Scripture is replete with the deeds of great people—men and women who heeded G‑d’s instructions and accomplished incredible feats. While we are told what they did, we generally know precious little about the people themselves—what they looked like, how they felt, what their lives were like.

Careful scrutiny of the text (and the Midrashic subtext) reveals that some of these heroes lived with life-altering disabilities

1. Isaac Was Blind

Isaac, second of the three patriarchs of the Jewish nation, was blind.1 How did this happen? The sages provide several traditions:

  1. When Isaac was 37 years old, G‑d tested his father, Abraham, by instructing him to bring Isaac as an offering. At the very last minute, G‑d told him to sacrifice a lamb instead, but before that happened, when it appeared that Isaac would soon be killed, the heavens opened and the angels wept. Their tears fell into Isaac’s eyes, permanently blinding him.
  2. An alternative tradition is that Esau’s wives would sacrifice incense to their deities, and the smoke of their sacrifices adversely affected Isaac’s eyesight.
  3. A third explanation is that G‑d caused him to be blind so that Jacob would be able to receive the blessings from him, pretending to be Esau.2

Read: Jacob Receives Isaac’s Blessings

2. Jacob Limped

After years of living near his conniving father-in-law, Laban, Jacob made the decision to move his family to his homeland of Canaan. En route they reached the Yabok River, and Jacob spent the day transfering his family and all their possessions to the other side.

At the end of the long day, just before they turned to leave, he went back to retrieve some jugs that had been left behind. As he crossed over the river, he was surprised by an angel of G‑d disguised as a man. They wrestled until morning,3 and the angel dislocated Jacob’s thigh, causing him to limp.

Read: Jacob Wrestles the Angel

3. Chushim Was Hard of Hearing

From the Torah, we know only that Chushim is the son of Dan and grandson of Jacob.4 Tradition, however, tells us of his unique role in history.

Jacob passed away in Egypt, and a large procession accompanied him on his final journey to the family’s burial plot in Hebron. His evil brother, Esau, got wind of the funeral and did not allow them to enter the crypt, claiming that the plot rightfully belonged to him. Jacob’s son Naphtali—who was swift as a deer—was sent to retrieve a contract from Egypt which would prove that the rights to the plot lay with Jacob.

While this was happening, Chushim struggled to understand the cause for the hold up. When he was told that Esau was preventing Jacob from being buried, he refused to allow his grandfather’s body to be disrespected. Before anyone could stop him, he took a club and killed Esau.5

Read: Esau’s Autobiography

4. Moses Stuttered

When G‑d first commanded Moses to take His people out of Egypt, Moses protested that he was “heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.”6 This is generally understood to mean that Moses stuttered. How did this happen?

Moses spent his early years living in Pharaoh’s palace as his adopted grandson. The king was very fond of the little boy and even allowed him to fiddle with his crown. When the royal advisors found out, they protested: “We are worried that he will take the crown from you. He should be put to death!”

But one of the advisors, Jethro, suggested they place two bowls before the child, one containing gold, the other red-hot coals. If Moses would take the gold, it would indicate that he was clever and indeed posed a threat to Pharaoh. If he were to reach for the coals, however, it would prove that his fascination with shiny objects was nothing more than child’s play.

Moses reached toward the bowl of shimmering gold, but an angel intervened and shoved his hand into the coals. His hand was burnt and he instinctively put it, along with the hot coal, into his mouth, singeing his tongue. From that day forward, Moses spoke with a stutter.7

Read: Why Did G‑d Make Moses Stutter?

5. Samson Was Born With a Limp and Died Blind

If asked, “Who is the strongest man in the Bible?” your answer would most likely be “Samson!”

But here is something that might surprise you. According to Rabbi Yochanan of the Talmud, the mighty hero of the Book of Judges was actually born with a limp that affected both his legs.8

Near the end of his heroic life, the Philistines gouged out Samson’s eyes, blinding him. With his final strength, Samson grabbed the pillars of the building he was in and brought down the whole structure on all its occupants, himself included.9

Read: The Story of Samson and Delilah

6. Ehud Had a “Shriveled” Hand

Ehud, the son of Gera, had a shriveled right hand and had a strong, dominant left hand.10 He lived at a time when Eglon, the king of Moab, enslaved the Israelites. G‑d heard the prayers of His people and sent Ehud to save them.

Ehud hid a sword under his cloak, on his right side, and approached Eglon’s palace. The guards checked his left side for a weapon (since that is where right-handed people place their swords) and did not notice the sword hidden on his right.

Once inside, Ehud announced that G‑d had a “secret errand”11 for the king, which enabled him to get close without arousing suspicion. He quickly rammed his double-edged sword into the obese king’s abdomen, locked the door, and escaped before anyone noticed that the evil king was dead. Brave Ehud then organized a rebellion against Moab and restored peace to the land.

Read: The First Judges

7. Saul Lived With Mental Illness

King Saul was chosen by G‑d to be the first king of Israel.12 After a bright and promising start, Saul spent much of his adult life battling paranoia, melancholy, and violent mood swings, much of it directed at his successor, King David. Yet, despite it all, Saul was undisputedly G‑d’s chosen, whom David revered as the “anointed one of G‑d.”13 This respect remained even after Saul (and his son Jonathan) fell in battle. David cried bitterly, mourning him as a great, brave hero.14

Read: Mental Illness in the Jewish World

8. Mephibosheth Had Crippled Legs

Son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, Mephibosheth was just five years old when news arrived that his father and grandfather had been killed. His nursemaid tried to spirit him away, for fear that his grandfather’s enemies would come for him next, but she dropped him and he was injured. For the rest of his life, he did not have use of his legs.15

Despite the fact that he could have claimed the throne for himself, Mephibosheth chose to become a loyal member of David’s camp.16

Years later, when David was forced out of Jerusalem, Mephibosheth’s servant Ziba slandered his master, telling David that Mephibosheth was hoping to become king over Israel. This matter was eventually cleared up, and David realized that Mephibosheth was loyal and grateful for all he received from the king, whom he referred to as “an angel of G‑d.17

According to the sages, Mephibosheth was an impressive Torah scholar, who put even David to shame with his scholarship.18

Read: 15 Life Lessons from King David