Of all the episodes discussed in Sefer Bereishis, Yosef’s is surely the longest and most detailed. The story of his dreams, his conflict with his brothers, his slavery and imprisonment, his rise to power, and the reuniting of his family span the course of four parshiyos, almost a third of the Sefer. In contrast, the lives of the Avos themselves are described in much less detail.
Surely, this is because Yosef’s story has the greatest relevance to our own lives. It was the senseless hatred between the brothers that ultimately led to their descent into Egypt, where their children were enslaved and tortured for hundreds of years. Many generations later, punishment was again exacted, when Rebbe Akiva and nine of his peers were executed by the Romans, to atone for the sin of the ten brothers, who sold Yosef into slavery. Although we cannot claim to understand the depth of Hashem’s judgment, or His ultimate plan for His nation, it is quite clear that the direct cause of our suffering, both now and throughout our history, is the unjustifiable strife and bickering among us.
We conclude Sefer Bereishis, and the narrative of the lives of the Avos, with this one crucial message, which calls out to each and everyone of us. The senseless bickering among us is the cause of all our troubles. Only by bridging the gaps between our hearts, can we hope to be redeemed, may it be soon and in our days.
Vayechi: The Partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun
"זבולן לחוף ימים ישכן והוא לחוף אניות וירכתו על צידן." פרש"י: שהיה זבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא, וממציא מזון לשבט יששכר והם עוסקים בתורה, הוא שאמר משה "שמח זבולן בצאתך ויששכר באהליך," זבולן יוצא בפרקמטיא ויששכר עוסק בתורה באהלים.
“Zevulun shall dwell by the sea shores. He shall be at the ships’ shore. ” Rashi: Zevulun engaged in trade and supported the Tribe of Yissachar, who toiled in Torah study. This is as Moshe said, “Rejoice, Zevulun, as you go out, and Yissachar in your tents.” Zevulun would go out to engage in trade, while Yissachar studied Torah in his tents.
Supporting Torah Study
An official partnership
Here in Parshas Vayechi, Rashi makes no mention of any official partnership between Yissachar and Zevulun. He states only that Zevulun had the merit to support Yissachar in his studies. However, in a parallel possuk in Parshas V’Zos HaBeracha (“Rejoice, Zevulun, as you go out, and Yissachar in your tents”), Rashi explains that there was an official partnership between the two, in which Yissachar would study Torah, and Zevulun would support him. The Midrash Tanchuma here in Vayechi states the same:
קדם זבולן ליששכר ולמה שזבולן עוסק בפרקמטיא ויששכר עוסק בתורה עשו שותפות ביניהם שיהא פרקמטיא של זבולן ליששכר.
Zevulun is mentioned before Yissachar (signifying his importance), since Zevulun would engage in trade, while Yissachar studied Torah. They made a partnership between them, such that Zevulun would support Yissachar with the profits of his trade.
The Shulchan Aruch also discusses the merit of supporting Torah scholars. There, the Rema states:
ויכול אדם להתנות עם חבירו שהוא יעסוק בתורה והוא ימציא לו פרנסה ויחלוק עמו השכר, אבל אם כבר עסק בתורה אינו יכול למכור לו חלקו בשביל ממון שיתנו לו.
An agreement may be made by which one person will toil in Torah study, and the other will support him financially, and then share with him the reward of his Torah study. However, one cannot sell a share of the Torah he has already studied.
The Rema seems to view this an official partnership, which requires an express agreement beforehand.
Torah Cannot be Purchased
The Rema adds that such an agreement is valid only for Torah that will be learned from the time of the agreement. One cannot make an agreement to divide the merit of Torah that has already been studied.
The source for this restriction is found in the Gemara in Maseches Sotah:
מאי "(אם יתן איש את כל הון ביתו באהבה) בוז יבוזו לו"? אמר עולא לא כשמעון אחי עזריה ולא כר' יוחנן דבי נשיאה אלא כהלל ושבנא דכי אתא רב דימי אמר הלל ושבנא אחי הוו הלל עסק בתורה שבנא עבד עיסקא לסוף א"ל תא נערוב וליפלוג יצתה בת קול ואמרה “אם יתן איש את כל הון ביתו (באהבה בוז יבוזו לו)."
