• Abravanel’s World of Torah

    Abravanel’s World of Torah

    is an enticingly innovative yet thoroughly loyal rendition of a major 15th century Hebrew classic.
    For the first time, Don Yitzchak Abravanel’s Bible commentary has become accessible in ENGLISH.


  • Abarbanel asks: Parashat Ki Tisa

    “And God spoke to Moshe saying. When you take the sum of the
    Children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every
    man a ransom for his soul unto God, when you number them, that there
    be no plague among them, when you number them.”

    Our section speaks about a census for soldiers. The count is associated with a “ransom”, in efforts to
    ward off pestilence. The means to tally the warriors features a silver coin collection, called machtzit
    ha’shekel. After all the coins were counted, then the men’s number was duly ascertained.

    Abarbanel asks: Why does the Torah demand this roundabout method? A more straightforward way would have been to simply count heads and thereby short circuit the coin count.

    Answering that question, actually, pits Abarbanel against all other classic Bible commentators, including
    Rashi and the Ramban. According to the commentators, head counts are prohibited by the Torah, as the
    act invites the wrath of the evil eye. They are incorrect. While the Bible does record the disastrous
    effects of the evil eye in King David’s time, that discussion is for a different time.

    Was the machtzit ha’shekel brought here as subterfuge, a tricky way to forestall pestilence? Hardly. Here
    is why.

    One has to do with God’s command at present. He did not call for a census by coin collection, or for that
    matter, by any other object. When God finds something desirable – He lets people know by issuing a
    command. The Maker does not mince His words.

    Two, if counting by object represents the preferred methodology for successive times and generations
    and if it is considered a positive commandment, incumbent upon the Jews (to use coins or other means),
    as well as a negative precept (not to perform headcounts), we need to answer why the sages who list
    the Torah’s six hundred thirteen mitzvot do not include them in their count?

    Three, how can anyone assert that the Jews were not counted, when the Torah writes explicitly: “This
    they shall give, every one who passes among them are numbered.”
    The words speak for themselves –
    this is the Biblical way to describe body counting.

    More reasons could be supplied, but these suffice. Let us share Abarbanel’s interpretation, in shorthand,
    of our section’s lead verses to count Hebrews.

    In the Torah, context matters. Six successive paragraphs pertain to the building and funding of the
    Tabernacle. Apropos, the Creator foresaw that the Jews would donate small quantities of silver to the
    holy enterprise. For a simple reason. International currency during those years centered on silver, the
    machtzit ha’shekel being the common currency.

    We add some backstory to the forty-year desert march. The encampment regularly enjoyed visits from
    traveling Gentile merchants hawking, well, just about everything. When it came to funding the
    Tabernacle, Jews were quite generous. Generous with their gold. Generous with their copper. Generous
    with their valuables. Nearly all their valuables.

    Silver proved the exception. Jews did not part with silver, because it enabled them to buy things from
    traveling salesmen. Those merchants only accepted silver as payment for goods. Now we can better
    understand our section.

    After the Torah dedicated paragraph after paragraph to the building and funding of the Tabernacle, it
    segued into our section, beginning with taking a census of the men. “When you take the sum of the
    Children of Israel…”
    The Tabernacle included many silver vessels, but silver donations were scant, for the
    reason stated above.

    God came with a fix. He had Moshe take a census whereby each counted man would donate a machtzit
    . This would provide the Hebrew leader with vital information about his available fighting
    forces, a requirement every military leader finds indispensable. After all, Moshe believed the Jewish
    incursion into Canaan was imminent. Knowing his troops numbers made perfect sense, something every
    general ascertains prior to war.

    In closing, let us demonstrate how God aligned disparate goals. “And God spoke to Moshe saying. When
    you take the sum of the Children of Israel”,
    in the main, had little to do with warding off the evil eye.
    Mustering up troops is fully justified, as suggested. God observed that the Mishkan was in sore need of
    silver, to manufacture certain, sacred vessels. Alignment occurred when the Creator offered sound
    counsel to Moshe, bidding him to collect much silver.

    Separately, Moshe sought to count the troops as a means of preparing an offensive to take Canaan.
    Headcounts court danger, in the form of the evil eye (Read: a count or sum reaches large proportions).
    The Maker provided an antidote. He directed Moshe to order the fighting corps to bring “a ransom for
    his soul unto God.”

