Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

In this, the final parsha in the Book of Bereishit, we read about Yaakov blessing his twelve sons. The order of the blessings is not according to their order of birth but according to their mother, and within that, in the order of their birth. Yaakov begins blessing Leah’s sons, then Bilhah’s, Zilpah’s, and finally, Rachel’s.

One noticeable deviation from this order is that in blessing Leah’s sons, Yaakov blesses Zevulun before Yissachar, even though Yissachar was born before Zevulun.


As we know, there was a special pact between the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar. Zevulun were seafaring merchants while Yissachar were talmidei chachamim who sat and learned Torah full time. Zevulun did not have time to study Torah. Our Sages say that unlike the other tribes, who were all farmers and managed to find the time to study Torah (in the times between sowing and harvesting when there are periods of inactivity), Zevulun were perpetually at peril on the high seas and did not have the peace of mind to be able to study Torah. So, they made an arrangement that they would support Yissachar and enable them to learn Torah; in return they would receive a share in the reward of their learning.

A famous mishna in Pirkei Avot (17:3) states: “If there is no flour, there is no Torah, and if there is no Torah, there is no flour,” which alludes to the symbiotic relationship between these two tribes – and also to any subsequent Yissachar-Zevulun arrangement made by anyone in the future.

The question then is, “Which is more important: the flour or the Torah?”

Instinctively, one would think the Torah is more important because it is the reason for the existence of the entire world. But then comes our parsha and, surprisingly, reverses the order. Yaakov blesses Zevulun before Yissachar (as echoed in the above mishna – first the flour, then the Torah), hinting that maybe it is that the flour is more important because without parnassa, livelihood – there would be no Torah at all.

Obviously, the Torah is more important than parnassa. Why then did Yaakov reverse the order and bless Zevulun first, and why did the mishna put flour before Torah? Not because it is more important, but to pay special honor to Zevulun and to the facilitators of Torah study.

Recently, every day during Chanukah, we read from parshat Naso about the sacrifices of the Nesi’im, the heads of each tribe, which were brought when the Mishkan was inaugurated. It is easy reading for the Baal Koreh because it is repetitious; every Nasi brought exactly the same korban.

The Sages say that even though the contents were the same, the kavanot, intentions, of each Nasi were different. Midrash Rabbah devotes almost 30 pages to discussing each of the tribes and their kavanot. According to the Midrash, when Zevulun brought their Korban, they had in mind “This will all be for Yissachar.” And when Yissachar brought their korban, they focused their intentions on intending it all for Zevulun!

This symbiotic relationship between the Torah and livelihood is also echoed in the vessels in the Mikdash. The Menorah represents the light of the Torah, specifically the Oral Law, corresponding to Yissachar. The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim represents material wealth, corresponding to Zevulun. The two stand alongside each other in the Heichal, the Shulchan basking in the light of the Menorah, and the Menorah’s light (from olive oil) receiving the blessing of abundance of the Shulchan.

Zevulun and Yissachar are just one example, a microcosm of the symbiosis between all twelve tribes. Each tribe has their special purpose to fulfill within Am Yisrael, and each has its own path and style.

The twelve sons of Yaakov started off badly, each selfishly focusing on their own needs and rights, and this ended in disaster – the selling of Yosef and our exile in Egypt. However, they recovered and made amends. Just before Yaakov passes away in our parsha, his twelve sons gather around his bed and declare, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad” – Listen (our father) Yisrael, we are all different, but what unites us is that we all accept Hashem, the only G-d, as our G-d.

How Avraham yearned to hear that from his two sons, Yitzchak and Yishmael. How Yitzchak yearned to hear that from his two sons, Yaakov and Eisav. However, it was only Yaakov who merited this unity of purpose in his offspring, which subsequently led to the birth of our nation.

Yaakov can now die in peace, knowing his task is accomplished. He then replies:

Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto Le’olam Va’ed – Blessed be the Name of Hashem forever and ever.”

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: When Yosef presented his sons Menashe and Ephraim to Yaakov for a blessing, Yaakov asks (Bereishit 48:8), “Who are these?” Did Yaakov not recognize his own grandsons?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Why did Yosef send gifts back to his father Yaakov on agalot (wagons) and not on the backs of camels or donkeys? Before Yosef was sold into slavery in Egypt, the last chapter he was studying in the Gemara with his father Yaakov was “Egla Arufa” – the case of finding a dead body when nobody knows who killed him. Yosef, to prove that it was really him, was sending a message back to his father, in “code.”


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.