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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
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Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey couching down between the sheepfolds; and he saw that rest was good, and the land it was pleasant; and he bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant to tribute. (BERESHIS 49:14,15)
The following incident was witnessed by the Chofetz Chaim when he was a young man, and it remained imbedded in his memory. A Jew was caught by the Russian authorities counterfeiting money, and he was sentenced to exile in Siberia, which meant life imprisonment and almost certain death, because of the extremely harsh conditions there. The unfortunate Jew was brought in chains to the railway station on his way to Siberia. As was customary, he was allowed one final request before his departure.
"My request," he announced, "is to see the rabbi of our town." Everyone was amazed at this request, but the rabbi was hurried over to the train station, where a big crowd had gathered.
"What can I do for you?" asked the rabbi of the prisoner.
"Rabbi," answered the chained Jew, "my opinion is that you are to blame for my being sent to Siberia."
"What do you mean?" asked the astonished rabbi.
"I mean that you knew very well that I was printing counterfeit money, and you never once told me that I should stop. If you would have warned me, I would not have continued. Why did you not say anything?" demanded the prisoner.
After witnessing this heartbreaking scene, the Chofetz Chaim learned a lesson for life about the importance of rebuking others in order to positively influence them. (CHOFETZ CHAIM AL HATORAH, p. 125)
The lesson that the Chofetz Chaim learned from the above incident can be applied by us in our marriages. We must use our positive influence over our spouses to help them grow spiritually.
"Yissachar is a strong-boned donkey."1 Just as that donkey breaks limbs and bones, so does his tribe overcome all of Israel in halachah Uewish law], as it is written, "And the sons of Yissachar understood matters relating to the times," 2 and from their tribe alone there were two hundred heads of Sanhedrin courts.
Happy is the tzaddik and happy are his neighbors. Yehudahh, Yissachar, and Zevulun were close to Moshe and Aharon, as it is written, "And those who camped before the Tabernacle to the east...etc."3 They became great in Torah, as it is written, "Yehudahh is my lawmaker." 4 Also, "And the sons of Yissachar understood matters relating to the times," 5"and from Zevulun those using the staff of a scribe."6 But on the south side of the Tabernacle were the sons of Kehas, and near them were Reuben, Shimon, and Gad. And they dwelt near Korach, who was of the sons of Kehas, a person who sought strife, and they were destroyed with him in his discord. From here it is said: "Woe unto the wicked, and woe unto his neighbor, good unto the tzaddik [righteous person] and good unto his neighbor." (YALKUT VAYECHI 161, see Yoma 56b)
'hy does the Torah compare a talmid chacham / [wise Torah scholar] to a donkey, when there are V' other strong animals that are much nobler which could have been used for the comparison? How could our Sages learn the advantage of good neighbors from the example of Moshe and Aharon, who were neighbors to the three eastern tribes only in the desert; whereas the verses showing the positive qualities of Yehudahh, Yissachar, and Zevulun are all from later periods in history? Why were the neighbors of Korach thrown into the pit together with him? Why is it so good to have a tzaddik as a neighbor?
The uniqueness of the donkey is its ability to carry great loads. Because of its heavy frame it can support what other animals cannot. That is why the Torah chose the donkey as the appropriate symbol to explain the endurance of the talmid chacham. He is a person who can sit and study endlessly. This unique quality of endurance for the sake of Torah can be fittingly compared to the donkey's enduring powers of bearing heavy loads.
The other part of the comparison mentioned in the midrash is to the strength of a donkey's bones. Because of a donkey's heavy frame, it can crush anything which comes in its path. Our Sages are saying here that since the tribe of Yissachar had such great endurance in their study of Torah, when it came to a learned discussion with other tribes, members of the tribe of Yissachar would always win an argument because of their great diligence in Torah learning. Hence it is appropriate to compare the tribe of Yissachar "crushing" the other tribes with their knowledge of Torah, to a donkey, which, with its superior strength, crushes anything in its path.
We posed the question of how our Sages could learn the advantage of good neighbors from Moshe and Aharon, who were neighbors to the three eastern tribes only in the desert, while the verses showing the qualities of these three tribes, Yehudahh, Yissachar and Zevulun, are all from later periods in history. The answer is that the influence of a good neighbor comes not only from his immediate proximity, but also from his positive influence that carries over for generations to come. This is because when a person is a talmid chacham or a tzaddik, his neighbors will be so impressed with him that they will want to educate their children to emulate their beloved neighbor. Once the children are educated in the proper manner, they will also educate their children in the same way, and so the benefits will be felt for generations to come.
Korach, on the other hand, is a clear example of the destructive influence that a bad neighbor can have. Since he was constantly seeking to argue, he indulged in a continuous verbal rampage against Moshe Rabbeinu. Whenever anyone would meet Korach, he would be subjected to his various complaints against Moshe and the Torah, and this would have a destructive effect on those who heard his arguments frequently. Of course the people he was likely to meet most often were his neighbors, and thus their spiritual level deteriorated from their proximity to such a bad neighbor.
Those neighbors, the tribes of Reuven, Shimon, and Gad, were greatly influenced by Korach's oratory, and many became his followers. Once they were subject to Korach's influence and believed his claims, they had to be punished and taken out of the world, just as Korach was. Being a neighbor of Korach cost them their lives. That is why our Sages say, "woe is to the wicked, and woe unto his neighbor."
The benefit of having a neighbor who is a talmid chacham or a tzaddik, on the other hand, is tremendous. Our Sages say that as long as a person desires to listen to his rabbi, he should live near him. The idea is that by having him nearby, one is inspired constantly to be on one's best behavior. A person is embarrassed to do bad things when someone he respects 1S watching.
A person is also greatly influenced by his surroundings. The Rambam writes, "The way a person is created is that he is influenced in his opinions and his actions by his companions and friends, and he also acts according to the custom of his country. Therefore, a person must attach himself to tzaddikim and sit near wise men always, so that he will learn from their actions. And he must distance himself from those who go in the dark, [i.e. the wicked people] so that he will not learn from their deeds."7 Since it is human nature to be influenced by others, one must be careful always to choose to be close to people who will have a good influence.
A Good Wife is Like a Good Neighbor
Tn a certain respect, a good wife is similar to having good neighbors. She too can have a positive influence on her husband. When she prods him to spend more time studying Torah, or to have more concentration in his 13davening or bentsching, or to do more chesed, her words leave an impression on him. He is also embarrassed to do bad things in front of her, and thus he will try to behave well.
The same applies to a husband's influence on his wife. If he sees her dressing immodestly, or not covering her hair properly, or if she is not careful in shemiras halashon [guarding her speech] if he speaks to her about correcting the problem in a caring gentle manner, this will have a positive influence upon her to change her ways. Since a woman does not want to displease her husband, he can help her ascend the spiritual ladder.
It is actually the duty of the husband to be constructively critical of his wife's actions (in a loving and positive manner, of course). Our Sages say, "He who can correct his family's actions, and does not do so, will be punished for it." 8 We are responsible for our families, and cannot turn our heads away pretending we do not see their wrong doings.
Helping each other move up in spiritual levels can greatly enhance married life, and this can also prevent crises that may otherwise arise. In this respect, your spouse is the best neighbor that you can find.
1. Bereshis 49:14
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network