    Abarbanel proposes that the silver was tzedakah (charity). He further holds that a direct headcount took place. As
    for the threat posed by a direct tally, charity served as a life preserver. Each man safeguarded his life
    from the evil eye on the merit of the machtzit ha’shekel he donated to the Mishkan.


  • Abarbanel asks: Parashat Terumah

    “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.”

    Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) asks on this Torah section of Terumah: Why did God command the
    Hebrews to build a sanctuary? As it says: “That I may dwell among them?” One might deduce that the
    Maker has physical properties and that a sanctuary can fully contain Him.

    Preposterous. Hashem is non-corporeal. Thus, no chamber – no matter how high and spacious – can
    accommodate Him. Yeshayahu pegged it: “The heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool.
    Where is the house that you may build unto Me? And where is the place that may be My resting place?”

    Wise Shlomoh, the builder of the First Jewish Temple, props the prophet’s proclamation: “Behold,
    heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this house that I have built!”

    Does our verse in the first aliyah of Parashat Terumuah challenge the words of the prophet and wise

    It should be plain. The Almighty’s command to build the Tabernacle or Mishkan and its vessels had to do
    with His desire to tightly interweave His holiness and holy presence or Shechinah with the Chosen
    People. Of no consequence was the fact that this intimate relationship commenced between man and
    God in a desert wasteland (and not lusher or more picturesque environs).

    What mattered most was the goal it accomplished. Providence coddled God’s nation, in exchange of
    their keeping the divine Torah. A marriage made in heaven. Never would His people contemplate the
    fundamentally false, but near-ubiquitous, premise that the Creator abandoned earth. Nor would they
    adopt the attitudes of the Gentiles, one based on the assumption that God retired to the heavens
    above, remote from man. Moreover, the Jews would repel heresy built upon a denial of divine
    providence interfacing with man. Such skewed philosophy leads to bitter consequences, namely, a
    mindset that precludes the Maker from paying man back according to his evil deeds and ways.

    On this topic of erroneous, theological assumptions, let us elaborate. Gentile thinkers posit that it is not
    possible to attain in-depth understanding of the world, other than by sense perception or other physical
    stimuli. Since God is non-corporeal, these theologians surmise, He does not tune into man’s daily doings.
    Nor does He apply providence to people. Incorrectly, they believe that the Creator sits upon high, aloof
    from man.

    The Maker does not abide such false teachings. For a moment. In efforts to redress such misinformation
    from among the Jewish ranks, God commands: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell
    among them.”
    The verse conveys that the Almighty Himself takes up residence amongst the Jews. This is
    a religious tenet and imperative. The Creator resides in their midst. Divine providence is the vehicle or
    manifestation of faith.

    We return to an earlier reference to a verse in Yeshayahu, making better sense of it: “The heaven is My
    throne and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you may build unto Me? And where is the
    place that may be My resting place?”

    Unequivocally, the Creator has zero need for a Temple or Tabernacle. In the very next verse in
    Yeshayahu, we read: “For all these things has My hand made.” Why, then, did God command the Jews
    to build the Mishkan? The answer resounds unmistakably: to etch within the Jews’ psyche the principle
    of divine providence, as per Yeshayahu: “But on this man will I look, even on him that is poor and of a
    contrite spirit, and trembles at My word.”
    This is precisely what wise Shlomoh meant in his prayer, on
    the solemn occasion at the dedication of the Holy Temple.

  • Abarbanel asks: Parashat Vayakhel,

    “And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel and he said to them: These are
    the words that God has commanded to do them.”

    Abarbanel asks : When did Moshe make the appeal to fund the Tabernacle?

    ‘After Moshe descended the mountain, he addressed the entire nation. His call, naturally, reached out
    to men and women. A gathering took place in the prophet’s personal Tent of Meeting, located beyond
    the Hebrews’ encampment. It was crucial to assemble everyone so that they could all hear God’s
    words spoken via Moshe.

    In essence, the gathering was a rally for people to generously come forward and shoulder the financial
    costs of building the Mishkan. According to the Ramban, this appeal, for lack of a better word, took
    place the day after Moshe had come down from Sinai….