What is the meaning of the possuk, “If a man would give all the wealth of his house (to persuade someone to forsake his) love, he would be shamed with disgrace”? Ula explained that this does not refer to Shimon the brother of Azarya (who supported Azarya in his Torah study). Nor does it refer to Rebbe Yochanan and the Nassi (who supported Rebbe Yochanan). Rather, it refers to Hillel and Shavna.
When Rav Dimi came to Bavel, he explained that Hillel and Shavna were brothers. Hillel toiled in Torah study (Rashi: in dire poverty), while Shavna engaged in trade. In the end, he suggested pooling their material and spiritual gains, and dividing them both. A Heavenly voice then proclaimed, “If a man would give all the wealth of his house (to persuade someone to forsake his) love, he would be shamed with disgrace.”
Shavna wanted to buy a portion of the Torah that Hillel had already studied. This was considered a “shame and disgrace.” However, Azarya agreed in advance to support Shimon, and the Nassi agreed to support Rebbe Yochanan, thus enabling them to study Torah free from the yoke of material pursuits. Therefore, Azarya and the Nassi were able to claim a portion of the reward. This is the explanation offered by Rabbeinu Yerucham, which the Shulchan Aruch and Rema accept as halacha.
Rav Shlomo Kluger zt”l discusses the case of a person who made a contract to buy a portion of the Torah that someone else had already studied. After the contract was finalized, the Torah scholar regretted it, and wanted to annul the agreement. The two sides then approached Rav Kluger to settle their dispute.
Rav Kluger ruled that there was no need to annul the agreement, since it had no legal basis whatsoever, according to the Rema’s ruling, based on the above Gemara. It is impossible to sell the merit of Torah that has already been studied. He notes a subtle allusion to this ruling, which his son inferred from the Midrash: “Zevulun is mentioned before Yissachar, since Zevulun would engage in trade, while Yissachar studied Torah.” Zevulun is mentioned before Yissachar, since only if he provides money before Yissachar studies, is he able to claim a portion in Yissachar’s Torah.
How is the Merit of Torah Shared?
A second point of consideration in this topic, is how Zevulun receives reward for Yissachar’s study. Is it a pure business agreement, in which Zevulun “purchases” a share of Yissachar’s Torah, just as one might purchase any other merchandise? Or is the support of Torah study a merit unto itself? This question seems to be a point of debate.
Maharam Alshakar was consulted concerning “business agreements” in which the reward for Torah or mitzvos is divided. He cites from Rav Hai Gaon, that there is no halachic validity to such an agreement, which is a “shame and a disgrace.” However, he adds in the name of Rav Hai Gaon:
אבל ודאי מי שנותן שכר למלמד ללמד מה שהן צריכין ומלמדין יש לו שכר גדול בכך... וכן מי שמאכיל עני או חכם לברכו יש לו שכר על כך ויש לו הנאה בכך כברכת אותו עני או אותו חכם, וכן המסעד מקיימי מצות כדי שיוכלו לקיים יש לו שכר על כך, וביותר מי שעוזר עסוקין בתורה ובמצות להפנות לבותם לעסוק בה יש לו שכר והשכר שיש לו על פעלתו הוא. ומי שמשיא עצמו לקנות שכר חבירו בדמים או במתנה לבוז הוא ולעג.
If a person provides the needs of a Torah teacher, enabling him to teach, he will certainly receive a great reward… Similarly, if a person feeds a poor man or a Torah scholar in return for his blessing, he will be rewarded and enjoy the blessing he receives from the poor man or scholar. So too, if a person supports those who fulfill mitzvos, thereby enabling them to do so, he will be rewarded. More so, if he supports those who toil in Torah and mitzvos, allowing them to focus their hearts on this pursuit, he will be rewarded – and his reward will be for his deeds. However, if he imagines that he can buy another person’s reward with money, or receive it as a gift, this is a shame and a disgrace.
