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.
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.