    Page 320 Shemot vol. II: Assembled at Sinai

  • Bible Studies Commentary : Jacob and Joseph

    For Yaakov (Jacob), a bitter famine coupled with his sons’ insistence comprised formidable tailwinds propelling him to Egypt. Still, he might have braved hunger and stayed put in beloved Canaan. Perhaps he could have resisted their incessant appeals had it not been for one irresistible magnet. Its force tugged and jerked mercilessly. Uppermost in the mind and heart of the aged patriarch was an image that he hadn’t been able to shake for two decades: Yosef’s (Joseph's) face.

    Abravanel’s World of Torah Shemot Vol 1 pages 13-14


  • Introduction to the Book of Exodus

    Exodus (Shemot in Hebrew) segues from Genesis (Bereshit), for good reason.
    Here are four rationales that explain what takes us from the Torah’s first to second book.
    1) Bereshit dealt with individuals of great personal stature. To name some of the moral giants, we
    list: Adam, Noach, Shem, Eiver, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov and his sons. There were other
    outstanding personalities, as well. After the narratives of these men of note were completed,
    Sefer Shemot commenced. Emphasis changes track from holy individuals to the holy Hebrew
    nation. Given the private/collective parameter, really, the Torah’s first book could aptly be
    called “The Book of Individuals”; the second book “The Book of the Nation.”
    2) A second rationale requires a deeper look, addressing the bedrock question: Why did God
    transmit the Torah? Answer: He desired to refine the Chosen People, His flock, through
    education and mitzvot. Scripture and its teachings uplift and enlighten body and soul. However,
    when the divine Torah sought to chronicle this unique and holy people, it first provided their
    backstory. In the beginning was their family tree. Indeed, worthy stock, blessed by the Maker.
    The Jews hail from a dedicated and close-knit religious-minded community. Remarkable men
    honed their descendants for nobility.
    Of course, all mankind descends from Adam and the Torah is saying more than who begot whom.
    Bereshit, metaphorically speaking, is a story about separating the wheat from the chaff, fruit from its
    peel. The men of renown are likened to what is ethically precious, morally craven descendants of Adam
    to byproduct discarded. Adam’s third son, Shet, was a cultivated, sweet fruit, a towering individual, a
    striking figure etched in God’s image.
    But not all of Shet’s descendants stayed the course. Many fell into the fruit peel category. Jews were of
    a different ilk. In time, Noach arrived, “a pure, tzaddik” to quote Bereshit. 6 The Torah relates that Noach
    found favor in the Creator’s eyes.  Yet, again, not all of the ancient mariner’s sons followed God.
    Specifically, Cham and Yafet didn’t, and are thus relegated to chaff, summarily dismissed. Shem, in
    contrast, held the flame, as did his great grandson Eiver, as did his great grandson Avraham. Avraham
    had it all, a delectable fruit, an indefatigable doer of good and a constant truth seeker. Of his offspring, 
    Yitzchak shined most brightly, all others marginalized. From Yitzchak came Yaakov. While Esav was
    detested, Yaakov rose in stature, a veritable Torah-value repository. Yaakov’s twelve sons clung to their
    father’s ways, all glimmering wheat stalks. Together, father and sons forged the holy nation, each one
    steadfast to Torah principles.
    And the Maker rewarded them, showering them with divine favor or providence. 8 In sum, the role of
    Bereshit provides an important contribution to understanding the roots of the Jewish People, their
    ancestry. Shemot recalls the greatness of the nation, and its religiosity.
    3) The Torah’s first book conveys the mighty deeds of the patriarchs, their holiness and divine
    communiqués. Hence, we read about the lives of Adam, Noach and his three sons, and all of their
    successive generations. This is by way of background until we reach Avraham. Avraham’s wholeness
    surpassed that of his predecessors. This observation is borne out by the fact that the Torah writes three
    parshiyot about his lifetime. For Yitzchak, the Torah dedicated one entire parashah. And in testimony to
    Yaakov’s and his son’s prominence, we count three pashiyot. Yosef and his brothers comprise Bereshit’s
    final three parshiyot. All tallied, the Torah’s first book consists of twelve parshiyot, all training a light on
    the patriarchs’ positive traits and contributions.
    Moshe’s attainments, by contrast, soared above the rest, equal to the sub-total of them. And in the field
    of prophecy, he far outdistanced them. That explains why Shemot’s twelve parshiyot pertain to the seer.
    In that regard, Bereshit’s scorecard, if you will, hints at the predominance of Moshe. An entire book
    belongs to the prophet, one equal to the Torah’s first book. Bereshit’s subjects are the patriarchs (and
    their forerunners); Shemot’s subject matter is Moshe.
    4) Finally, the divine Torah writes the epic story of how God took in His flock, the House of Yaakov. But
    first, readers needed to learn of Avraham’s, the first patriarch’s, sterling character. Still, Avraham had
    not been born into a vacuum. His illustrious forebears, to name some, were Adam, Noach, Shem, and
    Eiver. Avraham, morally and ethically evolved from them.
    Within Avraham’s story we read about a divine covenant, known as the brit bein ha’betarim. It foretells,
    “Your seed shall be strangers in a strange land.”  The covenant or brit also spoke of prodigious offspring,
    and a Holy Land which they could call home. Finally, in that brit, Avraham learned that God would
    extend His providence over the patriarch’s descendants, and His close attachment or devekut to them.
    The balance of Bereshit reveals how covenantal promises play out. Thus, for example, we read about
    Yaakov’s and Esav’s intrauterine posturing.  Later, there was a noxious sibling rivalry between Yosef and
    his brothers. Finally, a fierce famine forced Yaakov’s and his family’s descent into Egypt. Sowed were the
    seeds of national exile and redemption.Bereshit, then, lays the prefatory foundation upon which Shemot may be built. Put differently, theTorah’s first book introduces the ills and travails that precipitated a multi-century exile, one with
    disastrous consequences for the fledgling nation.
     It also opened a window. At the end of the calamitous sojourn in Egypt’s hell, salvation came – the
    exodus. That was only the half of it. On Sinai, the Hebrews acquired the requisite skillset to reach
    religious heights. Divine providence and the Shechinah nestled into the people’s desert camp, housed in
    the Tabernacle or Mishkan. To sum up, Bereshit brings the root causes (rivalry and famine); whereas,
    Shemot discusses the consequence (read: the second book elaborates on exile and exodus).

