Can Wealth and Torah Go Together?

Vayeit shichmo lisbol vayehi l’mas oved (Bereishis 49:15)

In the 1980s, one of the most esteemed talmidim in the Mir Yeshivah in Yerushalayim got engaged to the daughter of a very wealthy man. Some of the other students in the yeshivah cast aspersions on the match, suggesting that the groom had “sold himself” by pursuing a spouse based on financial considerations instead of seeking to marry the daughter of a respected Torah scholar, as they believed would have been more appropriate for somebody of his caliber.

The rumors and allegations eventually reached the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Nochum Partzovitz, zt”l. The custom in the yeshivah at that time was to arrange a celebratory meal during the week of sheva brachos whenever one of the students got married. At the festive meal for this talmid, Rav Nochum spoke in honor of the occasion. He began by quoting the Mishnah in Avos (6:4) that teaches that the way of Torah is to eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah study. The Mishnah promises that one who does so will be praiseworthy in this world, and all will be good for him in the World to Come.

Rav Nochum commented that people mistakenly think that the approach delineated by the Mishnah is a necessary prerequisite to success in Torah study, and that a person who is unwilling to endure physical discomfort will be unable to grow in his Torah knowledge. However, this cannot be the case, as Rabi Yehudah Hanasi, the redactor of the Mishnah, was incredibly wealthy and lived a life of tremendous luxury, as did many other great Chachamim throughout the generations, and despite the fact that they did not adhere to the prescription of the Mishnah, they still attained great heights in their Torah knowledge.

Rather, when Yaakov blessed each of his sons at the end of his life, the blessing he gave to Yissachar, whose descendants are known for their dedication to Torah study, was “vayeit shichmo lisbol — he bent his shoulders to carry a burden,” which Rashi explains as a reference to the yoke of Torah study. Rav Nochum pointed out that Yaakov didn’t say “vayisbol — he carried a burden,” but rather that he bent his shoulders to demonstrate his commitment that even if life presented him with many challenges, he was still prepared to persist with his Torah study without being distracted. However, in the event that one’s life circumstances do not present him with the difficulties experienced by others, this in no way detracts from his ability to succeed in his studies.

Rav Nochum concluded by proclaiming that the groom had spent his entire time in yeshivah engrossed in Torah study, fully prepared to carry whatever burdens he may be presented with and never once seeking out physical luxuries. Precisely because he was so devoted to Torah, Hashem arranged for him to marry the daughter of a wealthy man who respects Torah scholars and is prepared to provide him with his physical needs. Not only does this arrangement in no way detract from the groom’s commitment to Torah, but just the opposite: The Gemara teaches (Megillah 28b) that properly understanding the Torah requires a clear head, and being freed from potentially distracting concerns about providing for his family is actually beneficial in this regard. After hearing this insight from the Rosh Yeshivah, none of the other students ever dared to again question the groom’s motives or dedication to Torah study.

Q: The Torah states (47:29) that the days of Yaakov’s dying drew near, in contrast to Yitzchak who referred to (27:2) the day of his death. Why does the Torah discuss the days of Yaakov’s death when there was only one day on which he actually died?

Q: Although Yosef attempted to calm and reassure his brothers (50:19–21), Rabbeinu Bachya writes that he never explicitly forgave them for their actions. As a result, they died still responsible for the sin of selling him into slavery. Their atonement was only completed when their descendants were punished as the Asarah Harugei Malchus (10 great Rabbis who were brutally murdered by the Romans). If Yosef forgave them, why did he refuse to say so, and if he didn’t forgive them, why was he unwilling to do so after so much time had passed?

A: The Tosefes Brachah suggests that this peculiar wording hints to the statement of the Gemara in Bava Metzia (87a) that up until Yaakov, people died suddenly without any illness or other prior warning. Yaakov prayed to get sick before his death so that he would have time to prepare for it and repent. Regarding Yitzchak, the Torah discusses only the day of his death, as the days prior gave no indication of what lay ahead. Since Yaakov became sick some time before passing away to hint to him that his time was coming and he should put his spiritual affairs in order, the Torah refers to the “days” of his dying.

A: The Shiras Dovid posits that even though Yosef spoke to his brothers in a reassuring manner, deep down he did not truly forgive them for their actions, as he sensed that their request was not wholehearted. This was evidenced by the fact that they were only discussing it now that Yaakov had died and they were afraid that he may now take revenge against them for selling him into slavery. However, the Midrash says that Yosef did, in fact, forgive his brothers. According to this, the Shiras Dovid explains that they were still punished because Yosef was only able to forgive their offense against him, but not the component which was a sin against Hashem by transgressing the prohibition against kidnapping.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.