PARSHAT VAYECHI: THE TRUE MEANING OF A B’NEI TORAH

For the eternal merit to the soul of my grandfather Yitzchak Aziz Ben Mashallah Hacohen A”H

” יִשָּׂשכָ֖ר חֲמֹ֣ר גָּ֑רֶם רֹבֵ֖ץ בֵּ֥ין הַֽמִּשְׁפְּתָֽיִם׃”

Pashas Bereshis, Perek 49, Passuk 14-(בראשית פרק מ״ט פסוק יד)

Parshas Vayechi contains the final blessings that Yaakov gave to each of his sons prior to his death. In his blessing to the tribe of Yissochar, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, Yaakov described him as a strong-boned donkey who rests between the boundaries. Why did he specifically compare Yissochar to a donkey, as opposed to any other animal?

Rav Tzvi Markovitz explains that while Torah scholars also “carry a load” similar to a donkey, this parallel is insufficient, as there are other animals – such as horses – which are also capable of transporting heavy burdens. Rav Markovitz points out that although all animals carrying loads must inevitably stop to rest, there is a critical difference in how they do so. When horses stop for a break, their burden must be removed until they are ready to continue. Donkeys, on the other hand, are able to lie down and rest even while still carrying the weight on their backs.

There is a well-known, if perhaps apocryphal, story which is told about Aristotle. In between lessons, Aristotle’s students once bumped into him “on the wrong side of town,” in an area known for its immoral activities. Unable to reconcile his current behavior with the lofty philosophical teachings that he espoused during his lectures, his students asked for an explanation. Aristotle answered them, “When class is in session, I am the great Aristotle, and I share my pearls of wisdom with the world. At other times, I am not the Aristotle with whom you are familiar.”

It is specifically to donkeys that the tribe of Yissochar is compared, as those who “carry the load of Torah” must also periodically stop to recharge. The distinguishing characteristic of a true B’nei Torah is that in contrast to Aristotle, they conduct themselves even at these moments in accordance with their year-round behavior, never casting off their “burden” for even a moment.

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