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Vayechi – The Yissachar – Zevulun Arrangement: Charity or Contract?

The Yissachar‐Zevulun Partnership

Moshe blessed  the  tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun  (Devarim 33:18),  “Be  joyful Zevulun  in your going forth, and Yissachar in your tents,” Rashi explains: “Zevulun and Yissachar made a partnership between them. Zevulun would dwell at the harbor, and deal in business with ships, thereby sustaining Yissachar who would  deal  in  Torah.  Therefore  the  verse  precedes  Zevulun  to  Yissachar,  because  the  Torah  of Yissachar came through Zevulun.”

Implied in the words of Rashi is that the deal between Yissachar and Zevulun holds more meaning than a  simple  charity  arrangement, whereby Yissachar  receives  support  for his Torah  study  from  Zevulun. Rather, the arrangement  is  labeled a  ‘partnership.’ This arrangement  is also found  in the words of the Midrash  (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:17),  “Zevulun and Yissachar make  their  livelihoods  together, and  they receive  their  reward  for  Torah  together.”  Zevulun  shares  his  income  with  Yissachar,  and  Yissachar shares his Torah with Zevulun.

Rashi  expounds  further  on  this  idea  in  his  presentation  of  one  of  the  Talmudic  examples  of  the Yissachar‐Zevulun  partnership.  Whereas  most  of  the  Tanaim  and  Amoraim  are  named  after  their fathers,  a  particular  Tana  is  named  after  his  brother:  “Shimon,  the  brother  of  Azaria”  (Mishnah, Zevachim 2a). Rashi explains  the reason  for  this: “Azaria dealt  in business, and provided  the needs of his  brother  Shimon  who  studied  Torah.  They  stipulated  among  themselves  that  that  Azaria  would receive  part  of  the  reward  for  the  Torah  study  of  Shimon…  Therefore  he  is  called  by  his  [bother’s] name, because he studied Torah through him.”

Rashi  states  clearly  that  the  agreement  between  Shimon  and  Azaria  required  a  stipulation.  As  the Gemara  in  (Sotah 21a)  teaches,  the stipulation whereby Zevulun shares his  income, and Yissachar his Torah  study,  must  be  made  in  advance.  When  made  prior  to  the  Torah  study  of  Yissachar,  the arrangement forms a bona fide partnership, whereby Zevulun brings  in the  income, and Yissachar the Torah.


Rav Moshe’s Approach

Rav Moshe  Feinstein  (Iggros Moshe,  vol.  4,  Yoreh  De’ah,  no.  37)  expounds  on  the  definition  of  the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement. Basing himself on some of the sources mentioned above, Rav Moshe writes that the arrangement between the two is a full partnership. In this, as we will see, Rav Moshe is not alone, as several halachic authorities view the arrangement as a partnership. Yet, we will see that Iggros Moshe takes the concept to an extreme.

Because he  sees  the  relationship as a  true partnership, Rav Moshe writes  that  the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement  is not  related at all  to  the concept of charity or support. The stipulation made between the  parties  is  defined within  the  framework  of  Torah  study,  and  not  as  a  charity  arrangement. As  a consequence, Yissachar remains obligated to give charity from the income which he retains for himself.

Furthermore, Rav Moshe adds that the partnership  is a 50‐50 partnership: Zevulun’s  income  is shared equally with Yissachar, and Yissachar’s Torah  is shared equally with Zevulun.

It  is as  though  the  two become  one  body,  one  part  fulfilling  the  physical  requirements,  and  the  other  fulfilling  the  spiritual side. Yissachar is thus able to study Torah without the strain of financial pressure, and Zevulun receives a portion in his Torah.

In  fact, Rav Moshe goes  so  far as  to  say  that  the distinction made by  the Talmud between one who supports Torah and a Torah scholar himself (according to which even prophets could only foresee the reward of those who support Torah, but not the ultimate level of the Torah scholar), does not apply to the Yissachar‐Zevulun agreement. The  level of Zevulun, according  to Rav Moshe,  is equivalent  to  the level of Yissachar. The partnership renders them equals.

It  is  important  to  note  that  the  extra  details  added  by  Rav Moshe  (that  the  Zevulun must  share  his entire income equally with his Yissachar and that it isn’t considered charity) have not been adopted by other poskim, and the common custom does not follow his opinion.

However, the basic principle of Iggros Moshe, namely that the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement is a full‐fledged partnership, emerges (as we have seen) from a number of sources. The concept is made explicit in the ruling of Rema (Yoreh De’ah 246:1, citing from Rabbeinu Yerucham): “A person can precondition with his fellow that he [the  latter] will study Torah, and he [the former] will provide his  livelihood and share in his reward.” A similar position is found in a responsum of Beis Yosef (Avkas Rochel no. 2), which also states that the arrangement requires a legal stipulation.


