"And [Yaakov] rested in that place" (Bereishis 28:11).
Rashi (ibid.) cites the Midrash to the effect that
"[Yaakov] rested only in that place, but for fourteen years
when he served in Eiver's study hall he did not sleep at
night, since he was totally engaged in Torah study."
From where does a person obtain such phenomenal physical
power, enabling him to study Torah for fourteen years
straight without ever sleeping?
HaRav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt'l (Sichos Mussar,
5739, 9) explains that actually this was no miracle at all.
The strength that HaKodosh Boruch Hu provides man with
is tremendous, but the problem is that man does not make full
use of it. When a person employs all the powers at his
command, his accomplishments can seem miraculous.
We see, for instance, that when a fire bursts out,
Rachmono litzlan, a person can carry a weight that
normally only several people together can haul. "And they
said, `We cannot [roll away the stone from the well] until
all the flocks are gathered together . . . and Yaakov went up
[to the stone] and rolled the stone from the well's mouth"
(Bereishis 29:8,10) -- "just like a person removing a
cork from a bottle, which teaches us that [Yaakov] was
powerful" -- Rashi. The Rosh Yeshiva understood the
midrash in its simple meaning: Yaakov had great
The piyut of Tefillas Geshem, said on Simchas
Torah (Shemini Atzeres in chutz la'aretz), teaches us
that Yaakov's strength stemmed from his ability to dedicate
his heart entirely to Hashem. "He dedicated his heart and
rolled a stone off the mouth of a well of water . . . For his
sake do not hold water back." If his strength had been merely
natural we would certainly not be mentioning his
zechus to save us from drought. Yaakov's strength of
being able to dedicate his heart enabled him to study in the
beis midrash of Eiver for fourteen years without ever
sleeping, and to roll away the stone from the well like a
person removing a cork from a bottle. Only our laziness
prevents us from realizing our capabilities.
Every person should adopt this principle of dedicating his
heart when studying Torah and performing mitzvos. "R' Yehuda
ben Teima said, `Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle,
swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will
of your Father in Heaven'" (Ovos 5:20). Unless a
person acquires these four basic qualities he cannot contend
with life's fierce torrents and harsh trials. Only with these
qualities can he fulfill his aspirations, achieve his
desires, and accomplish his acts, with the aim of "carrying
out the will of his Father in Heaven."
R' Yaakov the son of Rabbenu Asher the Rosh starts off his
monumental halachic work the Tur covering all the
practical laws that a Jew must follow, with R' Yehuda ben
Teima's teaching. Before we even start to study and know how
and with what to serve Hashem, we have to possess the
capability to do so. These are the character traits that R'
Yehuda ben Teima enumerated in the Mishnah. Only
afterwards is it at all fitting to study what our obligation
is in avodas Hashem.
Similarly, Maran the Beis Yosef, at the beginning of his
Shulchan Oruch, opens with R' Yehuda ben Teima's
saying. The Ramo too starts off his commentary on the
Shulchan Oruch by adding, ". . . and a person should
not be embarrassed by people who mock him when he does his
avodas Hashem. Immediately when he wakes up from sleep
he should arise with alacrity to do the avoda he owes
With the four traits of R' Yehuda ben Teima, the Or
Yaheil (2:96) claims, a person can overcome the
difficulties in his war with the yetzer.
(1) "Bold as a leopard" -- the leopard is not as strong as a
lion, but because it is consistent in its desires and deeds
it will not humble itself, and will do everything in its
power to achieve what it wants.
(2) "Light as an eagle" -- although the eagle soars high in
the skies it stares intensely down upon the earth, where both
its food and its enemies who seek to kill it are found. Its
superiority in swiftly taking flight and the speed of its
flight allows it to capture its prey and flee from those who
wish to catch it. Since man too must go out into the world
and look for a livelihood he is liable to come in contact
with wicked people and confront many tests of life that are
waiting to entrap him. He must sense the imminent danger and
quickly save his soul by distancing himself from them.
(3) "Swift as a deer" -- a person should run after avodas
Hashem just as he runs after a treasure trove or
something else that he craves although he already has enough
livelihood. A person should not say to himself: "I have
already prayed, already studied Torah, or have done
sufficient chesed." He must forever continue to run
and do more.
