Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508), also spelled Abarbanel was a penetrating Jewish thinker, scholar, and
prolific Biblical commentator. It is, of course, nary impossible to pare Abravanel’s encyclopedic and
groundbreaking commentary on the Bible, and reduce it to a short blog. Indeed, where would one start?
How could we sift through the thousands and thousands of pages of his magnus opus, in order to
produce an Abravanel mission statement?
In his commentary on Genesis chapter two, Abravanel shares the following thoughts with his readers.
Does it fit as a mission statement? It just might.
Genesis begins with the creation story, outlining six days of work. On the seventh day, God rested.
Chapter two delves into the human face of creation, featuring the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve, and a
seductive snake. On the curious, if not downright dubious venue and cast of personalities, Abravanel
bombards his readers with dozens of questions.
- Is the entire story allegory?
- Is the creation of man in God’s image and likeness literal?
- A tree of life, a tree of the knowledge of right and wrong?
- Talking snakes?
These are a sampling of the burning questions and issues that Abravanel poses. They continue for many
pages, crafted with clarity and insight. Before he provides answers, he writes (and I translate from the
“And after all of these points, designed to wake up sleepy heads, I will rise to the occasion. Thoughtful
analysis will be brought to bear, showing one or more ways to approach these heady topics. Text and
context are front and center. When we conclude our discussion, all queries will be answered – without
exception – all firmly based in this chapter’s verses.
Verily, the words of God’s Torah are perfect. To be clear, readers will not be asked to suspend or waive
reason, for religion and reason are intrinsically compatible. The ways of the Maker are straight, and
Abravanel, as always, speaks his mind. He asks hard-hitting questions to stimulate interest in Judaism in
general, and Bible study in particular. His method takes into account an in-depth study of the verses,
focusing on their context within the greater narrative. Finally, he asserts that God’s Torah is divine.
Is this Abravanel’s mission statement? Humbly, I submit that it is.
Genesis chapter 2. Based onAbravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan.