Iyyar: Lesson of Issachar

Photo by Anssi Koskinen, used by Creative Commons Permissions

~(Cross Posted to PunkTorah.org) ~

Issachar is the tribe associated with the month of Iyyar, which generally falls between April and May. What does the name Issachar (יִשָּׂשׁכָר) bring to mind?  Anything? Do any famous stories from the Torah come to mind?  Probably not, yet Issachar holds a special place in Jewish tradition.

Issachar was the 5th son of Jacob and Leah, born some time after her other children — so long after that she had already arranged for Jacob to continue bearing children in her line through her handmaiden Zilpah.  Like all of the names of the twelve tribes there are many interpretations of what Issachar means, but the one that resonates most for me is “there is a reward.”  Leah’s hard work and patience has earned  her yet another child. It’s also worth noting the the root שׁכר is associated with earned wages, not just “rewards.”

Issachar is considered to be the tribe of scholars and noted as astronomers and mathematicians.  The month of Iyyar is a month to study, and the month we count the Omer.  RitualWell.org tells us, “In Iyar the ox ploughs the earth, nurturing the new seeds, helping them grow into the harvest of the coming month of Sivan.”  The Ox (שׁוֹר) or Taurus is the astrological sign of the month. Here we see the work of the scholars of Israel in a new way.  The scholars, turn the earth of our rich tradition ensuring that news growth returns year after year.  They are, like the “large-boned ass” Issachar is called (Gen 49:14), in many ways the beasts of burden of Judaism.  It is they who do the heavy lifting in many generations, ensuring that we all learn the words, ways, and whys.

But, respecting our scholars and taking on the mantle of scholarship is only one lesson.  We must look at the eternal partnership between Issachar and Zebulon.  In Moses’ blessing to the tribes, Deuteronomy 33, he binds these two tribes together.

And of Zebulon he said: Rejoice, Zebulon, in thy going out, and, Issachar, in thy tents.

They shall call peoples unto the mountain; there shall they offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand.

We cannot have scholars without commerce, and our commerce needs to be informed by the work of the scholars.  Scholarship and teaching are noble callings, but so is doing the work of shipping, fishing, and trading.  I think the lesson of Issachar for Iyyar, is that scholarship is not an end in itself.  It exists to be brought to the outside world and shared.  The letter of the month, Vav (ו), is a conjunction.  It’s grammatical use is equal to the word “and” in English.  It is also the pen and the staff of priests, and can easily also be seen as the oar of the tribe of Zebulon. Iyyar is a conjunction, a connector; it is the “and.”  We have escaped from Egypt — and…..

Take this month to explore your own “and.”  We do not better ourselves just to better ourselves.  We do this to bring our best selves out and create a better world for all.

Want more insights into Iyyar?



6 Replies to “Iyyar: Lesson of Issachar”

  1. I really enjoyed hearing these insights last night at the Rosh Chodesh service.

    One thing that also occurred to me… A friend and I are studying the Torah parshas together, and sometimes we get overwhelmed by how many commentaries there are to read (just online!) by different rabbis from different movements in Judaism, past and present. (Your comment about the Talmud feeling scary resonated with me. :-D) We feel like we wish we could just absorb it all right now.

    But I think that the lesson of the Ox is also that steady, patient progression is better than haphazard, frantic learning. We have the rest of our lives to study, so we don't have to try to absorb everything at one time. Slow, steady work will yield the biggest reward.

  2. Christi,

    Thanks for making Rosh Chodesh! I know it's a hard one to fit into a schedule.

    I love your take on the Ox!

    There's a teach, I forget from who, that Judaism is a long and winding road filled with jewels. The truth is that as you walk down that road, you can only pick up so many. We each have to choose which jewels we will pick up and carry with us through the journey of life.

    By the way, if you find a way of just "osmosing" all the teaching of the past — let me know!!

    1. It's funny because my son and I were just talking about something similar this morning in relation to school. He was wishing for brain implants that could just give him what he needs to know, and I was arguing that the process of learning is just as beneficial as the information itself. So..umm, yeah. That too. 🙂

      I wanted to also say that I picked up the Wild Earth Shebrew by Holly Shere (mp3s) and I love it so much. Any other music recs?

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