by Rabbi Alex Chapper
Close to the end of his life, Jacob confers a personalised blessing on each of his sons. When he comes to Issachar he says: “He will see that his resting place is good and the land is pleasant, and he will bend his shoulders down to bear [the yoke of Torah].”
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim) explains that it is appropriate to bear the yoke of Torah in this world in order to find rest and pleasantness in the world where everything is good – the World to Come. He provides the analogy of an astute businessman who, when he travels on business, is not particular about the comforts of his accommodation.
On the contrary, he focuses his efforts on making the best deals in order that he can enjoy the benefit of the profits when he returns to his own home. So too with the tribe of Issachar, in other words, those who study Torah. They must focus their attention on securing eternal life that comes through learning Torah and performing mitzvoth, because those who accept the yoke of Torah upon themselves are relieved of the pressures of worldly matters through Divine assistance.
This enables us to understand a verse in Proverbs that states: “Those that love Me will inherit substance”, which the Chofetz Chaim clarifies with another analogy.
In recognition of outstanding service, a king will award a soldier a medal made from gold silver or bronze. These metals all originate in the earth and reflect the fact that their giver also has the same origins. It is a reminder of the verse “For you are dust and to dust you will return.”
However, in contrast to a mortal king, God is eternal and therefore His rewards are not limited to the finite world. Instead they are eternal, and that is why He promises those who love Him that they “will inherit substance”.
The mark of distinction that God bestows on those who are deserving is substantial, in that it is of an enduring and timeless nature. Jacob’s blessing to his son was that he should recognise this truth and understand the contrast between the nature of physical and spiritual rewards.
In that sense, our forefather’s words offer a perennial lesson to us. This is because we face a constant choice as to where we direct our energies, either in the pursuit of the ephemeral pleasures of this world as an end in themselves or to delay gratification for something of enduring value.
Those who are perceptive enough will know which path to follow. Mazeltov to Yisroel Meir Chapper on his barmitzvah this shabbat.