This Torah reading contains the verse: “Rejoice Zevulun in your excursions and Issacher in your tents.” The commentaries explain that these two tribes are mentioned together in the same blessing, because they established a partnership with each other. The tribe of Zevulun would be involved in commercial activity, while the tribe of Issacher would devote their energies to Torah study. Zevulun would provide for the sustenance of Issacher and, hence, they would share in the merits of Issacher’s Torah study. Since Issacher’s study was dependent on Zevulun’s support, Zevulun is granted a blessing first.

The above represents a rather superficial approach to the subject. After all, with due respect to the efforts of Zevulun, the reward is generated by Issacher’s Torah study. That study enables an all-encompassing bond with G‑d, wherein a person is totally absorbed in G‑dliness in a unity that transcends mortal conception. Of what value is Zevulun’s commercial activity when weighed against such study and the bond with G‑d it achieves?

The resolution of the question is based on one of the axioms of chassidic thought: that G‑d brought all existence into being, because “He desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds,” i.e., that there be a material world that appears to run contrary to G‑d’s purpose and in such a world, man’s occupation with the Torah and its mitzvos would cause His presence to dwell.

Issacher dwells in the tents of Torah; his contact with the material dimensions of reality is minimal. Zevulun, by contrast, is involved with material reality in all its details — continually confronting the manifold challenges involved in commercial activity. Simultaneously, he supports Torah study and even devotes time to study himself. It is such efforts that transform the world into G‑d’s dwelling.

Taking the idea a step further: Zevulun’s commercial activities involved “excursions,” leaving Eretz Yisrael. The other tribes were occupied primarily with cultivating and developing Eretz Yisrael, i.e., activities in the sphere of holiness. Zevulun’s life task, by contrast, involved departing the Holy Land and coming into contact with the nations of the world. Through their commercial activities, the members of this tribe would elevate sparks of G‑dliness that were outside the natural limits of holiness.

For this reason, although Moses granted generous blessings to many of the tribes, Zevulun was the only tribe that he blessed with joy. Firstly, joy is necessary to succeed in such a mission. “Joy breaks through barriers,” enabling a person to overcome the challenges and obstacles that might arise from going out of the environment of holiness that permeated Eretz Yisrael.

But joy is also a by-product of these excursions. For it is through these excursions that G‑d’s ultimate intent in the creation of the world is fulfilled.

Looking to the Horizon

Also included in this Torah reading is the verse: “There will be a king in Jesherun; together the tribes of Israel.” The verse is speaking about the establishment of monarchy within Israel, foreshadowing the ultimate Jewish monarch, Mashiach. An allusion to this is reflected by the fact that the first letters of the Hebrew words translated as “together the tribes of Israel” (יחד שבטי ישראל) spell out the name ישי, Yishai, David’s father, the progenitor of Israel’s monarchy.

This is not mere linguistic coincidence. There is a crucial thematic connection between the two. The exile came as a result of unwarranted hatred. When through unity (“together the tribes of Israel”) the cause of the exile will be eradicated, the exile itself will cease and Mashiach, the ultimate Jewish monarch will come.