Apparently, Maharam Alshakar did not agree with the distinction we made above. He ascribed no validity to any kind of partnership in which the reward for Torah is divided, whether the agreement was made before or after the Torah was studied. Instead, he distinguished between claiming a share in another person’s Torah (which he claims is impossible), and the unique reward for supporting Torah study – “If he supports those who toil in Torah and mitzvos… he will be rewarded – and his reward will be for his deeds,” meaning: a reward for his own mitzva of supporting Torah, and not a share in the Torah scholar’s reward for studying.
Within the framework of the laws of tzedaka, we find here a special reward for tzedaka that enables another person to perform a mitzva. This can be understood in light of our Sages’ saying, that one is rewarded for assisting the performance of a mitzva, as if he had performed it himself. However, Torah can in no way be “purchased,” according to this opinion.
As such, we must explain that the partnership between Yissachar and Zevulun, mentioned in the Midrash, is only a borrowed term. In practice, they act as partners, with one studying and the other working. However, the division of reward is not based on any sort of partnership agreement. Rather, each one is rewarded for his own merit. Yissachar for his Torah, and Zevulun for his tzedaka.
Partners in Torah
A second opinion is that of Rav Yosef Karo zt”l, who contends that the partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun is effective only if they stipulate beforehand that Zevulun is supporting Yissachar in order to claim a portion of his Torah study, and he will only give the money if Yissachar truly learns. This entitles Zevulun to a greater reward than he would have received had he simply given tzedaka to a Torah scholar.
Contrary to Maharam Alshakar, Rav Yosef Karo clearly accepts the validity of a “partnership” in which Zevulun shares the reward of Yissachar’s Torah. Since they become partners in all their endeavors, it is considered as if they had both studied half day, and learned Torah half day.
(The Meiri makes no mention of any kind of stipulation or business agreement, necessary to reap the rewards of “Zevulun” for supporting Torah. As such, he seems to support the opinion of Maharam Alshakar that this is purely an issue of tzedaka, and not a business partnership at all.)
A business deal
Rav Moshe Feinstein also discusses the topic of Yissachar and Zevulun at length, and reaches the conclusion that this partnership has nothing to do with the mitzva of tzedaka. Rather, it is a business agreement, subject to all the laws of business. The laws of tzedaka entail an order of priority, in which one must first give to his needy relatives and neighbors, before he gives to others. In the laws of business, there is no such restriction. So too, a person is free to make a Yissachar and Zevulun agreement with anyone he desires, and need not choose relatives or neighbors for this position.
Furthermore, Rav Moshe concludes that the advantage of a Yissachar and Zevulun partnership is only when Zevulun gives a full half of his income to Yissachar. He cannot simply purchase a portion of Yissachar’s Torah study for a set stipend. (Rav Yosef Karo rules to the contrary – that Zevulun can become a partner in Yissachar’s Torah for a set stipend. Rav Moshe cites neither Rav Yosef Karo, nor Maharam Alshakar, anywhere in his discussion.)
Fulfilling our Purpose in this World
We have thus far seen a debate among the Acharonim, whether Yissachar and Zevulun is a partnership, in which Zevulun receives a portion of Yissachar’s study (as Rav Yosef Karo holds), or Zevulun receives his own reward for supporting Yissachar (as Maharam Alshakar holds).
The Rema’s opinion, cited above, is difficult to reconcile with either of these two explanations. The Rema rules that the partnership between Yissachar and Zevulun must be arranged before Yissachar studies. According to Maharam Alshakar this is well understood. Zevulun is rewarded only for his help in allowing Yissachar to study. After Yissachar has studied without any help, under the burden of financial hardship, Zevulun can no longer claim any credit. However. according to Rav Yosef Karo, why can’t Zevulun purchase a portion in the partnership, even after Yissachar has studied?
