Peri Finkelstein walked 1400 steps to finish the Miami Half Marathon. When Peri was born with muscular dystrophy her parents were told that she wouldn’t be able to walk at all. Not only did Peri finish the race, but the crowd at the finish line was cheering “Peri, Peri” as she crossed the line. Watching Peri finish the race and listening to the crowd, I was strengthened. I was strengthened to fundraise more, encourage more friends to run for charity, and to do all that is in my power to bring more goodness into the world.
In Judaism when the community in synagogue finishes reading one of the books of the Torah the community says, חזק חזק ונתחזק, be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened. I have always thought this is a strange phrase to proclaim together. What does it mean for everyone to shout together: “We will be strengthened”?
The source for this phrase is a verse in the second book of Samuel Chapter 10 where a general going out to battle tells his soldiers that they must be strong for the people they represent. They must be strong for others. When we finish reading a book of the Torah we stand up and say that we must be strong for each other.
This year over 400 runners gathered to run as part of Team Lifeline in the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon to raise money for Chai Lifeline, an organization that supports children with serious illnesses and their families. The Sunday morning of the race 400 runners leave the hotel at 4:30 a.m. for the starting line. One might think that a bus ride at 4:30 in the morning before running over 13 miles would be a quiet bus ride, with runners taking the time to rest and relax; however, the ride is the complete opposite. The bus is bursting with singing, music and dancing. The energy is invigorating. Four hundred people who have come from around the world and raised millions of dollars to support families and children in their time of struggle gather for a photo at the beginning of the marathon before running. It is an overwhelmingly emotional experience.
I look around me at the starting line of the Miami Marathon at runners of all ages, some wearing pictures of children they are running for, some pushing children in their wheelchairs, some family members of children currently fighting the battle against serious illness and some supporters, everyone sharing their strength with each other; together we are strengthened.
We are about to go out to battle. As runners we will battle our bodies, heat and fatigue as we complete the 13.1-mile course, but this battle is nothing compared to what the beneficiaries of Chai Lifeline face. As we run, we are only doing a small gesture to strengthen the families and children who need support.
We need to feel hopeful. We need to feel strengthened, so we call out together at the end of a book of the Torah as a community to say we have accomplished something, may we be strengthened, and strengthen each other.
One might think that the only way to strengthen each other is by finishing a book of the Torah, or through an amazing organization and group experience like Team Lifeline. This is only one manner of חזק חזק ונתחזק, strength, strength, and we will be strengthened.
Every year at the race, I carry bells when running the course. Every time I come up to another runner I recognize who is also running with Team Lifeline, or another runner running for a different charity, or for that matter anyone running who looks like they could use some support I ring my bells and say, “Keep going, looking good” or something similar. Most people smile and nod, some people run a couple of blocks with me, one or two even run with me for a while as we share a good conversation.
I am also strengthened by the hundreds of people who are not running the morning of the marathon but get up early to make signs and cheer on other runners. I love running by total strangers who say “Good job” or “You are Awesome.” Strangers giving strength to other strangers.
In today’s world, which is sometimes sad and depressing, we can all give strength to one another. It doesn’t take finishing a book of the Torah, or running a marathon to take a moment to find someone near you and give them encouragement and strength—you too will also be strengthened.
David Fain is a rabbinical student at Yeshivat
Chovevei Torah and lives in Riverdale with his wife
By David Fain