In this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayechi, Jacob addresses his sons’ qualities and blesses them before his demise. When he addresses his son Issachar, he says (49:15), “And he saw that rest is good and the land is pleasant, and he tilted his shoulder to bear [the load].”
Rashi explains that the load referenced here is the yoke of Torah. The members of the tribe of Issachar committed themselves, more than other tribes, to toil in Torah study. The beginning of the verse, however, seems to be a bit perplexing. If Issachar stands out in bearing the yoke of Torah, why then does the verse say that he saw how good it is to relax and enjoy the land?
The Ksav Sofer answers that Jacob was coming to pile praise upon Issachar. Jacob was saying that despite the fact that Issachar had an appreciation for relaxation and a taste for enjoying the materialistic features the land had to offer, he made the conscious choice to ignore these temptations and embark on a career of toil in Torah study.
We sometimes tend to think that great and holy people are the ones who are above the lowly temptations we have. But it is not so. On the contrary, as we see from Jacob’s praise of Issachar, the one who does appreciate worldly amenities, but nevertheless curbs his desires in order to subject himself to pursuits of spiritual achievements, is the one who is truly praiseworthy.
Rabbi Shlomo Rothenberg was a Rosh Yeshivah (the head of a school for Talmud study) whose life revolved around Torah learning. He was always found relishing in toiling over the words of the Talmud. But he wasn’t always that way.
As a child, he was a devout sports aficionado. During vacation, he would play ball at the park from early morning until dusk, not even going home to eat lunch. He was a talented athlete with a promising future in sports ahead of him. In fact, the New York Yankees wanted to train him to join the team. He played basketball in the City Championships at the old Madison Square Garden with huge crowds cheering him on.
But the more he studied Torah, the more he committed himself to shouldering the yoke of Torah study and living a life of Torah. Although he never gave up his appreciation for sports, he proudly chose to pursue a career of Torah over a marvelous career in sports.
This is a tremendous lesson for us to keep in mind. At times, we face various temptations of a lowly nature. Sometimes these temptations are so inappropriate that we feel embarrassed about the fact that we even have these temptations in the first place. We feel we are so much lower than people who are known for their righteousness, and think to ourselves, “A really great person would never have such temptations.”
These thoughts can lead us to getting discouraged. But the truth of the matter is just the opposite! If you appreciate materialism, if you by nature seek wealth and prestige, and you overcome these inclinations in order to devote yourself properly to Torah, you are the one who is truly great! If you curb your desires to pursue spiritual accomplishments and use your time wisely, you are the one who is truly deserving of praise!
We should not allow ourselves to view lowly temptations as a sign of inferiority or a source of shame. Because these are the elements which can make a person greater than ever.
Parshas Vayechi by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (email@example.com)