The division of Am Yisrael into twelve tribes that existed until the Temple?s destruction was not merely a tribal/familial division, but was also a fundamental one. Each tribe was given a special role and together the twelve tribes formed a nation with each tribe contributing its share.
Among the twelve tribes, there were two who complemented one another – the tribe of Yissachar and the tribe of Zevulun. Yissachar was older than Zevulun, but despite this, in Yaakov?s blessings, Zevulun precedes Yissachar. This was explained by the sages of the midrash:
But Zevulun came before Yissacher, and why so? Because Zevulun dealt with trade and Yissachar dealt with Torah, and Zevulun would come and feed him, and therefore he put Zevulun before Yissachar
(Breishit Rabba, 99, 9)
The sages of the midrash describe a historical reality in which the tribe of Yissachar was the tribe of scholars learning Torah, the teachers of Halacha (Jewish law), and the heads of yeshivas. Meanwhile, the tribe of Zevulun was the tribe of traders that took upon itself helping the tribe of Yissachar to learn Torah. Thus, the tribe of Zevulun became a full partner in the Torah learning of the tribe of Yissachar. Yaakov even had Zevulun precede Yissachar since without Zevulun?s support Yissachar would not have been able to learn Torah calmly and at ease.
The Talmud adds another element: Zevulun?s cooperation in Yissachar?s Torah learning is considered a full partnership, not only in the reality we know but even in the next world:
Whoever casts merchandise into the pockets of scholars will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy, for it is said, ?for wisdom is a defense even as money is a defense?.
(Talmud Bavli, Tractate Pesachim daf 53)
The virtue of a person who deals with the Torah is an eternal virtue. He is slated to be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy ? a term referring to reward in the next world. But there could be a person who cannot learn Torah for a variety of reasons, and despite this, he will also be privileged with that same eternal virtue of the Heavenly Academy. How? If he supports Torah learning and makes it possible for others to learn Torah, the Torah that they learn will be considered belonging to the person who made the learning possible no less than to the person who actually did the learning.
This tradition became popular throughout Am Yisrael?s thousands of years of existence and it continues to be so even after the division of tribes is no longer evident, including that of Yissachar and Zevulun. Jews with financial capabilities have seen and continue to see themselves as privileged to support those learning Torah. This was so popular that we have bills with a standard phrasing of ?Agreement of Yissachar and Zevulun? in which one side commits to supporting the other who learns Torah, and for this the learner provides part of his reward for learning to his supporter.
Why have so many people in Am Yisrael throughout the generations seen themselves privileged to support Torah learners? What has motivated them to use their money to allow others to learn Torah?
The Jewish nation is ancient. For over two thousand years, our nation was dispersed around the world, and amazingly ? it still preserved its identity and remained a united nation. This phenomenon is unique to the Jewish people. There is no other nation that maintained its identity under conditions similar to those of the Jewish nation for such a long time. This identity preservation was possible only because of the Torah. A Jew could be born in one country and move to another later on, but as long as he was in touch with a Jewish community ? his Jewish lifestyle stayed the same, since Jews everywhere lived according to the Torah.
For that, we must have people investing their time and energies into learning Torah. A person encumbered with life?s issues, even if he learns a bit of Torah, cannot preserve the entire Jewish nation. For that we need Torah scholars ? people who are busy with learning Torah in a comprehensive way and can teach Torah to the entire nation. Only by maintaining scholars who can teach Torah to others, can the torch be passed to future generations.
It is therefore understandable that someone who cannot personally spend their time learning Torah sees it as a privilege to be able to keep the Torah through Torah scholars. This partnership is not a private issue but one of national interest of the first degree.