    We now better appreciate the divine wisdom that sequenced the order of Bereshit’s and Shemot’s parshiyot. As for the author, all had been transcribed by Moshe, at the word of God. Moreover, the prophet received commentary on all that the Creator communicated to him. After we have laid out these four introductory rationales, we proceed to Shemot’s commentary, with God’s help.

  • Parashat Tetzaveh: An Excerpt

    “And you shall command the Children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the
    light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the Tent of Meeting…Aharon and his sons shall set it in
    order, to burn from evening to morning before God…”

    This section’s opening paragraphs seem disjointed because they switch theme tracks. Note that the
    lead verse talks about lighting the menorah before taking on the main subject – that of the priest’s
    special clothing. How should readers relate to this zigzag?

    Really, God’s command to Moshe regarding lighting the menorah was not intended as a divine order
    whose time had arrived, but rather as a prophetic heads-up…’

    Page 88 Shemot vol. II: Assembled at Sinai

  • Parashat Tzav: An Excerpt

    Abarbanel’s first Aliyah to Parashat Tzav, an excerpt from Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan

    “And God spoke to Moses saying: Command Aaron and his sons saying. This is the law of the burnt

    ‘Recall that in the earlier section of Leviticus, Moses addressed the Hebrew general assembly. That
    was because the section dealt with and focused on categories of the populace needing to bring
    sacrifices. In contrast, here the Torah highlights Aaron and his sons, as Moses instructed them in
    proper procedures. After all, they were entrusted with officiating in the Tabernacle. Some tasks were
    performed by Aaron the High Priest, while others were done by Aaron’s sons. They were subordinate
    to him. “Command Aaron and his sons.”

    Page 132 Vayikra vol. I: The Meat of the Matter

  • Parshat Terumah: An Excerpt

    “And God said to Moshe, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and collect a separated portion. From
    those who are generous you shall take a separated portion for Me.”

    ‘In a general Torah sense and here in this section in particular, Heaven’s modus operandi comes out in
    full splendor. That is, Hashem desired to increase both the Hebrew people’s merit and Moshe’s
    prominence. In our context, it means that Heaven did away with celestial intermediaries. In their
    place, the Almighty instituted His direct divine guidance to the Jews and to Moshe, their faithful

    Page 9 Shemot vol. II: Assembled at Sinai

  • Parshat Vayikra :An Excerpt

    “And God called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the Tent of the Meeting. Speak unto the
    Children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you brings an offering unto God, you shall
    bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or the flock.”

