנוספת (“מהאמנתיו“), ושרשןצא‘, ‘צח‘, וצר‘, עיין שם בערכים הנל לנימוקיו].

4 [ראה רשי יומא כד:, זבחים סה., מנחות ב:, מעילה ט.].

5 [מהריא קרא (ישעטז:ד), אלשיך (ויקרא א:ו), תומר בקודש (לבעל התפארת ישראל ו:ז). רדק (ערךמצה‘) נקט בלשון  מציצה, וכך מצצ בישעסו:יא (ועש רשי). ושים לב שמציצה אינה אלא מנגנון של מיצוי].

6 [ובערךמצץהביא רדק עוד פסוק המורה על  מציצה]: לְמַעַן תָּמֹצּוּ וְהִתְעַנַּגְתֶּם מִזִּיז כְּבוֹדָהּ (ישעסו:יא).

7 [והשאינה שרשית, אלא שהשימוש. להרחבה, ראה ספר המקרא ותרגומיו (רחיים חמיאל, ירושלים תשסא, דף 27-228)].

8 [שיעור מועט של לפחות בזתים]: ירושיומא ב:ארחמא בר עוקבה בשם ריבל אין קמיצה פחות מבזתים.

9 [ומכאן לשון הפסוק]: ברמא:מזוַתַּעַשׂ הָאָרֶץלִקְמָצִים; רשילקמציםקומץ על קומץ, יד על יד. [היינו מידה  מועטת ומצומצמת (ראה רשי ביצה יב:, ערכין כא:, וראה גם משנת דרא למדרש בר צ:ה)].

10 [והשוה את מאמרינו לפכי תשא (פיסקה #3 “קפץ“)].

11 [וכן תי שב יז:ט. ובמקומות אחרים נמצאת גירסתכומצא” (בחילוף גיכק) – ראה ישעכד:יזיח, ירמח:מגמד].

12 [מובא בספר פירושי הגאונים למשנה ותלמוד, דף קמ].

13 [והשוה את מאמרינו לפחיי שרה (פיסקה #4 “גמץ“)].

14 [בהשאלה מחומץ יין“, כדפירש רדק (ערךחמץ‘)]: 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; מצציתחמץמלשון חומץ ובא בדרך השאלה על הכעס.

16 [והשוה משלי י:י, יז:כא, כח:ז].

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

18 [כדברי רדק (ערךפז‘)]: עֲטֶרֶת פָּז (תהכא:ד), הוא הזהב הטוב המזוקק כי יותר הוא חזק המזוקק.

19 [ודומה לכך]: ספרי בהעלותך, פיסקא פדמשל אדם לוקה על ראשו אינו אומץ אלא עיניו. [העיר בני אמש שבשבת עז: מסיקה הגמרא שגורסיםמעצמיןבמקוםמאמצין“. וגם בגמשבת קנא: הגירסא של הברייתא הזו היא עם ע‘. אמנם בהערת המסורת השס על המשנה שם הביא שהערוך קיים את גירסת התוספתא שהבאנו, ועש בדעות אחרות שהביא בענין. ועכפ כאן הסברנו לפי הגירסא הפשוטה בתוספתא].

20 [וריהודה בלוי (“הצופה לחכמת ישראל“, בודפשט, תרעא) השוה את לשונםאומץ לב“]: תוספתא סוטה יד:ז  רבו אומצי הלב, וכל אחד ואחד קופץ ידו. [לביטוייםאטימין לבא“, “לבו אטום” (זוהר א:כח., ג:יב:)].

21 [ומעין כך כתב החתם סופר (פוישב)]: מאלמים אלומיםלשון גבר אלים וכל דאלים גבר, שיתחזקו זה נגד זה בשעת ההשלכה אל הבור.

22 [ובמדרש, השוו לשוןאילםלאלומות” – כאילו ששפתיו קשורות ואטומות]: בר א:הרהונא בשם בר קפרא פתח: תאלמנה שפתי שקר וגו‘ (תהלא), אתפרכן, אתחרשןכדא: או מי ישום אלם (שמד), ואומר: והנה אנחנו מאלמים אלומים בתוך השדה והנה קמה אלומתי (ברלז); ערוך (ערךפרך‘) אתפרכןפיענין קשירה.

23 [וכן תרגמה יונתן בספר יהושע (א:איח, י:כה). בתרגום לתהלים (כז:יד, לא:כה) מופיעעלם“, ובדהב (יא:יז) – “אלים“. ויש לציין שבישעיה (כח:ב, לה:ג), עמוס (ב:יד) ונחום (ב:ב) תרגמה יונתן במלהחסין“].

24 [ראה למשל רשי במיד:מד, רמבן דבכא:יד, רלבג מב ו:ח].

25 [רשלמה בן אברהם מאורבינו, ווינציה, שנת שח].

26 [ריהודה עדל, נולד בשנת תקיז בזמושטאץ בפולין. יצא לאור מכי, ירושלים, תשסא].

27 [דברים ג:כח, לא:ז, כג].

28 [ארבע פעמים ביהושע א:איח, 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