Yissachar‐Zevulun as a Support Arrangement

Rabbi Akiva Eiger  (glosses  to  Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 246) points out what would  appear  to be another opinion. This is found in Shut Maharam Al Ashker (no. 101), who quotes from a responsum of Rav Hai Gaon. Rav Hai Gaon was asked whether a person who pays another to read  from the Torah will receive the spiritual  reward  of  reading  from  the  Torah?.  Rav  Hai  answers  that  the  concept  of  sharing  spiritual reward with another does not exist—and one who thinks that  it  is possible  is “a  fool, and  is closer to receiving punishment than to earning reward.” The fact that a person receives reward for his support of Torah is not on account of a partnership, but rather “he receives reward for his good deed.”

This  source  points  at  a  different  approach  to  the  Yissachar‐Zevulun  arrangement.  Rather  than  a partnership, Rav Hai Gaon sees the relationship as an arrangement of support, whereby Zevulun earns his share  in the Next World not by taking a share  in Yissachar’s reward, but by procuring  independent reward by means of the support he gives Yissachar. (See, however, Tzitz Eliezer, vol. 15, no. 35, who offers (quoting from Imrei Binah) a solution to the disparity between Rav Hai Gaon and the sources mentioned above. According to the solution he offers, there is room to differentiate between two forms of spiritual reward, one of them being recompense for the deed, and another being a supernatural effect that is caused by the deed of the mitzvah. Although the latter form of reward cannot be shared,  the former can be shared. This approach, however, remains strained in the wording of Rav Hai Gaon.)

Rema himself appears to suggest two distinct approaches. Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah, loc. cit.) states simply that somebody who is unable to study Torah should support the Torah study of others, to which Rema adds  (quoting from Tur): “And  it  is considered as  if he himself studied the Torah.” This  implies that financial support, even without a formal contract,  suffices to earn Zevulun his reward as if he also studied Torah.

Indeed, Tur himself adds that this is what the Sages meant in their interpretation of the verse (Devarim 33:18),  “Be  glad,  Zevulun,  in  your  coming  forth,  and  Yissachar  in  your  tents.”  According  to  Tur,  the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement  requires no  formal or  legally binding contracts. Yet, after quoting  the words of Tur, Rema continues to mention the possibility of making a contractual agreement for sharing the reward of Yissachar.

It would  therefore appear  that we are presented with  two distinct approaches  to  the essence of  the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement.


Yissachar’s Perspective

The  two  approaches  outlined  above  concerning  the  Yissachar‐Zevulun  partnership  give  rise  to  an important  consequence  for  Yissachar.  The  question  that  every  Yissachar  should  ask  himself  before entering into an agreement with a corresponding Zevulun, is:  Do I stand to lose?

The answer would seem  to depend on  the  two opinions we have presented.  If we see  the Yissachar‐Zevulun agreement as a contractual agreement, it would appear that Yissachar loses half of the spiritual reward for his Torah study. As Rav Moshe Feinstein writes, the hours that Yissachar is able to immerse himself in Torah study on account of Zevulun are divided into two; half remain Yissachar’s, and half go to Zevulun. Under the contract, Yissachar gives away half his reward (for those hours that he would not be able to learn in if not for Zevulun) in return for sharing the income of Zevulun. (Yisssochor isn’t losing anything since otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to learn during these hours.)

Peleh Yo’etz (erech ‘Chizuk’) takes the loss of eternal reward to heart, and advises Yissachar to avoid the union with Zevulun. Although he opens with great praise for the arrangement from the perspective of Zevulun,  stating  that  anyone  blessed with wealth  should  chase  vigorously  after  a  Yissachar‐Zevulun agreement, he  shuns  the  agreement  from Yissachar’s point of  view, questioning with wonder how  a Torah scholar can make so bad a deal as selling eternal reward for earthly gain.

However, a number of great authorities dispute this position, stating that no part of Yissachar’s Torah is lost to him in the agreement with Zevulum. Or Hachaim (Ki Tisa), for instance, writes that the reward of Yissachar  is  not  diminished  at  all, an  opinion  shared  by Haflaah  (introduction  to  Kesubos,  sec.  43).

