Parshas VaYechi – Yaakov’s Blessings to Yissachar

By Avner Friedmann

In this Parshah Yaakov blesses his children, the tribes of Israel, so that they would be directed towards the paths HaShem intended for them; each with his own character and abilities, each with his own unique mission.

If we look at Yissachar’s blessings we can learn very important lessons[1]: “Yissachar is a strong boned-donkey; he rests between the boundaries. For he saw a resting place that is good and a land that it is pleasant, yet he bowed his shoulder to bear and he became a servant and laborer under task-work”.

Rashi says: “Just like a strong donkey that carries heavy loads, so does Yissachar carry the yoke of Torah.” He is like a donkey that journeys by day and by night, and when he desires to rest, he lays down anywhere. Yissachar lowers his shoulder to bear the yoke of Torah for all of Israel’. He devoted himself to the service of Hashem[2].

The Zohar asks[3], why a donkey? Why not a horse, a lion, or a tiger? It is because the donkey carries his load quietly. It is not spoiled nor is it rude and it does not kick his master like other animals. It sleeps anywhere, not being concerned with its own honor, but rather with the honor of its master. The same can be said about those who study Torah, as it is written[4]: “On the ground you shall sleep, you shall live a life of difficulty and toil in Torah”.

So it is for us. With all the challenges, the disruptions and the burdens of our everyday lives, under circumstances which, from our vantage point, are far from ideal, our challenge is to focus our attention and devotion to the task of studying Torah and fulfilling the mitzvoth. The donkey gets its strength to carry because it knows that after a hard day of work it will find rest. So it is with us in regard to accepting the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves and toiling in Torah. We need to keep in mind that our infinite reward is just around the corner.

Yet there is another very important lesson we learn from Yissachar. The verse says that he saw that rest, tranquility and pleasures of this world are good, yet he bent his shoulder to carry a heavy load and became a hard working person. According to this Yissachar had the tendency and desire to rest and be lazy, but he forced himself under hard conditions to do the exact opposite and became the role model for hard work, dedication and acceptance of the ultimate yoke – the yoke of Heaven.

Rashi comments on the words, “A servant and laborer under task-work”, that it means to give judgments for Israel on the teachings of the Torah, to understand the complexity of the times, calendar, and fixing of leap years, to know what Israel needs to do, and to have Israel follow their decisions. Rashi continues that Yissachar produced over 200 heads of the Sanhedrin (The Supreme Court).

Our Rabbis explain that each person comes to this world to correct a particular issue that is unique to him. It could be a specific inclination, a transgression a person is particularly drawn to do, a negative character trait or an emotion. How does one know which is the one issue unique to him and that he needs to pay particular attention to it? He should look at what is the most difficult characteristic for him to conquer, as King David said[5]: מאויבי תחכמני. “I will become wiser by watching my enemies” (the evil inclination within).

These specific difficulties are exact and are meant specifically for us. They are, in a sense, raw material for us to refine. Only through difficulties and challenges in the areas that we lack, can we grow. To name just a few, one might have challenges in controlling anger, seeking honor, being attracted to forbidden pleasures, speaking lashon hara, arrogance or laziness. Our purpose is to recognize our flaws and correct them. In these challenges lie our greatest potentials and qualities and ultimately, our freedom. If we devote ourselves to correcting our bad character traits, we will discover hidden qualities that we never knew we had. Ultimately, we could excel at what, at first, was the most difficult thing for us to conquer. With hard work and perseverance we can fulfill our potential and reap incredible results.

Yissachar went against his natural tendencies of laziness and slothfulness to become the very symbol of hard work, perseverance and success in toiling in Torah. His rewards are hinted at in his name, which in Lashon Kodesh (Biblical Hebrew) mean, “there is reward” (Yesh Sachar- יש שכר). The reward is in direct relations to our effort (No pain no gain) and as our sages taught us, “A camel does not receive a load it cannot carry”, which means that HaShem does not give a person any difficulties that he cannot overcome.

May we all learn from Yissachar and merit to receive the hints and messages Hashem puts in front of us each and every day;all in order to guide us to achieve our greatest potential and, in doing so, achieve our life’s mission of serving HaShem and glorifying His name.

[1] 48:14.

[2] Ohr Hachaim there.

[3] Vayechi 242a

[4] Avot 6:4.

[5] Psalms 119:98.

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