Yacov Nordlicht – Parsha Vayechi – The Yissachar Zevulun Relationship – Evaluating Action Within Mitzvos


In this week’s parsha, the medrash relates to us the unique relationship shared by יששבר  and זבולון. It’s the first mention in the Torah of an agreement where one brother would learn Torah and the other would support him financially, and they would “split” the שכר.

The אמרי שפר  is bothered by a fascinating question. Many ראשונים imply that if one were to support another financially, even if the learner doesn’t learn לשמה, the שכר  received by the supporter is still a לשמה-type of שכר. There are two glaring difficulties with these ראשונים. The first problem is simply in the mechanics. How could such a thing be? How could a supporter receive an equal שכר than the person who actually did the learning? And furthermore, in the end of the day, תורה wasn’t learned לשמה! How then could he receive a שכר for something which never actually happened?

In order to understand the answer to this question, we have to be able to properly define the different parts of any given מעשה. On a superficial level, there exists two different parts of a מעשה; the action itself and the result of the action. In reality, however, there must exist another part of a מעשה  which isn’t immediately recognizable to the naked eye, yet must exist in the world of the abstract.

To illustrate this point, we have to explore a different הלכה, the פטור of an אונס. If a person does an עבירה באונס, he isn’t held accountable because of the famous dictum אונס דרחמנא פטריה. There exists quite a famous חקירה in how to understand this דין. Rav Elchonon Wasserman in his famous work קובץ הערות elucidates two distinct ways of understanding this פטור. Is it like other פטורים where a person physically performed the action but isn’t held accountable for what he did, or is the פשט of an אונס somewhat more radical, that it isn’t just a פטור rather it’s viewed as if the perpetrator didn’t even perform the action in the first place! (These two opinions could be the subject of a מחלוקת between the רמב”ם and רמב”ן in regards to the מצוה of קידוש ה’).

However, we find a massive difficulty with this second way of understanding אונס. It’s well known in הלכות נזיקין that אדם המזיק is held accountable and liable to pay for damages whether or not he performed the act באונס or ברצון. Now if we understand like the second way of understanding, that it’s as if the perpetrator never even performed the action, then how could he be held accountable for something which he never did?

We’re forced to say in lumdus that there exists another part of a מעשה which isn’t immediately distinguishable. Certain אחרונים called this the “עשייה”. The proper definition in English is what the person invests into his action. For example, even though a person physically performed an action, how personally invested into his action was he? This could be the proper understanding of why a person is held accountable in דיני נזקין by an אונס, yet פטור in other areas במקום אונס. In other areas of the תורה, for example, in the majority of עבירות, the תורה doesn’t hold us accountable for the action itself, rather for what we invest into the עבירה. Therefore, if a person was באונס he isn’t personally invested in the עבירה at all, and therefore there would be no reason to hold him accountable. On the other hand, in דיני נזקין, the תורה is מחדש that a person isn’t liable for what he invests into the action, rather the action itself has the ability to make him liable to pay.

I think with this understanding, we can properly understand how a supporter of תורה could receive שכר for תורה לשמה even though the actual learning which took place was שלא לשמה. The reason is that when a person supports another in learning, it isn’t the learner’s עשייה which is reflected back on the supporter, thereby giving him שכר, rather it’s the actual מעשה of לימוד התורה itself which is reflected back on the supporter! Therefore, it doesn’t have the specific “investment” of the learner, namely the aspect of “לא לשמה”. Therefore, when it’s reflected to give the supporter שכר, it remains a מעשה לימוד התורה in its purest form, without the blemish of the learner.


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