In Yaakov’s deathbed blessing to his son Yissakhar, he compares him to a “strong-boned donkey” (49:14), which Chazal, as Rashi cites, is an allegorical reference to the tribe of Yissakhar’s destiny to produce Torah scholars. This interpretation is based upon a verse in Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (12:33) which describes the impressive scholarship of members of Yissakhar.
Following this reading of Yaakov’s blessing to Yissakhar, the Zohar develops the comparison implied here between a Torah scholar and a donkey. The Zohar begins by noting that such a comparison at first seems offensive, and then proceeds to explain: “A donkey carries its burden without kicking its owner like other animals, it has no arrogance, and does not insist on sleeping in a comfortable place.” These qualities, the Zohar comments, were characteristic of the scholars of Yissakhar: “They exert themselves in Torah, they bear the burden of Torah without ‘kicking’ the Almighty, they have no arrogance, like a donkey, which cares not for its own honor, but for the honor of its master.”
The Zohar here teaches that a Torah scholar must avoid any sense of entitlement and expectations of comfortable and easy conditions. One who seeks to devote himself to Torah must accept the heavy burden without “kicking” – without complaints or protest, and without expecting the process to be simple. Such a person is driven by a commitment to “the honor of his master,” to bring honor and glory to God, and not out of a desire to bring honor or fame to himself.
While the Zohar makes this comment specifically in reference to Torah scholars, it applies on some level to each and every one of us. Living a Torah life means selflessly devoting ourselves to the honor of the Almighty, rather than pursuing self-serving agendas. The Zohar calls upon us to follow the example of the donkey, who humbly accepts whatever burden is placed upon its back, and whatever conditions it is given, without protest. Once we recognize that our purpose in this world is to serve our Creator, as a donkey serves its owner, we will humbly accept whatever He gives us and whatever challenges He sends our way, with wholehearted devotion to fulfill His will regardless of what this entails, and without insisting on obtaining all the comforts and luxuries we desire.