Parshat Bamidbar 5774: The Yissachar Zevulun Model and the Perils of Peer-Group Pressure

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Bamidbar is being sponsored by Binyamin and Tracy Skriloff of Ramat Beit Shemesh in the merit of Am Yisrael. To the Skriloff family, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring (or as the case may be, co-sponsoring) a Parshat HaShevua.

Please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Bamidbar 5774: The Yissachar Zevulun Model and the Perils of Peer-Group Pressure

by Moshe Burt

Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 2 begins with Hashem Speaking to Moshe and Aaron telling them of the formation by which the B’nai Yisrael will travel and encamp. Perek 2, posukim 3-7 reads as follows:

“Those who encamp to the front, at the east, shall be the banner of the camp of Yehudah…. Those encamping near him are: the tribe of Yissachar… the tribe of Zevulun…”

Note that the encampment and travel formation of B’nai Yisrael in Bamidbar (the desert) consisted of 3 tribes each in each of the four directions: east, south, west and north, with the Levi’im, the Mishkan and its contents encamped and travelling in the center, inside the formation. Note also that in the three other directions, the lead tribe is listed, as are:

“Those encamping near him are; the tribe of… and [ו ] the tribe of…”

Both “L’lmode U’lamed”, by Rabbi Mordechai Katz (pages 130-131) and “Growth Through Torah” by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin (pages 308-309), among many sources, discuss at length the significance of this apparent anomaly of Yissachar Zevulun which are missing the “and” conjunction between them.

Rav Katz writes:

The men of Yissachar were noted as outstanding Torah scholars. They devoted themselves to the full appreciation of Hashem’s law. Consequently, they often did not have sufficient time for working to support themselves and their families.

Those of Zevulun were very successful merchants. They, therefore, managed to acquire great wealth…. They used their money to help sustain the Torah scholars of Yissachar. Because of this arrangement, the wealth of the tribe of Zevulun provided the basis for the scholarship of Yissachar…. It is for this reason that the listing of… Zevulun is not preceded by the conjunction “and”, so as not to accord it a secondary place. Torah stresses that the contributions of Zevulun are considered every bit as important as those of Yissachar.

Rav Pliskin cites Ba’al Haturim:

…The tribe of Yissachar… devoted themselves to …Torah study, while the tribe of Zevulun worked to support the both of them. Because they enabled the tribe of Yissachar to study Torah they [both] are considered as one tribe and their reward is the same.

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to comment… that just those who support Torah study financially have the merit of the Torah study of those they support, so too anyone who influences another person to study Torah shares in the merit of that person.

Of course, the Yissachar Zevulun model is one that we l’chatchila should all aspire to — to support, and thus have a portion of the Torah that great scholars excell in such that their scholarship justifies their full-time effort. But there seems a great problem, when this paradigm becomes institutionalized for everyone, for life based on a certain sector’s communal peer-group norms. This type of full-time effort, when compelled, coerced upon many young men who are unable to reach communal expectations of the heights of great scholars, or even above-average ones, is destructive to the psyche of ones lacking in aptitude and fosters an attitude and image of dependency both within the sector and projected to the nation.

What about seemingly many young men whose aptitudes may not be toward excelling as great scholars, or toward constant growth in their studies, but who are coerced into full-time learning, at the peril of disgracing his family before the community of his peers, or at peril of not finding a shidduch befitting his family before the community of his peers, and more? Aren’t many of these young men seemingly not inclined toward great scholarship or consistent growth in learning better suited working in a career more suited to their aptitudes and interacting with and outreaching to secular Jews such that the seculars would view them as a positive paradigm of what Observant Jewishness is about?

There are many sources that discuss the Torah principle that a father must teach his son a trade. This author will cite three such sources.

Rabbi Bernie Fox, in his vort on Parshat Va’etchanan: Honoring Parents, cited Rav Yosef Dov Soleveitchik Zt”l in a D’var Torah on both the Orthodox Union and the websites:

Rav Soloveitchik observed that this discussion in the Talmud follows a briyta – a teaching of the Sages – that delineates the obligations of a father towards his child. The Sages instruct us that among the father’s responsibilities towards his son are the obligations to teach him Torah, to support him in finding a wife, to teach him a trade, and to teach him to swim.[4] Rav Soloveitchik observed that these elements of the father’s obligation have a specific theme. He must teach his son Torah, a trade and to swim. All of these areas of instruction are designed to instill within the child the ability to achieve independence and self-reliance. Certainly, helping a child begin a family is an expression of this same theme. Rav Soloveitchik concluded that the Sages regarded this as the primary role of the father in the raising of the child. It is the father’s responsibility to foster in the child independence and self-reliance.

Rav Michael Siev of The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash learned Gemara Massekhet (Tractate) Kiddushin 29a:

We have learned in mishna that which the rabbis taught (in a beraita):

A father is obligated regarding his son to circumcise him, and to redeem him,
and to teach him Torah, and to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade;
and some say even to teach him to swim in water.

Rabbi Yehuda says: Anyone who does not teach his son a trade teaches him banditry.

The final set of obligations are ways in which a father is obligated to give his son the tools to live productively and independently. A father must teach his son Torah so that he can keep the mitzvot and live a meaningful religious life. Additionally, he must help his son get married so that he can have a family, and he must teach him a trade so that he can support himself. Some say that he must teach him to swim as well, so that the son will be able to stay safe.

Rabbi Yehuda adds that teaching a trade is so critical that if a father does not fulfill this obligation it is as though he has taught his son to be a bandit. With no means to support himself, it is highly likely that the son will turn to criminal activity.

And finally, R’ Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, z”l, in his rendering of Pirkei Avos (Chapters of The Fathers) translates and comments on Perek 2, posuk 2 (page 22-23) thus:

Rabban Gamliel, the son of Rabbi Yehudah Ha-Nasi said: The study of Torah together with an occupation is an excellent thing, for the pursuit of both of these [together] keeps sinful thoughts from arising, while any study of Torah without some kind of work must fail in the end and is conducive to sin.

…Only a way of life devoted to the pursuit of [Torah] study as well as of economic independence can take up our time to such a degree that there will be no unoccupied hours during which we could indulge in thoughts that are far from good and that could make us drift away from the path of goodness…. He who does not pursue some gainful employment alongside the study of Torah runs the risk of being forced to stop his studies because of poverty and of being driven to wrongdoing by destitution and misery.

Doesn’t it seem that someone got the Divinely Mandated male/female roles mixed up when the female half of a married couple must work a full-time job to support her family because her husband “must” — is compelled to learn — not because he excells or even grows at it, but because it is expected by his group’s peer-group pressure?

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.