Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer (1866-1935) compares “oz” to “az,” which also means strong or bold. He explains that the ayin-zayin combination refers to the strength of a person’s spirit/resolve – i.e., he cannot easily be dissuaded or deterred by others. A person’s oz is so palpable that it can be physically reflected in his face (see Ecclesiastes 8:1) and it is therefore poetically called a garment in which a person dresses (see Proverbs 31:24).
When Moses sent spies to scout out the Holy Land, he asked them to examine whether the Canaanites were strong and used the word “chazak” (Numbers 13:18). But when the spies returned, they said that the Canaanites were strong using a different word: “az” (ibid. 13:28).
Rabbi Wertheimer accounts for this word-switch by explaining that the spies were originally charged with determining whether or not the Canaanites were physically strong (“chazak”) but decided instead to examine the Canaanites’ psychological resolve, concluding that they were so strong-willed and motivated to fight that their determination could be seen on their faces (“az”/“oz”).
Interestingly, Rabbi Naftali Hertz (Wessely) Weisel (1725-1805) writes that “oz” primarily denotes divine supernatural powers/abilities (in contrast to “gevurah,” which can also refer to powers/abilities within the normal course of nature). Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760-1828) cites Weisel in explaining Psalms 28:11, which states that G-d gives oz to His nation. The verse means that G-d elevates the Jewish people above the rules of nature to the realm of the supernatural.
Another verse in Psalms (68:35) exhorts the reader to give “oz” to G-d. Obviously we can’t actually strengthen G-d. What the verse means is that when the Jewish people follow G-d’s will, He will shower them with more abundance as if they had given Him more energy (see Eichah Rabbah 1:33).
Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz (1873-1936) said that G-d allows us to feel like we are granting Him strength in order to teach us a lesson. When you do somebody a favor, you should allow him to do something else for you in return so that the beneficiary of your favor does not feel forever indebted to you. So when G-d does us the ultimate favor of giving us life and sustaining us, He gives us a chance to feel like we can do something for Him in return by following the Torah and giving Him oz.
“Takif” is the standard Aramaic translation for “chozek” and “oz” in the Targumim. It is also a Hebrew word that appears in the Bible (see Esther 9:29, Ecclesiastes 4:12, and Daniel 4:27). Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) traces “takif” to the two-letter root kuf-peh, which means complete circle. Other words derived from this root include “hakafah”/“haikef” (circumference, encircle) and “kafah”/“kafui” (frozen – because the outer perimeter of liquid freezes first, and only afterwards does the rest of it freeze). Rabbi Pappenheim writes that “kof” (monkey) is also related to this two-letter root but says he cannot explain the connection.
Rabbi Pappenheim also writes that “chozek” denotes strength in one’s ability to withstand being overpowered by another, while “tokef” denotes strength in the sense of one’s ability to overpower others.
Rabbi Pappenheim’s etymology of “takif” is reminiscent of his explanation of the etymology of “chayil” (strength), which he says comes from the two-letter root chet-lammed (circular motion). Accordingly, “takif” is a level of strength/potency whereby one can surround and overpower another.
Rabbi Edel writes that when we describe G-d as “takif,” we mean to invoke His all-encompassing power/sovereignty. The Aramaic expression “matkif,” which is commonly found in the Talmud, refers to a sage attacking or overpowering another sage’s position with a persuasive argument.
Rabbi Shlomo of Urbino (a late 15th century Italian scholar) writes in Ohel Moed (his lexicon of synonyms) that Biblical Hebrew has 36 words for strength or power! Although Yonah Wilheimer (1830-1913) – the Viennese publisher of the 1881 edition of Ohel Moed – notes that this statement is somewhat of an exaggeration, it remains true that we have only scratched the surface of this topic…
(To be continued)