Secondly, the Rema rules that Yissachar and Zevulun must make a formal agreement. According to Maharam Alshakar, why is this so? Zevulun should be rewarded for any form of assistance he extends to Yissachar, whether or not they made a formal agreement.
A Torah employee
To reconcile the Rema’s two rulings, one might suggest that the Rema viewed Yissachar as a hired employee of Zevulun. Like any other employee, Yissachar performs his task (in this case studying Torah) and receives his salary. The product of his work (the reward for his study) then belongs to his employer. Therefore, a formal work agreement must be arranged before he begins his task.
However, this explanation is untrue. Our Sages tell us that Yissachar and Zevulun divide the reward. Had Yissachar been Zevulun’s employee, Zevulun would claim all the reward for himself.
Rather, it seems that Yissachar and Zevulun are truly partners – not in the reward, but in the very study itself. Zevulun assists Yissachar to learn, and it is therefore considered as if they learn together. This is true only if they agree beforehand that Zevulun will support Yissachar. If they make this agreement after Yissachar has learned, it cannot be considered as if Zevulun was there together with Yissachar, assisting him as he studied.
Claiming a Portion in the Torah
The basis for this partnership, in which both parties are amply rewarded, can be understood according to the Ran, who writes that we are all required to toil in Torah study will all the resources at our disposal. Since not every one is capable of studying Torah all day, and those who are capable often lack the financial means, Hashem created a system by which everyone can claim a portion in the holy Torah, which is truly “our life and the length of our days.”
Hashem thus gave the option to become a “Zevulun” and offer financial support to a “Yissachar” who studies Torah. Thereby, Zevulun claims a portion in the Torah, and Yissachar is given the ability to study Torah without distraction. As such, this is a unique system of partnership which applies only to Torah study, and not to other mitzvos. True, the Gemara states that those who assist the performance of a mitzva are also rewarded. However, such an assistant does not have the status of a Zevulun who becomes Yissachar’s partner in the actual study, and is rewarded equally.
Perhaps both Rav Yosef Karo and Maharam Alshakar would agree with this definition of the partnership. In no way can a person “sell” the reward for his Torah and mitzvos. The reward is Hashem’s to dispense. It is not in our domain to buy and sell as we please.
Does Yissachar Sacrifice his Reward?
The Acharonim debate whether Zevulun’s reward is deducted from Yissachar, or if Yissachar is rewarded fully for his Torah, and Zevulun is also rewarded for supporting him. The Or HaChaim and Hafla’ah state the Yissachar loses nothing for Zevulun’s reward. In Pirkei Avos, we learn that if one says, “Mine is yours and yours is mine, he is an am ha’aretz – an ignoramus.” The Hafla’ah explains that Zevulun is an am ha’aretz if he believes that just as he loses money by giving to Yissachar, so too Yissachar loses merit by giving Torah to him.
These Acharonim compare Yissachar to a candle that lights other candles, without losing any of its own light. So too, a Torah scholar can share the merit of his study, without losing any of his own merit.
However, the Meshech Chochma argues that Yissachar does lose merit, by sharing it with Zevulun. He thus explains the possuk that refers to Yissachar as a מס עובד - “burdened servant.” Yissachar is burdened by his obligation to Zevulun.
Rav Moshe Feinstein insists that since Yissachar and Zevulun are partners in every respect (see above), Yissachar most certainly loses reward by sharing it with Zevulun, just as every other partnership involves a division of profits. He rejects the comparison to a candle (although he does not note that this comparison was made by the distinguished Acharonim cited above).
However, according to the explanation we suggested above, there is good reason to believe that Yissachar loses nothing by Zevulun’s assistance. Above, we explained that Hashem wanted each person to have an opportunity to attach himself to the Torah, and thereby fulfill his purpose in this world. Some cling to the Torah by studying it, while others cling to the Torah by supporting its study. Accordingly, why should Yissachar lose anything, due to Zevulun’s participation? What difference does it make if Yissachar receives his livelihood from Zevulun, or from another source? In any case, Yissachar fulfills his task, and is entitled to a full reward.
