• 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.


  • Parashat Ki Tasa: An Excerpt

    Parashat Ki Tisa, First Aliyah, an excerpt from Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan

    “And God said to Moshe saying: For the sake of your taking a census of the Children of Israel according
    to their count, each man shall give atonement for his soul to the Almighty in reckoning them so that
    plague does not befall them by dint of having been numbered.”

    "Divine wisdom foresaw that the Hebrews would not donate sufficient quantities of silver to the holy
    national enterprise. This attested to its versatile usefulness, making demand for it practically
    ubiquitous. In fact, during the forty-year trek, silver was the preferred commodity for buying or selling

    Silver coins came in either shekel or half-shekel denominations…"

    Page 156 Shemot vol. II: Assembled at Sinai

  • Parashat Yitro: An Excerpt

    “Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moshe,
    and for Yisrael His people, how God brought Yisrael out of Egypt.”

    ‘Before delving into our passage’s narrative, it is important to determine where it fits into the broader
    chronology scheme. When did Yitro arrive on the scene and advise Moshe to set up a multi-tiered
    court system? Textual sequence indicates that Yitro arrived before the Jews received the Torah. Still,
    some posit that it was afterward which might better explain the need for relieving the overtaxed
    Judge Moshe of some of his dockets. Talmudic sages are split on this issue.

    Medieval-era Torah commentators vie to provide evidence for one view or the other.

    Shemot vol. I: Sinai Rules page 349

  • 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 Tetzaveh

    “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…”

    Isaac Abravanel contends that it is curious for our section to start with a divine command regarding the
    priests arranging the lights of the Tabernacle’s menorah. Yet, at present, such a commandment is out of
    place. Better would have been to insert this mitzvah after we read about building the Tabernacle and
    heard about the placement of the menorah (plus the other holy vessels). Granted, the menorah
    directive relates to the priests, still and all, at this point in the Torah, they had not even been duly
    designated (It occurs in the next verse.). If so, Abravanel wonders why verse two of our section already
    tells Kohanim how to handle the menorah. In short, the instruction appears premature.

    Abravanel poses another question, this time not about the content of the first verse, but rather about its
    style. Phrasing seems off: “And you shall command” or ve’ata tetzaveh. The object of Moshe’s request
    is the Jewish people. But, preferable would have been the imperative: “Command Aharon” or tzav et
    or even “Command the Children of Israel” or tzav et bnei Yisrael. After all, and on this very
    commandment, the imperative is used in Sefer Vayikra, where it reads: “Command the Children of

    The Ramban, another classic Bible commentator, attempts to provide an answer to our first question.
    He learns that the particular phrasing conveys that Moshe should not delegate this commandment to
    others; it is incumbent upon him to do. For the Ramban’s approach to hold water, really, the Torah
    should have written: “And you command” or veatah tzaveh, similar to an upcoming verse that does use
    that grammatical construct: “And you bring forth” or ve’atah hakrev and not what we have above:
    ve’ata tetzaveh.

    Indeed, Biblical grammar matters. From our section’s lead verses, it does not appear that the Torah here
    is issuing a divine imperative about the lighting oil. Nor do they represent a pressing message to light the

    Here is Abravanel’s answer to both questions. Consider the big picture of this section, with the first two
    verses setting the scene for what ensues: priestly garb. That is, the Torah intends to launch a broader
    discussion into the subject of holy garments that priests must don when officiating in the Mishkan. Thus,
    the Maker tells Moshe: “And you shall command…” When? Sometime in the future you shall command
    your brethren to take pure olive oil. Moreover, in the Tent of Assembly, outside of the partition covering
    the Testimony, Aharon and his sons shall arrange the lamp in the evening until the next morning, before
    the Creator – an everlasting edict. Exclusively, only priests or Kohanim may attend to this service. It
    devolves upon Moshe to summon Aharon his brother, as well as Aharon’s sons to officiate before the
    One Above.

    Notice how our section pivots from its preface (menorah) to the main thrust (priestly garb). It would be
    patently gauche for Kohanim to perform sacred service while wearing ordinary clothing. Given this
    solemn requirement to “dress the part”, it befits Moshe to occupy himself with proper, priestly attire, as
    per the balance of this section.

    Precisely because sacred garments are of paramount importance, the Torah, at present, is not coming to
    request the lighting of the menorah. Rather, the chief thing here is to put together respectable garments
    for the Kohanim. So, when they enter the sanctuary to attend to the menorah (and other Tabernacle
    activities), they dress respectfully.

