Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Yisachar or Yisaschar?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although the name of Yisaschar (son of Yaakov and founding father of one of the twelve tribes) is always written with a double "Sin" (referring to the letter of the Hebrew alphabet -- not to be confused with transgression), there are differing customs on how the name is to be pronounced. The conflicting customs on how to pronounce his name in the course of the Torah reading is noted by the Biblical commentator, Da'at Zekeinim.[1] The Da'at Zekeinim discusses what's behind the dispute regarding whether the name should be pronounced "Yisachar", articulating only one of the letter "Sin"s or rather, "Yisaschar", articulating both "Sin"s, just as it is written.[2]

Click here to read moreThe foundation of this dispute lies in the phenomenon that Yisaschar is noted as having a son who was originally named "Yov"[3] but is later, somewhat surprisingly, called "Yashuv"[4]. It is taught that Yov complained to his father regarding the name that he had been given because Yov was also the name of an idol. As such, Yov requested a name change. Yisaschar accepted his son's complaint as legitimate and then "took" a "Sin" from his own name, giving it to his son. With this added letter, "Yov" was then transformed to "Yashuv". From that time onwards, it can be said that Yisaschar's name is truly Yisachar and should be pronounced that way. As such, it is argued that Yisaschar should be pronounced "Yisaschar" until the point where the name of Yisaschar's son Yov is changed to Yashuv. It appears from here, therefore, that the dispute on how to pronounce Yisaschar is hinges on the name change of his son Yov.

There is, however, another unrelated explanation on why Yov's name was changed. It is suggested that Yov's name was changed to Yashuv was in order to reflect the fact that Yashuv and his descendants were scholars who "sat", ("Yashuv") and studied Torah.[5] Therefore, according to this approach, Yisaschar's son's name has nothing to do with the way Yisaschar's name is to be pronounced in the Torah.

Another approach to the dispute regarding how to pronounce Yisaschar is based on what the two "Sin"s of Yisaschar's name represent. It is taught that the two "Sin"s represent the word "sachar" which can mean both "payment" and "reward". The "payment" in this context refers to Leah having "hired" Yaakov to spend the night with her, paying him in mandrakes. The "reward" in this context represents Leah's reaction, calling the arrival of Yisaschar a reward. Since one "Sin" recalls "payment" for marital relations which is an uncomplimentary transaction, it is not pronounced.[6]

There is also a mystical teaching which encourages the name to be pronounced "Yisachar" at all times. This is based on the idea that Yisaschar represents the Torah.[7] As is well known, the Torah consists of two parts – the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. Each "Sin" in Yisaschar's name represents one of these facets of the Torah. Therefore, it is taught that the first "Sin", representing the Written Torah be read out loud, while the second "Sin", representing the Oral Torah, remain silent.

On the other hand, some authorities suggest that the name should always be pronounced "Yisaschar" just as it is written. This view is based on a verse in Tehillim which seems to frown on the prevalent custom of pronouncing only one "Sin", claiming that doing so is simply false and should never be done.[8] Yet others choose to always and only pronounce the name Yisaschar with one "Sin".[9] There is also a somewhat widespread custom to pronounce the name as it is written only the first time it is read,[10] and thereafter to pronounce it "Yisachar".

It is interesting to note that in the work Nefesh Harav[11] two customs are cited regarding the pronunciation of Yisaschar. It says there that in Volozhin the custom was to pronounce Yisaschar (with two "Sin"s) until Parshat Pinchas, at which time the name Yashuv is mentioned, and thereafter to read it with only one "Sin". Additionally, it says that Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik would instruct the one reading the Torah to read the name Yisaschar twice, once they way it is written, and a second time with only one "Sin". However, following Parshat Pinchas, Rabbi Soloveitchik would have it read with only one "Sin". Every congregation should follow its own custom.[12]


[1] Parshat Vayeitzei
[2] See also: Siftei Chachamim to Bamidbar 26:24
[3] Bereishit 46:13
[4] Bamidbar 26:24
[5] Rashi;Divrei Hayamim I 7:1
[6] Rashbam,
[7] Bereishit Rabba;Vayeitzei
[8] Tehillim 63:12
[9] Minhag Yisrael Torah 428:1
[10] Bereishit 30:18
[11] Nafesh Harav p.308
[12] Minhag Yisrael Torah 428:1

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