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5 Tishrei 5760 - September 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Dedicating our Hearts to Serve Hashem

by HaRav Moshe Man

"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 physical powers.

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 his Creator."

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" (Ovos 4:1).

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 our power.

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 unbearable conditions.

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" (Bereishis 18).

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 swiftly?

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 strongest animals."

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 it.

@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 inner feelings.

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.

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