If we were to explain their partnership as a “sale” of Torah, we would come to the conclusion that Yissachar loses Torah, for the money he gains. However, since this not the case, and Torah cannot be sold by any means, it seems more likely that both Yissachar and Zevulun are rewarded fully – since each fulfills his purpose in advancing the holy Torah.
Two kinds of reward
Although we cited above from the Or HaChaim that Yissachar loses nothing for Zevulun’s participation, he seems to contradict himself in his sefer, Cheifetz Hashem, in which he explains the Gemara, “One who benefits from his own labor, is greater than one who fears Heaven.” One who toils in Torah and supports himself from his own labor, is greater than one who is supported by others. By being self-supportive, he claims the full reward of his Torah. However, if he is supported by others, he must share with them his reward. From here we see that Yissachar does lose from his reward by sharing with Zevulun.
Perhaps we can resolve this contradiction, based on the Imrei Bina , who distinguishes between two kinds of reward. When a person does a good deed, he receives benefit as a natural consequence of his goodness. In addition, Hashem rewards him for his loyalty. The natural consequence of a person’s goodness returns to him automatically, and cannot be transferred to anyone else. Rav Hai Gaon referred to this kind of reward, when he said that reward for mitzvos cannot be shared with others.
However, the reward Hashem grants can be exchanged. The Rema referred to this kind of reward, in describing the partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun. (This point is expanded upon elsewhere in our works.)
Hashem alone can judge
In conclusion of this discussion, it seems to me that we are not truly capable of fathoming Hashem’s system of reward. The Omniscient Hashem dispenses reward to those who fulfill His mitzvos, in a manner that is perfectly just, and is far beyond our capacity to understand. A person can do what appears to be a great mitzva, but receive little reward, if his intention was selfish. A person can do nothing at all but still be rewarded greatly – if he attempted to perform a mitzva but was unable. A person might receive no reward at all for his mitzva – if he later regretted it. There are no general rules, and each case is judged according to the unique set of circumstances that surround it.
Yissachar might be lax in his studies, or learn for selfish intent; while Zevulun works hard to earn his money and sacrifices his comfort to support Yissachar. In such a case, Zevulun’s reward is certainly greater. Sometimes just the opposite is true. Each person is judged according to the merit of his deeds, in a manner that only Hashem can understand.
Above, we stated that the partnership between Yissachar and Zevulun, and the ability to transfer merit, applies only to Torah study, and not to other mitzvos. In truth, this is also the subject of debate. Maharam Alshakar and Rav Shlomo Kluger (cited above) group Torah study and mitzvos together in their discussion, and seem to make no distinction between them. However, the Netziv supports our assertion, that the partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun applies only to Torah study.
There is an often quoted story regarding the Maharsha, in which two people made a partnership to share the reward for all the mitzvos and good deeds that they would perform throughout their lives. After one of them died, the survivor wanted to annul the contract, but the Maharsha ruled that the contract is binding and cannot be annulled without the consent of both parties. From here it seems that the reward for mitzvos can be shared.
The Machaneh Chaim writes that undocumented stories such as this cannot be given any credibility. However, there is a similar story, documented in Maavar Yabok and Sheim HaGedolim by the Chida. The story tells of two scholars, R’ Yechiel and R’ Shlomo, who made a partnership to share the reward for their mitzvos. R’ Shlomo died first. When R’ Yechiel approached his body and reminded him of their deal, the entire community saw R’ Shlomo smile. The Maharsham cites from Rav Shlomo Kluger, that R’ Shlomo (in this story) smiled in amusement, since in the World of Truth he saw that their contract was utterly invalid.
