Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Exodus chapter 19 sets the backdrop for mankind’s defining moment: The transmission of
the Torah on Mount Sinai.

“In the third month after the Children of Israel were gone forth out of the
land of Egypt, the same day came into the wilderness of Sinai.”

Abravanel asks about the timing of the watershed event: Why did God wait so long? Consider, the
Hebrews left Egypt three months earlier. Why now? Abravanel probes further, asking why the Creator
hadn’t transmitted the Pentateuch to Adam, the first man? Or perhaps, Abravanel writes, the Torah
should have been given to Noah, when the Maker entered into a covenant with mankind. As for
exemplary individuals, certainly the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – ranked as worthy
recipients. Hence, why didn’t God communicate the Torah to them, as He does now with Moses?

At length, Abravanel answers this intriguing question. See Abravanel’s World for the full treatment.
Here, we will touch on the three main points of the essay. But here is the starting premise. The Torah
should not be mischaracterized as a religious text concerning conduct, a guidebook of dos and don’ts.
Rather it is a divinely-crafted and heavenly-honed system for mastering true faith, divine belief. Now let
us return to the question: Why was God’s Torah transmitted at this particular juncture in history?

One, it wouldn’t befit the Pentateuch to be given to a special individual or even a cadre of holy people.
Torah demands throngs or myriads of gathered, quality folk. Only in the midst of the Chosen Nation can
Torah be transmitted.

Two, the intermediary or transferor of the Torah needed to be a unique soul, a noble personage. With
all due respect to the phenomenal patriarchs and their illustrious ancestors (including Adam and Noah),
Moses was cut from a different cloth. Of course, we are speaking about highly unusual traits. Abravanel
lists ten. To give a sampling, first on the list is moderation of physical or spousal comforts, like sexual
intimacy. In a word – detachment. Second is disinterest in eating and drinking, illustrated by Moses’
forty-day periods without food or drink.

Three, context and orchestration are key. Thunder and lightning and shofar blasts contributed to Sinai’s
ambience and mood, promoting the proper prelude. The lead-up miracles wrought in Egypt and the
splitting of the Red Sea, too, were all indispensable.

In sum, Abravanel teaches that God’s Torah needed a specific combination or conflation of diverse
elements to perfectly fall into place, before it could be wrested from heaven and brought down to earth.
A critical mass of huddled Hebrews, under the tutelage of the greatest of all prophets – Moses, on the
heels of the wonders the Creator performed in Egypt and in the desert proved to be the requisite and
rich ensemble.