Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayechi
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Before Ya'akov Avinu passed away, he blessed all of his children. This year we will focus on the blessing that he blessed his son, Zevulun, with.

The verse says, "Zevulun will dwell at the shore of the sea, and he will be a shore for ships etc." (Vayechi, 49:13). Rashi (ibid. citing the Tanchumah 11) says that the shore was the land that Zevulun dwelled on, because he was involved in exporting and importing. Ships would bring merchandise back and forth from Zevulun's ports. Zevulun supported the tribe of Yissachar who spent all of their time involved in Torah study.

We can understand that Ya'akov told Yissachar that his purpose was to study Torah and that Zevulun's function was to earn money. But, why did Ya'akov specify that that Zevulun's trade would specifically be at the sea shore? There are so many ways to make a living. Why did Ya'akov designate Zevulun to this specific type of parnassah (livelihood) located by the sea shore?

We will share four different approaches which answer this question.

The first approach:

There is a verse that says that man is compared to fish (Chabakuk, 1:14). The Gemara (Avodah Zarah, chap. 1, "Lifnei Eideihen", pg. 3b, Rav Yehudah speaking to Shmuel) explains that we are compared to fish because just as fish die when they leave their element and go onto dry land, similarly, we will die if we leave our element, the study of Torah.

Another reason why we die without Torah study is because the Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination) gets stronger each and every day and he wants to kill us (Kiddushin, chap. 1, "Ha-isha Niknis", pg. 30b, Rebbi Shimon ben Lakish; Tehillim, 37:32). If he succeeds, the result is spiritual death. The only way to save ourselves from this onslaught is through the study of Torah (Kiddushin ibid).

Now, Torah is referred to as water (Baba Kama, chap. 1, "Arba'a Avos", pg. 17a). Therefore, if we distance ourselves from the waters of Torah study, we will die like a fish out of water. We will also have no arsenal with which to battle the Yetzer Hara, further resulting in our spiritual deaths.

This is reminiscent of a famous Talmudic story where the Romans' issued a harsh decree forbidding the Jews from Torah study. Transgressing this decree was punishable by death. Papus ben Yehuda found Rebbi Akiva gathering crowds of Jews, teaching them Torah publicly. Papus asked Rebbi Akiva why he wasn't afraid of the Romans.

Rebbi Akiva responded with an analogy. Once upon a time, a fox walked by a river bank and noticed schools of fish darting around. He asked them who they were running away from? They responded that they were afraid of man's nets. They scramble so as to escape being caught.

The fox made them an offer. Why not come on to dry land and live with me. I will protect you from man. They said, "You're the one about whom they say is the wisest of the animals? You seem to be the dumbest. If in our element we are afraid of death, then out of our element we will certainly seal our fates and we will die."

This is analogous to us. If we are afraid of dying when we study Torah which is our life source (Netzavim, 30:20), then how much more so are we certainly going to die if we cease to study Torah (Berachos, chap. 9, "Haroeh", pg. 61b).

Now, people who study Torah all the time like Yissachar, are spiritually alive because they are in their element, and they have the weapons with which to fight the Yetzer Hara. However, people who have to work for a living are disconnected from Torah study for most of the day. They are like fish out of water. They are also deprived of the Torah weapon to battle their Yetzer Haras. How can the working force amongst the Jewish people maintain spiritual life?

The only piece of advice is to take some of their earnings and support the Yissachars who have dedicated their life to full time Torah study. In this way, during the very hours that Zevulun is making money, Yissachar is learning Torah because of Zevulun's support. Therefore, the Torah study of Yissachar gets credited and transmitted to Zevulun.

It is considered as if the tribe of Zevulun is in their own bubble of Torah water, no matter where they find themselves. Not only is Zevulun in their element, but, they also benefit by being armed with the arsenal of Torah to battle their Yetzer Haras.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Ya'akov blessed Zevulun with a livelihood specifically by the sea shore. Ya'akov wanted the tribe of Zevulun to be provided with a constant opportunity to gaze at the fish in the water so that they will be reminded that just as fish out of water are dead, so too, man disconnected from Torah study is dead.

Ya'akov wanted Zevulun to realize that by going out to make a living, he would be out of his Torah element. Zevulun would have to ask himself, "How can I prevent my own spiritual death?" The answer is that he must provide Yissachar with sustenance so that he will also be credited with Yissachar's Torah learning. This will bring Zevulun spiritual life.

