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Judah and Issachar

Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20 )

by Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen

The Torah Portion devotes considerable time to describing the formations of the tribes. They were arranged in groups of three. The commentaries point out that they were deliberately placed in such a position so as to be able to exert influence on each other.(1) The first formation was that of Judah, Issachar and Zevulun. Judah was directly next to Issachar. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz writes that Yehuda's distinguishing characteristic was the ability to take responsibility, both for himself, and for others.(2) He exercised this trait when he took responsibility for the incident with Tamar, when he accepted the consequences of bringing Benjamin down to Egypt and when Nachshon ben Aminadav, the Prince of Judah, was the first person to step into the sea at the See of Reeds before it had even split. Issachar is known to represent Torah; he devoted himself to Torah study whilst his brother Zevulun provided for his physical needs,(3) furthermore, many of the leading members of the Sanhedrin were from Issachar.(4) In this article we will focus on how Judah was intended to exert a positive influence on Issachar.

In Vayigash, the Torah describes how the Jewish people left the land of Israel to live in Egypt. We are told that Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to prepare the way in Goshen.(5) Rashi explains that he was sent to open a yeshiva. This set a precedent for all Jewish history that the first priority of a Jewish community should be Torah education. However, it is difficult to understand why Judah was sent to establish the yeshiva - would not Issachar have been a more appropriate choice, given that his main strength is learning Torah? The Tiferet Shlomo answers that Judah was the first person to take responsibility for another to the extent that he was willing to give up his own life. We see this when Judah guaranteed to Yaakov that he would protect Benjamin from any danger in Egypt. This was an act of incredible self-sacrifice emanating from Judah's deep feeling of responsibility for others. Consequently, the reason that Jacob sent Judah to open the yeshiva was so that its guiding principle would be a sense of responsibility for the well-being of one's fellow Jew.

This idea can help us explain why Judah was placed next to Issachar in the tribe formation - it is not sufficient merely to learn Torah for one's own spiritual benefit, rather one must have the attitude that he is learning Torah so that he can pass it on to others. Moreover, the greater one's ability to learn and understand Torah, the greater the obligation is upon him to be positively influence others. Rav Yisroel Salanter epitomized such an attitude. "After resolving a difficulty in Rambam, R.Yisroel fainted. "If I have such talent," he explained upon coming to, "I have a tremendous responsibility. The Heavenly Court will demand of me, "Why didn't you get the whole world to repent." (6)

How significant a part of our Talmud Torah is the necessity to pass it on to others? The Mishna in Pirkei Avot states: "If you have learnt much Torah, 'al tachzik tova' - do not hold good to yourself, because that is why you were created." (7) The simple understanding of this Mishna is that a person should not be proud of his achievements in Talmud Torah because learning Torah is his purpose in life. However, many commentaries suggest a different explanation. They explain the Mishna to mean that if a person has learned much Torah he should not keep its goodness for himself, rather he should teach it to others. Why? Because his purpose in creation is to learn and teach. (8) It is clear from this explanation of the Mishna that passing on Torah is not merely an aspect of one's Talmud Torah, rather it is part of the very foundation of one's learning.

If a person does bear this sense of responsibility then he receives a reward over and above the normal reward for Talmud Torah. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot states that one who is benefits the many is saved from sin and he receives reward for every mitzvah that he caused to be done.(9) The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Zev Segal would say that if one's years of learning are a preparation for his disseminating Torah in the years to come, the Torah student is already considered to be one who benefits the many, during his years of learning.(10) Since his learning is done with the intention of enabling him to pass on more to others, then the learning itself provides him with the inestimable merit of one who helps many. God intended for Judah to influence Issachar to learn Torah in order to share it with others. So too we must learn this lesson and approach our own learning with a great sense of responsibility for our fellow Jew, if we do so, then the benefits for ourselves and the Jewish people are endless.


1. Ramban, Ch. 2, v. 2. Also see Gur Aryeh Ch. 2, v. 3.

2. Sichot Mussar, Vayeshev, Maamer 20.

3. Bereishit Rabbah 72:5.

4. Targum Yonatan, Bereishis 46:13.

5. Vayigash, Ch. 46, v. 28.

6. Zaitchik, Sparks of Mussar, p. 54.

7. Avot, 2:9.

8. Ibid., Medrash Shmuel. See Medrash David, Lev Eliyahu, Parshas Tazria-Metzora for an identical explanation. It was also heard from R.Zev Leff shlit"a in the name of the Klausenberger Rebbe zt"l.

9. Avos 5:18.

10. Finkelman and Weiss, The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, p. 165.


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