In any case, this story is no proof for our discussion, since this was not a matter of Yissachar and Zevulun, in which one person supports another in his Torah study or mitzva observance. In this case, they were both “Yissachar.” They both performed mitzvos, and wished to share them evenly. Although this is not a case of Yissachar and Zevulun, other Poskim seem to validate it nonetheless. The Chida writes that the scholars of Yerushalayim joined together to share their mitzvos evenly, and elected Maharit Algazi as the leader of their group. It seems that such an agreement has a basis in the secret wisdom of the Torah, rather than in the classic halachic works with which we are familiar.
There was once a case in which a large amount of money was required for a certain tzedaka cause, which involved a life-threatening situation. Emissaries of an anonymous millionaire arrived, conveying his offer to donate a huge some of money to the cause, provided that someone would be willing to “buy” his aveiros and their punishment, in return for his donation. Torah leaders were then placed in a difficult quandary, how to respond to this unusual offer.
This was not the first time such a question was raised. Similar cases are discussed by the Acharonim, all of whom conclude that such a “sale” is invalid. In truth, it is quite obvious that even the merit Torah and mitzvos cannot be sold like a commodity; and all the more so the punishment for aveiros cannot be sold. Hashem extended to us a great kindness, by allowing us to invest money to participate in the mitzvos of others. However, there is no source whatsoever that by accepting money, one can accept upon himself the sins of others. Furthermore, such a suggestion is irrational. How can a person be punished for sins he did not commit, and how can another person be freed from responsibility for his sins, simply by giving money? The Torah states explicitly, “Do not accept a (monetary) atonement for the soul of the murderer.” Although such a deal is invalid, the Acharonim scorn both the person who attempted to sell his sins, and the one who attempted to buy them.
“Your curse will be upon me”
The sources that discuss this point examine possible proofs to the contrary. The first proof is from Rivka Immeinu, who encouraged Yaakov to disguise himself as Eisav, and thereby claim his father’s blessings. Yaakov feared that Yitzchak would discover his ruse, and curse him instead, but Rivka assured him that, “Your curse will be upon me, my son.” From here it seems that Rivka could accept the curse that would have befallen Yaakov for tricking his father. So too, a person can accept the punishment for another’s sins.
There are several arguments against this proof. Firstly, The Targum Unkelos explains Rivka’s assurance to mean, “It has been prophetically revealed to me, that you will not be cursed.” Secondly, even according to the simple explanation of the possuk, this case is different, since Rivka would truly deserve the curse, for convincing Yaakov to disguise himself. Thirdly, a distinction can be made between a curse and a punishment.
“Erase me from Your book”
A second proof is from Moshe Rabbeinu. When Hashem threatened to destroy Bnei Yisroel as punishment for the Golden Calf, Moshe insisted that Hashem should instead “erase” him from Hashem’s book. Although Hashem did not accept Moshe’s suggestion, it seems from here that such an alternative would have been possible – to punish Moshe for the sins of Bnei Yisroel.
However, Moshe’s prayers on behalf of Bnei Yisroel cannot be compared to the standard system of reward and punishment. For this same reason, no proof can be brought from the Gemara, in which we find that Yitzchak offered to accept half the sins of Bnei Yisroel upon himself.
Our forefathers, the “Shepherds of Israel”, entreated Hashem with prayer, as a child beseeches his father, to awaken Heavenly mercy on behalf of the Jewish people. In Hashem’s great love for them, He heeded their prayers, even when their petition stood contrary to the Attribute of Justice, and contrary to reason. Therefore, no proof can be brought from here for the general rules of reward and punishment.
“May I be an atonement”
Perhaps a better proof can be brought from the Gemara, which states that for twelve months after the passing of a person’s parents, when he refers to them by name, he should add, “may I be an atonement for them.” So too, we find in the Mishna that Rebbe Yishmael prayed that he may be an atonement for all of Israel. From these sources we see that a person can accept upon himself suffering to atone for the sins of others. However, the Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishna, explains that “may I be an atonement for them” is an expression of love and concern for another person’s well being. As such, perhaps it should not be interpreted literally, and is therefore not relevant to our discussion.