The second approach:

Reb Chaim Vital (Sha'arei Kedusha, vol. 1, Sha'ar 2, citing the Arizal) says that man is made up of the four elements. They are: fire, air, water, and earth. All midos (character traits), good and bad, stem from these four elements. The character flaw which stems from the element of water is lustful passions for materialistic delights.

The nature of ta'avos (lustful passions) are that one is never really satiated with what he's got. If he has a hundred, he wants two hundred. If he gets two hundred, he wants four hundred (Koheles Rabba1:34). He always wants more. There is no end. Enough is never enough.

In this respect, there is a similarity between ta'avos and waves of the sea. Ocean waves are hungry. They look like monsters who want to devour all of the land mass. They are not satisfied by the fact that they cover most of the Earth. They want it all. What stops them? Why do they come crashing down when they reach the sea shore?

This is because Hashem set their boundary by "drawing a line in the sand," and the waves respect that line (Yirmiya, 5:22, Rashi ibid; Midrash Shocher Tov, Tehillim 2).

We must all learn a lesson from the waves. When our desirous impulses grow stronger, we have to know where to draw the line. That line separates between permissibility and prohibition. This is a line that may not be crossed.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that Yissachar is always connected to Torah. Therefore, it is unlikely that he will get caught up in the endless pursuit of lustful passions for materialism. That is not Yissachar's mind set. They are always thinking about what mesechta (tractate) they can master next. However, this is not the case with Zevulun. Zevulun is exposed to the outside world and what it has to offer.

Therefore, Ya'akov blessed Zevulun with a livelihood specifically by the sea shore. It is because Ya'akov wanted Zevulun to gaze at the waves of the sea in order to learn a lesson from them. That lesson is that the waves want to consume everything, but, they stop themselves because of the boundary that God set for them. Similarly, Zevulun is likely to want to devour all of the materialism of the world because he is out there trying to make a hundred. When he does, he may want two hundred, then four hundred, etc.

Zevulun may get caught up in the endless pursuit of materialism. Therefore, he must learn from the waves that there comes a time when one has to stop. One way of controlling himself would be to give some of his earnings to Yissachar. This will remind Zevulun that the purpose of money is for meaningful, eternal, and spiritual things such as Torah study. This will help Zevulun from getting carried away.

The third approach:

The Shel"a (Meseches Yoma, Derech Chaim, Tochachas Mussar, 7, Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz b. Prague 1555, d. Teveria 1630) cites the Sefer Chareidim (66:100, RabbiElazar Azikri, Tzefas 1533-1600) who says that life's challenges are compared to a raging stormy sea. Just as one who finds himself swimming in wild waters must keep his head afloat so as not to swallow too much water, similarly, we, who are swimming through the currents of this world, must keep our heads above the treacherous waters (Tehillim 124:5) of life's difficulties.

Rabbenu Bachya (preface to Parshas Masei) adds that since there are so many tests and tribulations of life, this world is called a place of "teva" (nature), because there is another meaning behind "teva." The word "teva" shares the same letters as "toveah" (drown), teaching us that if we are not careful, we could "toveah" (drown) in this world of "teva". It may even be the "natural" thing to do because of all the overwhelming nisyonos (challenges) that we are faced with on a constant basis.

The best way to keep our heads afloat is to keep our mouths busy with speaking words of Torah and by using our minds to think about the Torah words we utter. In this way, our heads are involved in Torah study which will keep our heads above the currents of life's pain and suffering (See Eiruvin, chap. 5, "Keitzad Mi-avrin", pg. 54a, Shmuel speaking to Rav Yehudah).

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba, 17:6, on Parshas Shelach, 16:40) offers an example to explain this idea. Imagine a passenger of a ship who fell overboard. The captain runs to a rope and throws it down to the passenger and says, "Hold on to this rope. Do not let go, because if you do, you will not survive."

This is analogous to life. God is Captain of this ship (the world), and we are its passengers. Sometimes we fall overboard into overwhelming stormy waters of problems. Hashem throws us a rope and urges us to hold on in order that we remain alive.

What is that rope? The Sfas Emes quotes the Chiddushei Harim (Parshas Shelach) who says that the rope is the study of Torah. The Torah is a "Tree of life", but, only to those who "grab hold of it" (Mishlei, 3:18).

Now, Yissachar is constantly involved in Torah study. Therefore, it is more likely that they will be saved from drowning in the deep waters of life's challenges. However, Zevulun does not have this luxury because most of their time is spent in other activities, depriving them of the ability to stay afloat.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this is why Ya'akov blessed Zevulun with a livelihood specifically by the shore of the sea. It was because Ya'akov wanted Zevulun to gaze at the boats of the sea. Ya'akov wanted Zevulun to also see the ropes on those boats, because Ya'akov wanted Zevulun to learn a lesson from those boats and ropes.

