by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"The tribe of Zevulun, and the head of the children of Zevulun is Eliav ben
In the town of Vilna, several centuries ago, two Jewish merchants found
themselves in a financial dispute which they could not resolve on their
own. They decided to settle their dispute by using a traditional method
known by the acronym "zablah" -- each side would choose an individual to
act as a judge, the two judges would choose a third to sit with them, and
the three judges would then adjudicate the case.
At that time, an outstanding scholar named Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer lived in
the city -- he was called the Vilna Gaon, the "Genius of Vilna." One of the
two participants chose a leading merchant to be a judge; the other went to
Rabbi Kramer to be his.
Rabbi Kramer, however, refused. He said that the world of business and the
world of Torah are often complete opposites. A person can get caught up in
business affairs, and believe that wrong is right and right is wrong, so
Rabbi Kramer could not serve on a court together with a merchant and ensure
that they would agree upon the right answer. And, he said, we find a hint
to this concept in this week's reading.
In the desert, the 12 tribes were divided into groups of three, and each
group followed the flag of one tribe's camp: the flag of Yehudah to the
east, Reuven to the south, Ephraim to the West and Dan to the north. In
each case, said the Gaon, we find that when the tribes under each flag are
mentioned, the Torah lists the first, the second, and then says "and the
tribe of..." to indicate the third.
Only in the case of the flag of Yehudah is the third tribe not joined to
the others with "and." The verse simply starts out of nowhere: "the tribe
Yissacher and Zevulun had a partnership. The children of Yissacher sat and
studied Torah. The tribe of Zevulun supported Yissacher, and in doing so
shared the merit of Yissacher's study. But even so, said the Vilna Gaon,
the two were separate. They lacked a connection.
Those who studied in yeshiva for several years, and then went into the
business world, know that this is true -- it is difficult to go into
business, yet continue to think like a Torah scholar. They are different
worlds, requiring a person to think and act differently, much as Western
society in general calls for behavior which opposes Jewish values.
To actually move from work or business to Torah scholarship later in life
is a deed worthy of Rebbe Akiva (who went to yeshiva at age 40, and grew to
become the leading Rabbi of his time). It is also, of course, a tremendous
challenge and accomplishment for a person to come from a non-observant,
standard American Jewish lifestyle, and adopt full Jewish observance, at
any age. And this too is much easier early in life, when a person is
exploring various options without a strong commitment to any. For an older
person, this is another transition, even greater than that from business to
Last week, we lost a man who did what is difficult to imagine: as a
successful businessman, he not only migrated to Jewish observance, but set
aside his expertise to sit at the feet of teachers -- as if he were a young
child -- to learn Torah.
Arthur Morgenstern spent his later years going to the Yeshiva of
Philadelphia every morning, paying attention to the words of Abbayeh and
Rava rather than the latest investment opportunities. He learned with
people many years his junior, in order to learn to swim in the Sea of
Talmud. And his accomplishments were considerable, to say the least -- I
had the opportunity to attend a Siyum (celebration of completion of a
Tractate) which he made a few years ago, and know that this was but one of
his many accomplishments in learning.
His investments turned to Torah as well, as many Jewish institutions in
Philadelphia and beyond gratefully attest. One of his most recent projects
was to help found the Philadelphia Kollel, which is just getting underway.
A Kollel, an advanced study center for Jewish scholars, often serves a
crucial role in the development of an affiliated Jewish community -- and it
was surprising that there was none in Philadelphia. Arthur recognized the
And I must also mention that he was the founding Chairman of the Board of
Project Genesis -- in fact, he helped me to incorporate Project Genesis in
1993. He was one of the first to believe in Project Genesis and what it
might accomplish. Today, what we provide to nearly 40,000 subscribers is in
Aharon ben Binyamin a"h will be sorely missed, by his family and by all who
Rabbi Yaakov Menken