In Moses’ end-of-life blessing to the tribes of Yissachar (Issachar) and Zevulun (Zebulun), he says: “Rejoice, Zevulun, in your departure, and Yissachar, in your tents.”1 Rashi explains this verse (based on the Midrash2): “Zevulun and Yissachar entered into a partnership. Zevulun would dwell at the seashore and go out in ships, to trade and make profit. He would thereby provide food for Yissachar, who would, in turn, sit and occupy themselves with the study of Torah.”

Rashi continues: “Consequently, Moses mentioned Zevulun before Yissachar [even though the latter was the elder of the two], because Yissachar’s Torah came through [the provisions provided by] Zevulun.”3

The Midrash concludes with the statement: “This is the meaning of the verse,4 ‘[The Torah] is a tree of life to those that support it.’” That is, the Torah not only gives life to those who study it, but also to those who support those who study it.5

Rema6 writes that when one supports someone else who is studying Torah, “it is considered as if he had studied himself. And a person may make a condition with his friend that [his friend] will study Torah and he will provide him with a livelihood, and they will then split the rewards . . .”

(In addition, their wives also receive a portion of their reward,7 but this doesn’t diminish their own.8)

The arrangement whereby one person supports the other who learns Torah, and the reward is shared between the two of them, has come to be known as a “Yissachar-Zevulun” partnership. This arrangement is valid because it is only through the financial support of the benefactor that the Torah scholar is able to study, for without this support, he would be forced to work instead.9

This arrangement cannot be made for other mitzvot. One cannot, for example, sell the reward of putting on tefillin or penitential fasting.10 Certainly one cannot unload one’s sins by paying somebody to accept the punishment . . .11

The Talmud12 explains that this arrangement can be made only if the agreement is made in advance.13 For example, the sage Hillel was not supported by his wealthy brother Shevna as he studied in a state of abject poverty.14 Afterwards, his brother offered him money for half of Hillel’s reward in Torah study. This offer is scornfully viewed.15

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes in his responsa16 that the Yissachar-Zevulun arrangement is a unique one. Usually, when one enables another person to do a mitzvah, the one who fulfills the mitzvah gets the complete reward, and the one who enabled him to do it receives a separate reward (the reward reserved for one who helps another do a mitzvah). In this arrangement, however, the benefactor actually gets the same reward as the one who himself studied Torah. This is a kindness of G‑d, to enable people who would otherwise not be able to master the study of Torah. Through this mitzvah of supporting a Torah scholar, they too can obtain the tremendous reward for Torah study.17

Due to its unique nature, Rabbi Feinstein listed special rules for this arrangement. They are:

  1. The arrangement must be verbalized before its commencement.18
  2. The arrangement is effective only if the benefactor gives half of his income to the Torah scholar, and the Torah scholar agrees to give half of his reward to the benefactor. Anything less than this is considered under-appreciation (of the value of the Torah or the significance of supporting it), and this disqualifies the arrangement.19
    Nevertheless, Rabbi Feinstein writes that if the benefactor is extremely wealthy, he can fulfill this criterion by distributing half of his wealth amongst various Torah scholars and supporting them all in such a way that they all live comfortably.
  3. The half that is given should not be deducted from the maaser (charitable tithe) that one must give. This is because it is a partnership and not a charity arrangement.20
  4. For the same reason, the arrangement can also be made with a Torah scholar who is not considered poor.
  5. The purpose of this arrangement is to enable the Torah scholar to be able to study without disturbance. Therefore, the arrangement must last for a significant amount of time, because otherwise the scholar will be worrying about what he will do when the arrangement is over. Rabbi Feinstein suggests that the arrangement should be made for three years, or at the very least for one year.