The lesson is that the purpose of boats and ropes is to keep people afloat from drowning at sea. Zevulun must remember that he is in danger of being "toveah" (drowned) from the nisyonos of "teva." Zevulun must be reminded that he needs a "boat" and a "rope" in order to survive. Zevulun's boat and rope is the study of Torah.

But, since Zevulun is not involved in Torah study most of the time, he must support Yissachar in his Torah learning, because then, Yissachar's Torah study gets credited and transferred to Zevulun and it is considered as if Zevulun is learning full time. In this way, Zevulun can keep his head above the stormy waters of life's difficulties.

The fourth approach:

The Reishis Chochma (Sha'ar Hakedusha, chap. 16; Rabbi Eliyahu D'Vidas, Tzefas, 1518-1592) cites the Ramban who shares a deep teaching about the holiness of machshava (thought). Even while we are involved in physical activities in this world, we must keep our minds connected to the source of machshava. Thoughts stem from the upper spiritual spheres. The ability to think is a spiritual power whose origins are found in the spiritual world above.

When a person keeps his mind connected to the holy worlds above, even while he is involved in materialistic activities below, he draws a great light of holiness from above which rests on his activities below, giving him tremendous success in all of his endeavors.

An example of this is water. Water goes from high places to low places. This happens in two ways. Water goes from high tide to low tide, and rain falls down from a very high place. However, water has this uncanny ability of returning to those high places. Low tide will soon become high tide again, and eventually, the water will evaporate and go back up to the high places from which it came.

This is precisely how our thoughts should be. Machshava originates from the high places above, but it descends to the low places of our brains below. When we use that power of thought to think cleverly and creatively in making a living, we must keep a part of our minds on the lofty realms from which thought came, in order to draw holy light down onto our ventures, infusing them with incredible success.

Now, it is much easier for Yissachar to keep their minds on holiness because they are preoccupied with Torah study all day long. However, it is more difficult for Zevulun to keep their minds on spiritual realms because they are very much involved in the mechanics and details of parnassah below.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why Ya'akov blessed Zevulun that his livelihood would be found specifically by the shore of the sea. It was so that he would be able to gaze at the water and learn a lesson from it. The lesson is that just as water goes from high places to low places, but, always returns to the high places, so must Zevulun do the same. Although Zevulun uses his thoughts, which emanate from high places, for the purpose of lowly activities, nevertheless, he must keep some of his thoughts on the high places from which they came.

Zevulun can succeed in doing this when he gives some of his hard-earned money to support Yissachar. This will remind him that the purpose of physicality is spirituality. Zevulun will remember that "Time is not money," but that "Money is time." When Zevulun achieves this, a great holy light will descend on all of his endeavors, giving him incredible success in all of his pursuits.

On a practical note, for those of us who work for a living, right before running out to work, or, on the way to work, let us say the following code, "FWBW." This is the acronym for, "fish, waves, boats, and water." This will remind us of all the aforementioned lessons:

Fish: We are like fish, and without our Torah water, we are dead fish.

Waves: We must behave like the waves and learn when to stop the pursuits of materialism.

Boats: We need the boats and rope of Torah study to keep us afloat from the overwhelming challenges of life in this world.

Water: We must follow in the footsteps of water that always returns to the high places, and keep our minds and thoughts on the high and holy places above.

Now, we can try to achieve all of this on our own by setting aside some time to study Torah. This will help us be like...

...Fish - in our Torah water where we will truly be alive.

...Waves - helping us know when to stop the pursuit of gashmiyus (materialism).

...Boats - helping us stay afloat from life's challenges.

...Water - helping us keep our minds concentrated on higher spiritual worlds.

But, since it is very difficult to maintain this presence of mind all day long during the working hours, we must use some of the money we earn to support those that dedicate themselves to Torah study 24-7.

Because then we will be like fish (alive), waves (stop), boats (afloat), and water (high), all the time, because what the Yissachars of today do, will extend to the Zevuluns of the world automatically.

So, whether we are more like Yissachar or more like Zevulun, may we all be blessed with enough parnassah that we never have to worry, and may we fish be blessed with so much holy waters of Torah that we keep our minds focused on lofty spiritual thoughts, which will help us stay afloat from the raging sea of life's challenges, assisting us in curbing our appetites from the constant waves of temptation, which will prevent us from sinking into the world of teva.