The Torah in Parashat Bamidbar describes the arrangement of the Israelite camp as Benei Yisrael traveled and encamped in the wilderness. Rashi (3:38), based on the Midrash Tanchuma, observes that the area where Moshe and Aharon encamped was adjacent to the area assigned to three tribes – Yehuda, Yissakhar and Zevulun. These tribes’ proximity to Moshe, Rashi writes, had a significant impact upon them: “Since they were neighbors of Moshe, who was involved in Torah, they became accomplished in Torah.” Moshe’s unique devotion to Torah had an effect on these three tribes, who would thus later produce impressive cadres of Torah scholars.
Rashi proceeds to cite verses from later in Tanakh showing that accomplished scholars emerged from the tribes of Yehuda, Yissakhar and Zevulun. In Tehillim (60:9), God speaks of the tribe of Yehuda as “Yehuda mechokeki” – “Yehuda My legislator,” referring to scholars from the tribe of Yehuda who clarified the laws and determined policy. And the tribe of Yissakhar, as a verse in Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (12:32) tells, produced “yode’ei vina la-itim,” which Chazal (Bereishit Rabba 72:5) understood as a reference to experts in astronomy, who made the calculations of the lunar cycle necessary for establishing the Jewish calendar. As for Zevulun, Rashi cites the prophetess Devora’s description of this tribe as “moshekhim be-sheivet sofer” – “holders of the scribe’s staff” (Shoftim 5:14), implying that Zevulun produced “scribes,” who were responsible for the accurate copying of Torah texts.
Rav Moshe Taragin noted the significance of the fact that Rashi here speaks of three very different types of Torah achievement. The scholars of Yehuda are described as “legislators,” authority figures entrusted with the responsibility to determine laws and policies, how to implement the Torah’s principles and ideals on a practical level. By contrast, the Yissakharite scholars are depicted as astronomers and mathematicians, making complex, abstract calculations. These are the brilliant theoreticians, who master science and mathematics. Finally, Rashi points to the “scribes” of Zevulun – those who do the technical, often tedious, work of copying texts and ensuring precision and accuracy. These different forms of scholarship show that there are different models of Torah greatness. Different scholars specialize in different areas of Torah. Some focus more on the theoretical principles, while others seek to determine the practical halakhic application of Torah, and another type of scholar deals mainly with more technical subjects such as grammar and textual precision. Neither group is necessarily greater than any other. Each group pursues an area of specialization in which to achieve to the best of its ability.
And, all three groups, as Rashi writes, drew their inspiration from the same individual – Moshe. Part of Moshe’s uniqueness was that he succeeded in guiding and inspiring different types of scholars. He had the ability to speak to and to uplift a range of students and followers. Rather than appeal to only a certain type, he motivated all his adherents to develop and achieve in the manner that was right for them. This is part of the secret to Moshe’s success as a leader and teacher, and to his ability to produce scholars of many different kinds.