    ‘Heaven acknowledged how priests deserved the Jews’ financial support. Through a system of tithes
    and gifts, their needs were taken care of. This not only freed them from having to make a living, but it
    also provided repose and sufficient peace of mind to allow them to do their jobs maximally. An
    equitable arrangement assured steady income for the Kohanim and their families.

    Clearly the Torah foresaw how priests, a branch of the tribe of Levi, would accede to special status
    within the national fabric and rise to predominance. Their admirable erudition, refinement, and
    character were also marked by outward appearances. In this, particular vestments played a pivotal

    Page 10 Vayikra vol. I: The Meat of the Matter


An outstanding translation of the fascinating commentary by the last of the Spanish greats.
Rabbi Berel Wein
A major contribution to Torah literature.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD
A masterful rendition…lucid, free-flowing and interesting.
Rabbi Zev Leff
Rabbi, Moshav Matityahu; Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshiva Gedola Matityahu
I am perusing Vayikra, Vol. I: The Meat of the Matter, which looks very good and interesting.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Jacob, Atlanta
Riveting and flowing elucidation of the text simplifies complex ideas leaving the reader readily able to grasp the Abravanel’s inner meaning and purposeful explanation.
Rabbi Meyer H. May
Executive Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance
Open[s] our eyes and minds to the fascinating world of the Abravanel and his unique way of analyzing the Torah...in a user-friendly commentary.
Rabbi Steven Weil
Senior Managing Director, OU
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Rabbi Sholom Gold
Founding Rabbi, Kehillat Zichron Yosef, Har Nof
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Congregation Ohab Zedek, Yeshiva University
Abravanel needs a redeemer…Bar Eitan takes on this complex task.
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Student Action
At once a work of scholarship and a treat for the imagination.… Bar Eitan’s Abravanel presents Exodus as great literature, as exciting and gripping as any great Russian novel.
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Rosh Hayeshivah, Machon Pardes
Zev Bar Eitan has an intimate understanding of two characters: Abravanel and the modern reader. He traverses great distance to bring these two together masterfully.
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Rabbi, Young Israel of the Main Line; Rosh Mesivta, Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia
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Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation
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Tanach Department, Ramaz Upper School, NY
The clear, easy-to-read language and appended notes and illustrations bring the Abravanel to life, for scholars and laymen alike. A great addition to per¬sonal and shul libraries.
Rabbi Yehoshua Weber
Rabbi, Clanton Park Synagogue, Toronto
Of great value to those who have hesitated to tackle this dense, complex work.… Render[s] the Abravanel’s commentary accessible to the modern reader.
Simi Peters
author, Learning to Read Midrash
A gift to the English-speaking audience.… An important “must have” addition to the English Torah library.
Chana Tannenbaum
EdD, lecturer, Bar-Ilan University
The thoughts of a Torah giant over 500 years ago in terminology understand¬able to the modern reader.
Deena Zimmerman
MD, MPH, IBCLC,author; lecturer
Allows the reader the opportunity to see firsthand the brilliance, creativity, and genius of this 15th-century Spanish biblical commentator.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin
Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles
An excellent job bringing to life the profound ideas of one of the most original thinkers in Judaism and making them relevant and interesting 500 years later.
Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche
Ner Yisrael Community, London
I really enjoyed the volume on Bereishis. It opened my eyes to the profundity of the Abravanel's commentary and for that I am ever grateful to you. I recommend it to all my students here at the University of Arizona who are searching for an in-depth understanding of the Chumash. Thank you very much for all your efforts. I am excited to read the next volumes on Shemos and Vayikra!
Rabbi Moshe Schonbrun
Senior educator, JAC University of Arizona
I’ve really enjoyed reading Abravanel's World of Torah. Abravanel was a great and original thinker whose perspective has broadened my understanding of Torah. Rabbi Bar Eitan presents Abravanel’s thought clearly and lucidly. I highly recommend his work. I’ve also really benefitted from being able to email Rabbi Bar Eitan regarding points where I needed further clarity.
Alistair Halpern
I want to tell you how much I'm absolutely enjoying Abravanel's World: Bereshit. I'm not much of a Torah scholar, but this is wonderful and terrific due to the seamless integration of Abravanel's thought and Bar Eitan's explication. All the kudos in the world. I'm looking forward to you completing the set.
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