(4) "Strong as a lion" -- to gain control over oneself in his
internal war. Real might carries on even when no one sees or
hears us, even when a person is by himself, since Hashem
searches a person's heart and knows his inner thoughts. "Who
is a mighty person? The one who subdues his yetzer"
Since man is weak after fasting just one day, he is
physically powerless, and the Or Yaheil asks: How
could R' Yehuda ben Teima command us that to obtain the
characters of all these four separate animals? It is beyond
He answers that man's real power is revealed when he longs
desperately for something. He is then able to suffer
endlessly; although he eats just a bare minimum, he will
reach what even he previously thought was impossible to
reach. In the Holocaust, even those accustomed to delicacies
managed to live off bread and water, since the desire to live
provided them with the power to survive even under seemingly
The Torah writes in great detail about Avrohom Ovinu's
matchless hospitality. Although he was in great pain after
his bris he waited anxiously outside for guests, and
then greeted them and ran to serve them. "He ran to meet them
. . . and Avrohom ran to the herd . . . and he stood by them"
The Baal HaTurim explains that "and Avrohom ran to the
herd" means he ran into a cave after the herd. In the
Pirkei DeRebbe Eliezer we find the explanation that
the cave was the Me'aras HaMachpela.
This needs to be understood. Avrohom Ovinu was already ninety-
nine years old at this time, it was the third day after his
bris mila, when the most pain is felt, and the sun was
blazing hot outside. Where did Avrohom Ovinu find the
strength to take care of his guests so thoroughly and
The Ramban writes, "This shows his great longing to help
others. Even though in his house there were thirty-eight
warriors and he was elderly and feeble, still Avrohom went
himself . . . ." This is the principle we are trying to bring
out: when a person yearns strongly for something he receives
special powers enabling him to reach it.
This can be also proven from the gemora
(Brochos 6b): "A person should always run to study
Torah, even on Shabbos, as is written: `They shall walk after
Hashem, Who shall roar like a lion' (Hoshea 11:10)."
This gemora is perplexing. It would have been a more
proper proof that "a person should always run" to adduce the
trait of "running like a deer," since the deer excels more in
running than the lion. Why, then, does the posuk
present the parable of a lion, an animal that apparently has
more strength than swiftness? Furthermore, why does the
posuk give the example of a roaring lion? Even when a
person sees a lion who is not roaring, he runs away from it
none the less.
It seems that the posuk is teaching us that when one
runs to do a mitzvah he must not run like a deer but rather
like someone who sees a lion and runs away from it. This is
not how he is accustomed to run. After seeing a lion he runs
far quicker than his natural strength would allow. He reaches
this super-normal power when he truly yearns for it.
Rabbenu Yonah wrote similarly when he explained the
posuk, "Let us therefore know, let us run after
knowledge of Hashem" (Hoshea 6:3): When we run after
Hashem we will be privileged to know that everything needs an
introduction, and running after something is itself the
introduction to it. A man runs when stimulated by a strong
desire, and that brings him to the knowledge he seeks. We
also see from Rabbenu Yonah that a person will run in order
to procure his desire.
Incidentally, when the great gaon HaRav Mordechai Man
zt'l eulogized his father-in-law, the gaon and
tzaddik R' Hillel Witkin zt'l, at the
levaya, he told in the name of HaRav Yechezkel
Levenstein zt'l, the mashgiach of Yeshivas
Ponevezh, that being "bold like a leopard" means that
although the leopard is not as strong as a lion, nonetheless
even when a person who is not strong uses boldness to fulfill
his will, he will gain the strength of a lion.
The mashgiach wrote in a similar fashion in Da'as
Torah on parshas Vayeitzei, that the Tanna
first wrote "be bold like a leopard" before all other traits
to teach us that every avoda and every mitzvah, even
the easiest, first demands boldness from man. Without
boldness a person cannot even start any avoda.
Mofeis Yechezkel cites what Maran the
mashgiach, R' Yechezkel Levenstein zt'l, said
to his talmidim in the Mirrer Yeshiva when the yeshiva
had fled to Shanghai during World War II. "In these Far East
countries we see how people have switched tasks with animals.
Sometimes you simply do not see horses carrying people and
loads. Those who drive the rickshaws work like horses and run
in front of the rickshaws from morning to night. I have seen
some people who look weaker than the average person, and it
seems that they would surely collapse from carrying any heavy
weight, but in reality they work hard the whole day carrying
unbelievable burdens and no sign of fatigue is apparent on
them. We see that in man are hidden powers of which we do not
have any concept, powers that allow him to be like the
What is the secret of this unexpected power? If a person has
accustomed himself to doing something it becomes second
nature -- an integral part of him. In light of this the
Mashgiach concludes that we can readily understand
what the Tanna means by "be bold like a leopard." These are
not natural powers, innate in a man's character. They are
traits that a person must invest effort to acquire. In Or
Yechezkel (13) the Mashgiach wrote that these four
powers are not merely beneficial traits; if a person does not
possess them he has nothing. It is the rule, then, that our
main spiritual effort is to overcome our natural powers and
their limitations. Our natural powers are a fact and a person
must work hard to change them. Only by acquiring the
characteristics that the Mishnah has enumerated is
there hope that a person will grasp the Torah and fulfill
@BIG LET BODY = This is what the Mesilas Yeshorim (6)
means by writing that the most desirable way of avoda
to Hashem is through a person's desire and the yearning of
his neshomoh. Dovid Hamelech in Tehillim
displays his great desire to do Hashem's will and his longing
for Him: "As the hart cries out in thirst for the springs of
water, so does my soul cry out in thirst for You, Elokim. My
soul thirsts for Elokim" (42:2-3). . . "My nefesh
yearns and pines for the courts of Hashem" (84:3) . . . "My
nefesh thirsts for You" (63:2). . . .
