“Zebulun will live by the seashore
and become a haven for ships;
his border will extend toward Sidon.
“Issachar is a rawboned donkey
lying down among the sheep pens.
When he sees how good is his resting place
and how pleasant is his land,
he will bend his shoulder to the burden
and submit to forced labor.”
So we’re continuing our examination of Jacob’s pronouncements over his sons.
Some are positive, some are negative, and some are just neutral.
Today we’re going to look at Zebulun and Issachar.
First, we can see not too much is said about Zebulun.
Their tribal history is short and no person of significance appears to have arisen from this tribe.
They are attributed this positive little footnote in the Song of “Deborah and Barak”.
“The people of Zebulun risked their very lives;
so did Naphtali on the terraced fields.”
So they were one of several tribes that sent men to fight against King of Hazor, in the Valley of Jezreel, which was in Zebulun’s territory.
Now with Issachar, what’s interesting is that so little is mentioned about him that the ancient rabbis went out of their way to create positive fables about his descendants.
The legend promoted is that the Tribe of Issachar were great Torah scholars.
And that it was the ancestors of Zebulun who supported them by toiling away as merchants.
It’s easy to debunk this as a self-serving talmudic fable because the tradition that Torah study was the highest calling of any Jew developed during the Babylonian captivity.
It was also during this period that a majority of the rabbinical writings and commentary called the Talmud were created.
Conversely, while Torah study was considered to be the highest calling, being a merchant engaged in material pursuits was looked down on.
So the idea of a merchant tribe supporting a tribe of learned Torah scholars was an ideal that nicely supported the social agenda of the Jewish post-Babylon time.
One final point.
Depending on your translation, Issachar is either referred to as an “ass” or a “donkey”.
Although it has a very negative ring to our modern ears, within the context here, it is not a derogatory remark.
In those times donkeys were highly valued animals and were the equivalent of the transportation and trucking industry in our day.
So Issachar being called a strong donkey are words paying homage to this tribe’s no-nonsense integrity, support and strength.