5771 - #33




            The placement of Netanel ben Tzu’ar, the nasi of Shevet Yissaschar, as the second of the leaders of the tribes of Israel to bring his sacrifices in connection to the dedication of the Mishkan draws the attention of the commentaries.1 Rashi, Bamidbar 7:19 states that Shevet Reuvain, already slighted by the fact that Shevet Yehuda went first, felt that it was only proper that they should now go second. The question thus emerges: why, in fact, did Yissaschar go second? Rashi presents the answer that Moshe, as he explained to Reuvain, was directed by God to simply follow the same order by which the nation of Israel was to march through the desert. As Yissaschar, as part of the greater congregation of tribes that marched under the banner of Yehuda, followed the actual tribe of Yehuda in order of travel, Netanel ben Tzu’ar, this tribe’s nasi, brought his gift of sacrifices on the second day of the dedication. This answer would seem to imply that the decision to have Netanel ben Tzu’ar go second had nothing to do with either the merit of this individual or of the tribe of Yissaschar. They went second as part of the recognition of Yehuda. The answer to Reuvain was thus that it was not being slighted again. Indeed, they, in  a certain way did go second for, as the dominant tribe of the greater congregation of tribes that marched under the flag of Reuvain, their participation in the dedication on the fourth day did reflect their congregation of tribes going second.

            Rashi, however, also presents other reasons, based on merit, for Yissaschar going second. First, as presented in Divrei Hayamim I 12:33, this tribe was noted for its excellence in Torah scholarship. Second, the tribe and, specifically, its nasi, Netanel be Tzu’ar, were the ones that gave the tribal leaders the idea to participate in the dedication of the Mishkan through these pledges of sacrifices. So what was it? Was there a significance in going second on these days of dedication – and thus, in the latter’s participation on this day, a perceivable slight to the tribe of Reuvain and a declaration of praise for the tribe of Yissaschar – or not? Was Yissaschar’s participation on the second day an indication of the significance of this tribe or, possibly, an indication of relative insignificance in that it was, in a certain way, subordinate to the tribe of Yehuda? As I pondered these questions, though, my thoughts began to question what the actual tribes in the Sinai perceived. The context of the statement in Divrei Hayamim that is the source for Rashi’s statement regarding Yissaschar’s exceptional Torah scholarship is the time of Dovid HaMelech.2 Is Rashi thereby actually telling us that the tribe of Yissaschar went second because eventually they would become a tribe of exceptional Torah scholarship or is Rashi informing us that this tribe was already, in the desert, noted for its Torah scholarship, simply referring to this verse in a most general way? When we read the Torah with our knowledge of Jewish history, we have a certain appreciation of the text. I thus wonder how the actual participants in the event understood what was transpiring.

            In so many ways, this question may colour our understanding of many events. We are told that Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehuda went first in this order of dedication. We, as readers of the text, are not surprised for this shevet is the tribe of the monarchy as reflected in the eternal house of malchut Beit Dovid, the royal house of David. What, however, did the nation of the desert understand when Nachshon went first? Did they, through some prophetic perception of the future, also recognize the eventual placement of this royal house within the constitution of the nation and thus also saw Nachshon in that light as we do? Or did they have some understanding of the placement of Yehuda within the nation already from previous events such as the manner by which Yehuda took charge in the episode with Yosef in Egypt? Or did they have a perception of the status of Nachshon from his heroic behaviour at the Reed Sea?4 We tend to look backwards from our perch in history, viewing earlier events from the perspective of what eventually transpired. We, for example, perceive the role of all that was connected to Yehuda with the knowledge that the eternal house of our monarchy is embedded in this tribe. But how did those who actually lived these events in history perceive what was occurring. The flow of understanding may be different, in fact, the opposite. From this perspective, what transpired is not explained by the eventual emergence of the House of David but rather these events explain, in fact, how malchut Beit Dovid emerged from Yehuda. It may be that the actions of Yehuda in relation to Yosef became a personal inspiration for his descendent Nachshon, leading God to bestow upon the latter prominence in traveling through the desert5 and at the dedication of the Mishkan which, in turn, laid the seeds for the eventual emergence of the House of Dovid.

            There is a dynamic nature to the study of the history of our people – with many correlated lessons. Within the realm of the Divine, it is not problematic to contend that what would be the future results already affected a previous event. We are told numerous times that because of what God knew would be – in fact, perhaps, had to be – an earlier event occurred in the manner in which it did. This recognition, though, should not prevent us from also seeing the flow of history in the opposite direction, in its normative manner. Events lead to events and part of our task must be to map out this path. The same may be true regarding Yissaschar’s positioning in the dedication ceremony. It may not only be that this tribe went second because it eventually became a tribe marked by scholarship. It may also be that because it went second due to its connection to the tribe of Yehuda (the eventual source of the monarchy), the tribe developed into a tribe of scholarship.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht




1 Bamidbar 7:18.

2 The actual focus of the verse is the ingathering of men of military might into the camp of Dovid after the fall of Shaul HaMelech. Its indication as a source for the Torah scholarship of Yissaschar is, as such, not literal but is a derived understanding through the procedures of Torah analysis. It is often the case that a Torah analysis of a verse will yield conclusions that are not in line with the simple meaning or literal reading of a verse. This is a result of a verse being written at least with some level of ru’ach hakodesh, Divine spirit. As Ntziv, Darcha Shel Torah 3:1,2 states, the fact that a verse was written with ru’ach hakodesh informs us that this verse can be analyzed in a manner outside of its context. That the specific context of this verse is not connected to Torah scholarship does not detract from a conclusion through proper Torah analysis that it is speaking to this regard. Nonetheless, we may question details such as the time period to which this analysis is applicable.

3 There are so many ways that Yehuda reflected the ability of leadership within this story such as, for example, when he steps forward to cause his father Yaakov Avinu to send Binyamin with him. See Bereishit 43:3.

4 See, further, Bamidbar Rabbah 13:7 which, actually, ties the two events together.

5 In this regard, one could easily contend that since Nachshon led Israel into the Sea, it was clearly appropriate that his tribe should continue to lead Israel in their travels from Egypt to the land.

Nishma 2011

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