Flour and Torah
There is a famous Hebrew saying: “Without flour, there is no Torah; without Torah, there is no flour.” (Pirke Avot 3:21)
The first part means that a person needs to be realistic when it comes to his (or her) economic life. We must make a living and have the ability to make ends meet. Unless we are able to be financially self-sufficient, we will not be able to afford to support ourselves, or our community institutions.
The second part of this phrase means that financial sustenance cannot be our entire raison d’être. If our values were limited to amassing money, we would be neglecting our primary mission of being a holy nation. The values of Torah must be reflected in everything we do.
Life is a balancing act of these physical and spiritual factors. We must be able to support ourselves, and still be in tune with our spiritual needs.
The importance of both flour and Torah are illustrated in this week’s Torah portion of Vayechi. The tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun were partners. Tradition says that the tribe of Zevulun consisted of merchants who traveled by ship to buy and sell merchandise. The tribe of Yissachar had many Torah students and teachers.
These two tribes came to an understanding: Zevulun agreed to support Yissachar financially, in return for a share of the spiritual merit of Yissachar’s Torah study. Jacob blessed them and their arrangement, saying, “Rejoice Zevulun in your going out and Yissachar in your tents.” (Genesis 33:18)
At the end of the Torah, Moshe our teacher also blessed the 12 tribes. Moshe also makes reference to this unique partnership between Zevulun and Yissachar.
The Torah is telling us that we all have a share in the Torah study of our community. We can and should study Torah ourselves. But pressures of livelihood keep us from devoting as much time and effort to it as we should. The solution that we can derive from this Torah portion (and others) is that we can support Torah study financially and share in the merit created by that study.
Every individual, on his (or her) own level, should study Torah. In addition, we are stakeholders in community Torah study and it deserves our support.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)