Haflaah explains his opinion by means of a renowned simile. The Torah, he explains, is akin to a candle: Zevulun is able to benefit from Yissachar’s flame, whereas the flame itself remains undiminished. It  is  important,  however,  to  note  that  even  those  authorities  who  adopt  the  contractual  position, whereby Yissachar  is actually giving away part of his eternal  reward  to Zevulun, do not  frown on  the arrangement,  but  rather  warmly  recommend  it.  Rema,  as  we  saw  above,  explicitly  endorses  the Yissachar‐Zevulun arrangement in its contractual form. Rav Chaim of Volozin (Keter Rosh, no. 64) writes that a person should not act selfishly with his Torah study, but should be willing to share it with others. (See also Tzitz Eliezer (cited above), who quotes varying reports concerning the statement made by Rav Chaim of Volozin. It is worthy, in this connection, to mention the famous anecdote of Rabbi Yonasan Eibschitz, who was found weeping after the great sum of money he used for redeeming a friend taken captive was returned to him. He explained that Hashem had shown him (by returning him his money) that his mitzvah was not desirable, the reason being that he had not permitted others to share in the mitzvah, and had insisted on paying the entire sum from his own funds.)

Chazon  Ish  (letters  46‐47) writes  in  similar  style,  and  even wrote  a  Yissachar‐Zevulun  agreement  for somebody who  required  it. Rav  Isser Zalman Meltzer, moreover, writes about his own publication of Even Ha’azel, that he made an agreement with a donor to share the spiritual reward of the book. Even Rav Moshe, who maintains that the relationship is a partnership, would agree that the arrangement is beneficial to the Yissachar since he only relinquishes half of the reward for the hours he wouldn’t have learned if he would not have the support of Zevulun.

Thus, although opinions are divided as  to whether a part of Yissachar’s  reward diverts  to Zevulun or not,  the  negative  stance  (from  Yissachar’s  perspective)  taken  by  Peleh  Yo’etz  is  very much  a  single opinion  among many.  All,  however,  agree  that  the  contract  places  an  additional  yoke  of  Torah  on Yissachar.. As Ayeles Hashachar (Vezos Haberachah) cites from the Chafetz Chaim,  if Yissachar, who  is being supported by Zevulun, does not  immerse himself  in the study of Torah, he  is effectively stealing from Zevulun.

Which Comes First?

Rashi  writes  in  his  commentary  to  the  blessing  of Moshe  to  Zevulun:  “Zevulun  is  placed  ahead  of Yissachar, because the Torah of Yissachar came by means of Zevulun.” The implication is that Zevulun is of greater importance than Yissachar. Indeed, the calling of Shimon by the name of his brother Azaryah, gives an  impression  that Azaryah  is  the more  important of  the  two. However,  the Gemara  (Berachos 17a) clearly  implies  (with the exception of the explanation of Rav Moshe) that the Torah scholar  is of greater importance than one who supports Torah. Be’er Moshe (Vezos Haberachah) offers an interesting interpretation. He explains that although Zevulun takes precedence in time, because “if there is no flour, there is no Torah,” nevertheless, Yissachar takes precedence in order of importance. He goes on to quote from the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:7) that the clothing of Yissachar  is black, whereas that of Zevulun  is white. The difference between the two  is the difference between the black letters of Torah, and the white parchment that permits its revelation. Although the parchment must precede the writing on it, the writing is doubtless of greater importance than the parchment on which it is written.

The Virtue of Zevulun

We conclude with a wondrous anecdote, which  is recounted by Rabbi Goldvicht  in Asufas Maarachos (Chanukah), who writes as follows: It  is known  from  the Chafetz Chaim,  that when Rav Chaim of Volozin headed his yeshiva, he became closely attached with a generous donor, who provided  the physical needs of  the  yeshiva. Rav Chaim promised him that in return for his support, he would study for the donor’s soul after his parting from the world. After  the donor’s parting, Rav Chaim hurried  to  fulfill his vow, and  immersed himself  in  the  study of Mishnah (the order of Taharos). Upon reaching a particular Mishnah, he found that himself unable to understand a certain point, and, while  grappling with the matter, fell into a slumber. In his sleep, the deceased donor appeared to him, and explained the difficult point in the Mishnah in a brilliant and enlightening manner, until the difficulty was entirely resolved. After recovering from the immediate shock, Rav Chaim commented: “I knew that the generous among Israel would be scholars—but I didn’t realize it would happen so fast!”

Whether as Yissachar or Zevulun (or both), may all of us merit the brilliant light of Torah.

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  1. You mention that HaRav Isser Zalman Meltzer writes that he agreed to share the spiritual reward due for the publication of his famous Sefer, Even HaAzel, with a donor who defrayed the publication costs. Now this is very interesting because the act of financing such a project is itself worthy of spiritual reward. So what additional reward did Rav Isser Zalman concede? It could not have been the Torah he had already learned because that as we have learned, may not be traded.

    1. The reward of the Torah dissemination that the sefer will achieve.

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