The best advice for a person who lacks such a burning desire
for Hashem is to begin to do His will energetically. After
acting with alacrity the desire to do His will becomes
natural, for the way a person acts externally awakens his
In his Kochvei Or R' Yitzchok Blazer zt'l
writes that we must conclude from R' Yehuda ben Teima's
parable of the four animals that just as an animal's powers
are born in him -- the donkey carries heavy loads and does
not need to overcome its yetzer to do so; it does not
know any other way of life -- exactly in that same way a
person must imbue himself with all of these attributes. They
must become a part of him.
This same theme is evident from the answer of R' Leibeleh to
his grandfather R' Akiva Eiger zt'l. The gemora
rules that we are forbidden to blow the shofar on Rosh
Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos because "perhaps one will
carry it four amos in the reshus horabim." The
Tosafos (Shabbos 5b, s.v. bishlomo)
points out in the name of the Yerushalmi that according to
Ben Azai, who is of the opinion that mehaleich ke'omeid
domei (walking is like standing), a person sins by
carrying an object four amos in reshus horabim
only when he jumps.
R' Akiva Eiger therefore asks: Why did Chazal forbid blowing
a shofar on Shabbos according to Ben Azai, since it is a
chashash rochok that a person will jump on Shabbos
when bringing the shofar? And why, because of such a remote
chance, do we cancel the mitzvah de'Oraisa of blowing
the shofar on Rosh Hashanah?
R' Leibeleh, R' Akiva Eiger's grandson, answered that since
we are referring to someone doing a mitzvah it is not at all
a chashash rochok that he will jump. To do a mitzvah a
Jew does not walk -- he jumps with enthusiasm.
The Minchas Yitzchok tells a story of how he once was
staying in the city of Kranitz, where many people came for
health reasons. Maran the Brisker Rav zt'l happened to
be there too at that time. Before davening the Brisker
Rav was accustomed to look in a small mirror to ensure that
his tefillin were in the correct place. There was a
certain chossid who was part of the regular
minyan that davened in the shul, and his
opinion was that it was not congruent with chassidus
to use a mirror, as is stated in Shut Divrei Chaim
(Orach Chaim II). The Divrei Chaim writes
that "to look in a mirror to make sure that the tefillin
are in the middle is an act of idiocy." This chossid
confiscated the mirror from the Brisker Rav.
The Brisker Rav said to him: "Since you did this because of
chassidus I will tell you a chassidishe story.
You argued against me by citing what the Divrei Chaim wrote,
so I will cite you a proof from the Divrei Chaim himself that
I am allowed to act this way. Once the Divrei Chaim slept in
his succah and strong rains began to fall, until his
pillow and mattress were entirely drenched with water. The
halocho is that someone who suffers discomfort in a
succah is not obliged to be there, and someone who is
potur from being in a succah and nonetheless
remains there is called a hedyot (a fool). Despite
this halocho the Divrei Chaim remained in the succah
while the rains beat down on him. The Rebbe cried out: `I
prefer to be called a hedyot as long as I can fulfill
the mitzvah of succah!'"
The Brisker Rav concluded: "I want to tell you that although
the Divrei Chaim wrote that looking in a mirror is idiocy, I
prefer to be called an idiot as long as I can fulfill the
mitzvah of tefillin with hiddur."
We see that a person must try to attain these four traits,
since only by acquiring them can he withstand the mockery of
others and do the will of his Creator.
There will certainly be difficult Divine trials for us in the
future, and divrei Torah must always be strengthened.
The gemora writes, "Four need to be strengthened:
Torah . . .." Rashi writes, "a person should always
strengthen himself [about these things] with all his might."
By acquiring the four traits that R' Yehuda ben Teima
enumerated a person can tackle and overcome all trials and
disturbances. A person is therefore obligated to acquire
these traits, as we have seen, since only through them he can
withstand the trials that befall him.
HaRav Moshe Man shlita is the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas
Be'er Yitzchok in Yerushalayim.