In the Torah, the name Yissachar (Jacob’s son) is always written as יששכר, with two sins (ש). However, there are four different general customs regarding how to pronounce the name:

1) The name is always pronounced “Yissachar” (ישכר, with one sin).1 (This is the prevalent custom.)

2) The name is always pronounced “Yissaschar” (יששכר, with two sins).2

3) The first time we encounter the name in the Torah, it is pronounced “Yissaschar,” and after that it is always read as “Yissachar.”3

4) Until the Torah portion of Pinchas, the name is pronounced “Yissaschar,” and from the Torah portion of Pinchas and on, it is read as “Yissachar.”4

Many of the classic biblical grammarians, such as Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra5 and Rabbi Dovid Kimchi (Radak),6 are of the opinion that, simply in terms of correct Hebrew grammar, the name is pronounced “Yissachar,” with one sin. Others, however, strongly disagree.7

It should be noted that while the more prevalent custom is to always pronounce the name as “Yissachar,” one should follow the custom of his community when reading from the Torah.

What is the reason for these varying customs, and why is the name commonly read as “Yissachar”?

The Naming of Yissachar

The Torah describes the birth of Yissachar with an enigmatic story:

Reuben went in the days of the wheat harvest, and he found duda’im [fertility herbs] in the field and brought them to Leah, his mother. Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son's duda’im.”

She said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken my husband, that [you wish] also to take my son’s duda’im?”

So Rachel said, “Therefore he shall sleep with you tonight as payment for your son’s duda’im.”

When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah came forth toward him, and she said, “You shall come to me, because I have hired you with my son’s duda’im,” and he slept with her on that night.

G‑d hearkened to Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “G‑d has given [me] my reward for having given my maidservant to my husband,” so she named him Yissachar [יששכר].8

The Secret of the Silent Sin

The root of the word “Yissachar,” sechar, means “reward,” “payment” or “rental.”

Thus, some commentators explain that the reason the name contains the two successive sins is that one expresses Leah’s gratitude to G‑d for having been paid her reward for giving Rachel the duda’im, a fertility herb that would help Rachel conceive more easily, and one alludes to the fact that she “rented” the privilege of being with her husband an extra night, and thus became pregnant.9

Accordingly, Daat Zekenim explains, the second sin of Yissachar is silent since it alludes to the “payment” for marital relations, and is best kept private.10 Yet some explain that the name is pronounced with both sins when it is first read, so that we know the proper name.11

The Transferred Letter

It is fascinating to note that Yissachar is not the only one to have a hidden sin (ש). We read in the book of Genesis that he had a son named Yov.12 Strangely, later on in the book of Numbers (in the portion of Pinchas),13 he is called “Yashuv.”

One explanation for the name change is that Yov complained to his father that “Yov” was the name of an idol. His father agreed and “gave” him a sin from his name, and he was thereafter called Yashuv.14

Based on this, some have the custom to pronounce both sins in “Yissaschar” up until Parshat Pinchas, which is where his son is called Yashuv and Yissaschar “loses” one sin from his name.15

(Rashi16 in his commentary on Chronicles cites a different explanation for the name change. He explains that the family “settled themselves” [nityashvu] to learn Torah, as it is written, “And of the sons of Yissachar, who possessed understanding of the times.”17)

The Silent Partner

On the verse "Rejoice, Zevulun, in your departure, and Yissachar, in your tents,”18 the Midrash explains that the tribes of Zevulun and Yissachar entered into a partnership with the following agreement: The tribe of Zevulun would dwell at the seashore and go out in ships to trade and make a profit. They would thereby provide food for the tribe of Yissachar, who would then be able to sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah. In this way, Zevulun would have a share in the Torah learning of Yissachar.

Since Yissachar divided his reward (sechar) and gave half of it away, some explain that one sin of his name was silenced.19

The Hidden and Revealed

The Lubavitcher Rebbe cites the mystical tradition that one should always read it as Yissachar, with one sin.

Citing his father, the Kabbalist Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, he explains that we find in many places in the Midrash that Yissachar represents the concept of Torah.20 The Torah consists of two parts, the revealed and hidden. Each sin in Yissachar’s name represents one of these facets of the Torah. The first sin, representing the revealed aspect, is read out loud, while the second sin, representing the hidden and mystical aspects of the Torah, remains hidden and silent.21