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Parashat Pinhas- Lessons For Students of Torah - Rabbi Eli Mansour

The Torah in Parashat Pinhas tells about the census taken of Beneh Yisrael shortly before they crossed into the Land of Israel. We find in the Torah’s account of this census a list of the families of each tribe. The tribe of Yissachar, for example, consisted of four families, established by the four sons of Yissachar – Tola, Puva, Yashub and Shimron (26:23-24).

The Or Ha’haim Ha’kadosh (Rav Haim Ben-Attar, 1696-1743) comments that the name “Yissachar,” and the names of his sons, actually convey to us various lessons relevant to Torah learning. Tradition teaches that the tribe of Yissachar devoted itself to learning and became outstanding scholars, and were supported by the people of the tribe of Zebulun, who worked as merchants and shared their earnings with the scholars of Yissachar. The name “Yissachar,” the Or Ha’haim writes, represents the phrase “Yesh Sachar” – “there is reward,” indicating to us that the greatest reward we can earn is the reward for immersion in Torah study. Likewise, the names of Yissachar’s sons, which then became the names of the families of this tribe of scholars, teach us about the way to approach the pursuit of Torah scholarship.

Yissachar’s first son is called “Tola,” which means “worm.” This alludes to the quality of humility, which is vital for succeeding in learning. Moreover, the silkworm produces precious silk from its mouth – a symbol of how much one can achieve and produce through his mouth, by speaking words of Torah.

Yissachar’s second child is named “Puva,” which is related to the word “Peh” – mouth, but with the letter “Heh” substituted with a “Vav.” The Or Ha’haim notes that according to the wisdom of Kabbala, the letter “Vav” is associated with Torah, and thus the name “Puva” expresses the quality of utilizing one’s mouth for Torah learning. The family that descended from this son is known as the “Puni” family, a word that resembles “Panui” – cleared, or emptied. In order to attain Torah scholarship, one must reduce his indulgence in food, and in idle chatter and frivolity, “clearing” his mouth so that it can be used exclusively to speak the sacred words of the Torah.

The name “Yashub,” the Or Ha’haim writes, alludes to “Yeshiba” (literally, “sitting”), the need to devote a great deal of time and effort to Torah study. The Or Ha’haim explains that “Yeshiba” connotes permanence, consistent attendance and regular learning, as opposed to an occasional visit to the study hall. This commitment is an indispensable prerequisite to achievement in Torah learning.

Finally, the fourth son is called “Shimron,” a name derived from the root “SH.M.R.,” which means “guard.” A student of Torah must exercise extreme care in all his behavior, to ensure to not even appear to act improperly. The Gemara in Masekhet Yoma (86a) tells of certain great Sages who refrained from activities which are, in and of themselves, perfectly acceptable, but could be misunderstood as inappropriate. A student of Torah must see himself as a representative of Torah, as an ambassador, because this is how others see him. His behavior will help shape other people’s opinion of Torah and of dedicated religious Jews. And thus one of Yissachar’s children was named “Shimron” – emphasizing the importance of “Shemira,” of guarding oneself to ensure that he does not do anything which could potentially reflect negatively on the Torah and its adherents.


Rabbi Eli Mansour Pinchas 5783
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