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Amid Israel’s war in Gaza, there is talk of drafting yeshivah students into the army to bolster its ranks. On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of receiving the Torah, so I want to write about the role of Torah in war. The Torah is not just a dusty old book …

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Home » Featured, Free Choice, Shavuot

Shavuot: A Four Step Program

Submitted by on June 5, 2016 – 1:01 amNo Comment | 3,146 views

In preparation for Shavuot, we present Judaism’s four step program. Everything that G-d created can be used for constructive or destructive purpose. It can be unifying or divisive.

Take walls for example. Are walls good or bad? Ronald Regan became world famous when he challenged Mr. Gorbachev to take down a wall; the Berlin Wall. Today, Donald Trump aspires to be president with a promise to build a wall. Walls can be good or bad, depending on their context. It is good to build a wall between yourself and your enemy. It is terrible to build a wall between your and your brother.

Similarly, every human trait can be used for good or bad. The four step program teaches us to channel four human traits, brazenness, ambition, decisiveness and endurance to good purpose.

Yehudah the son of Teima would say: Be brazen as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. He would also say: The brazen–to purgatory…”[1]

Brazen Like A Leopard

Let’s look at brazenness, is it good or bad? On the one hand, he encourages us to be brazen like a lion, then he tells us that the brazen are destined for purgatory. The answer is that it is neither good nor bad, it depends on how it is used. If it is used for G-d, it is good. If it is used against G-d, it is bad.[2]

When we feel inadequate, it requires a measure of boldness to stand up and serve G-d. Imagine thinking, I’d love to pray, but knowing where I was and what I did last night, will G-d listen to me? To make matters worse, your friends mock your piety saying, ‘you think anybody up there is interested in what you have to say?’ You don’t know if they are right or wrong, but you pray anyway. That is brazen.[3]

Light as an Eagle

Is ambition good or bad? It depends on your ambition. If it is to soar spiritually, it is good. If it is to pursue greed, fame or jealousy, it is bad. Imagine you feel satisfied with the Judaism of your past; you were raised going to synagogue on Shabbat and not eating pork, you observe the High holidays, Chanukah and Passover, and you feel that is sufficient. Do you need more?

The four step program prompts you to channel your natural ambition to soar like an eagle. There are four signs of a kosher bird and any bird that has at least three of those signs is kosher. The eagle is the only bird that has none of them. Yet, this doesn’t stop the eagle from soaring above all other birds. The eagle’s ambition is light and unburdened. It set’s its wings to flying and it soars. We can do the same, despite being unaccustomed to certain Jewish observances, we can set out mind to them and soar.

Another aspect of the eagle is its light weight. It soars high because it is lightweight. When you are brazen, you think highly of yourself and that can cause you to take yourself too seriously. Let others deal with the rituals and traditions that I consider unimportant. I will focus only on the important ones. The four step program reminds us to temper our brazenness with the eagle’s lightness. Be willing and able to perform for G-d in every way that you are called upon.

Swift as A Deer

Is it good to be decisive? Depends on the situation. If the decision calls for deliberation, decisiveness is unhelpful. If the situation calls for swiftness, decisiveness is a good quality. When we come across an alluring temptation that we simply cannot dismiss, we need to be swift and decisive like a deer.

A deer runs quickly. He seeks every mitzvah opportunity and doesn’t give his temptations a chance to catch up with him. We don’t give ourselves a chance to stop and think, we move swiftly and decisively from one mitzvah to the next.

But the deer also looks back and check if his pursuer is following. This means that despite our headlong rush from mitzvah to mitzvah, we don’t lose sight of our position. We keep an eye out for where temptations lurk and do our best to avoid it. If we are tempted to a particular non kosher establishment, we make a point of avoiding that neighborhood, even as we rush headlong into the next mitzvah.

Mighty as A Lion

This refers to resolute and unbending commitment in the face of pressure. Is such strength good? Again, it depends on the situation. If it calls for regrouping and planning a new approach, stubborn commitment is a hindrance. If it calls for endurance, inner strength is a plus.

When one rushes headlong from one mitzvah to the next, fleeing every stumbling-block and tripping-stone, it can trigger a frivolous attitude, when mindfulness is required. For Mitzvah observance, swiftness and alacrity is a strength, but for Torah study, focus and endurance are required. If our minds are in turmoil, it is difficult to focus on our studies.

The four step program prompts us to toggle back and forth between swift decisiveness and plodding deliberation[4] and for that one needs an iron will; the might of a lion. When we give free reign to our creativity and enthusiasm, we trigger unbridled passion for another mitzvah and another mitzvah, each to bring us one step closer to G-d. However, when it is time to sit down and study Torah, we must channel our inner lion’s strength to bear down on our studies and bring the Torah into sharp focus.

Yehudah – Subservient

The four step program summons us to conflicting traits. Be brazen to resist mockery and lowliness, but light and humble to motivate yourself in the long run. Be swift and decisive to avoid temptation and to pursue mitzvah, but focused and strong to study Torah. How can we embody such conflicting streams?

The answer lies in the name of the sage who developed the four step program. Yehudah, means to acknowledge. It also contains G-d’s name, the tetragrammaton. We, at best, acknowledge G-d’s truth because G-d transcends comprehension. Rendered thusly, Yehudah connotes humble submission to G-d.

When we are motivated by an awareness of G-d’s all encompassing presence in our midst, we feel driven to draw closer to him. When our drive is focused exclusively on our goal, we pay scant attention to the particular tools, the specific means, that each situation calls for. We call up whatever we need, whether it is our feature strength or not.

Yehudah’s father was Teima. The four Hebrew letters that comprise Teima are Taf, Yud, Mem, and Alef. They form an acronym for Ahava (love) Yirah (awe) Mitzvah and Torah. The brazenness to approach G-d comes from love of G-d. The lightness to perform even the menial mitzvot, comes from fear of G-d. Swiftness and inner strength lead respectively to Mitzvah and Torah.

Yehudah the son of Teima taught us the four step program because when your focus is Yehudah, complete attachment to G-d, you can be successful in all four drives that form the letters of Teima.[5]

[1] Ethics of Our Fathers, 5:20.

[2] An example of brazenness that worked is related by Abba Eban in his Memoirs, Personal Witness, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1992, p 270. During the 1956 Sinai Campaign, John foster Dulles, told Eban, that he was personally thrilled that Nasser and Egypt, were pushed back, but the Sinai campaign had violated the charter. Was the US expected to have one set of expectations for its adversaries and another for its friends? As Eban recalls the story, “To his evident dismay, I replied, ‘O’ yes, Mr. Secretary, I do. isn’t that what friendship’s about?’” This situation called for a brazen response and happily it worked.

[3] Rabbi Ovadya Bartenura explained that the leopard under discussion is a hybrid, similar to a leopon. The message is that even a Jew of questionable lineage. should feel free to take up G=-d’s time in prayer.

[4] This is another reason for the deer to look back. To make sure that it can put on the breaks when necessary and stop to study Torah. Another situation that calls for the strength of a lion, is when temptation simmers and burns, like the temptation that Joseph experienced in Egypt, when he was propositioned daily by his mistress.

[5] This essay is based on Reshimos #7 and Toras Moshe (Alshich on Leviticus 25:7.