In the Footsteps of Yaʿabetz
Like the biblical Yaʿabetz, as interpreted by the rabbis, TheTorah.com gives wise and compassionate counsel while spreading Torah far and wide.
TheTorah.com shares parallels with the vicissitudes of Yaʿabetz, a person mentioned in the genealogy of Judah in the opening chapters of the book of Chronicles. Unlike many of the other people mentioned in the genealogical lists, Yaʿabetz is introduced in some detail, as more than a cipher or a mere name:
דברי הימים א ד:ט וַיְהִי יַעְבֵּץ נִכְבָּד מֵאֶחָיו וְאִמּוֹ קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ יַעְבֵּץ לֵאמֹר כִּי יָלַדְתִּי בְּעֹצֶב.
1 Chron 4:9 Yaʿabetz was more esteemed than his brothers; and his mother named him Yaʿabetz, “Because,” she said, “I bore him in travail (ʿotzeb).”
This is a folk etymology, playing on the three letters at the root of his name. The story goes on, this time with Yaʿabetz himself speaking of pain:
דברי הימים א ד:י וַיִּקְרָא יַעְבֵּץ לֵאלֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִם בָּרֵךְ תְּבָרֲכֵנִי וְהִרְבִּיתָ אֶת גְּבוּלִי וְהָיְתָה יָדְךָ עִמִּי וְעָשִׂיתָ מֵּרָעָה לְבִלְתִּי עָצְבִּי וַיָּבֵא אֱלֹהִים אֵת אֲשֶׁר שָׁאָל.
1 Chron 4:10 Yaʿabetz invoked the God of Israel, saying, “Oh, bless me, enlarge my territory, stand by me, and make me not suffer travail from misfortune!” And God granted what he asked.
The Talmud expands midrashically on this text, changing the etymology from the negative “travail” to the positive “advise” and “spread”:
בבלי תמורה טז. יעבץ – שיעץ וריבץ תורה בישראל.
b. Temurah 16a Yaʿabetz gave counsel and spread Torah in Israel.
The Talmud continues with its midrashic elaboration, by rewriting his request to refer to companions in Torah study instead of geographical expansion:
בבלי תמורה טז. ויקרא יעבץ לאלהי ישראל לאמר אם ברך תברכני בתורה והרבית את גבולי בתלמידים והיתה ידך עמדי שלא ישתכח תלמודי מלבי ועשית מרעה שיזדמנו לי ריעים כמותי לבלתי עצבי שלא ישגבני יצר הרע מלשנות... מיד ויבא אלהים את אשר שאל.
b. Temurah 16a Yaʿabetz invoked the God of Israel saying: “‘O bless me’—with Torah; ‘enlarge my territory’—with students; ‘may Your hand be with me’—lest I forget what I have learnt; ‘spare me from harm’—provide me with compatible friends; ‘let me not suffer travail’—let not the evil inclination prevent me from studying.” …Immediately, God granted what he requested.
Many have been TheTorah.com’s pangs and struggles, and yet it perseveres. Like Yaʿabetz, it gives wise and compassionate counsel while spreading Torah far and wide. It creates a global network of friends who value honest inquiry.
At this ten-year milestone, let’s look forward to even greater successes ahead for TheTorah.com and for its valiantly dedicated founders.
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Dr. Hacham Isaac S. D. Sassoon is a rabbi and educator and a founding member of the ITJ. He studied under his father, Rabbi Solomon Sassoon, Hacham Yosef Doury, Gateshead Yeshivah and received his semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Lisbon. He is the author of The Status of Women in Jewish Tradition (Cambridge University Press 2011), a commentary on chumash called Destination Torah (Ktav 2001), and most recently the co-editor with Rabbi Steven H. Golden of the Siddur 'Alats Libbi (Ktav 2020).