    Now, since Aharon and his sons will be entering the Sanctuary night and day before the Almighty to light
    the menorah, they shall not make spectacles of themselves by violating the holy compound’s dress
    code. Hence, our section alludes to one of the priests’ Mishkan tasks. In effect, the Torah establishes a
    timeline (sometime down the road…) through a grammatical nuance before beginning in earnest, “And
    you shall command”, but not the more time critical tone of “Command the Children of Israel” – which
    implies posthaste.

  • Abarbanel Asks: Parashat Tzav

    Parashat Tzav, First Aliyah, based on Abravanel’s World of Torahby Zev Bar Eitan

    Bible Studies with Don Isaac Abarbanel and the Ramban. Sacrifices in the Tabernacle: Sin offerings, guilt
    offerings, and peace offerings. Abarbanel asks: Does God even want sacrifices? What does the Torah’s
    sequence of the offerings teach about God?

    “And God spoke to Moses saying. Command Aaron and his sons saying,
    this is the law of the burnt offering…”

    Don Isaac Abarbanel asks what appears to be a question of style, better of an inconsistency of style.
    Regarding the sequence of the Tabernacle’s sacrifices, he makes a simple observation. Earlier in
    Leviticus, where the subject of offerings is broached, the section pertaining to peace offerings is
    followed by sin offerings, and then guilt offerings. Yet, here in our section, verses begin with sin and guilt
    offerings prior to moving on to peace offerings. Why?

    Here is Abarbanel’s answer. Early in Leviticus, God says to Moshe: “Speak to the Children of Israel.” That
    section discusses the divine commandment to bring sacrifices. And the Hebrews complied, bringing their
    offerings. But here something else is going on. “Command Aaron and his sons saying…”

    Here the verses focus on practice, meaning the emphasis rests on the men who will actually do or carry
    out Tabernacle service. Performers or agents of execution were the priests. Some sacrifices had been
    the domain of the high priest, while other types fell to rank-and-file priests. Hence, “Command Aaron
    and his sons saying…”

    At the lead were verses concerning burnt offerings, owing to its most lofty status. Of all the varied types
    of offerings, these are the Creator’s most beloved. That explains why Leviticus begins with verses
    discussing burnt offerings. Top of the top. We may view it as if the Maker extends a wish or a hope. How
    wonderful it would be if Hebrews only brought this altruistic type! Indeed, it is God’s prayer that Jews
    would not sin and thus not need to bring either sin or guilt offerings, as they imply misdoing.

    In contrast, we find the earlier section that discusses peace offering before sin and guilt sacrifices, as
    opposed to our section, whose order is flipped (first sin and guilt and then peace offerings). The
    Ramban, a classic Bible commentator responds as follows. In the Temple times, all sacrifices fell into one
    of two broad categories: most holy and ordinary holy offerings. In the sacrifice pyramid, per se, the most
    holy were the burnt, sin, and guilt offerings. Underneath them were peace offerings.

    But there is more to the various offering types than what meets the eye. Abravanel explains. In the
    beginning of Leviticus, we find this sequence: burnt offerings, gift offerings, peace offerings, with sin
    (and guilt) offerings trailing last. This order bespeaks God’s traits, always putting the right foot forward,
    in a manner of speaking. Except for sin/guilt sacrifices, all other offerings highlight the positive. This
    reflects the Maker’s preference; He desires idealistic folks who bring gifts to the Temple out of love and
    for good occasions, good cheer.

    Put differently, whenever God is faced with two options – positive and negative – He naturally favors the
    positive and good. Consequently, the order of sacrifices begins with altruistic and favorable ones. They
    are the goodwill offerings (burnt, gift, and peace). They exude love and idealism. Next is the sin offering,
    an obligatory sacrifice suggesting remedying a wrong. Fear of God as a motivator places a distant second
    place to those ushered in with affection.

  • 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


  • Bible Studies with Don Isaac Abarbanel

    Splitting the Red Sea

    “And God went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar
    of fire, to give them light, that they might go by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the
    pillar of fire by night departed not from before the people.”

    ‘The Almighty also provided these travelers with a pillar of fire. This flaming entity, too, was ethereal,
    stretching from the sky to the ground. The Jews in the desert had not taken along lanterns or oil from
    Egypt. God did not want the Jews stumbling in darkness, and He knew that an illumination source
    would put a spring in their step and a smile on their faces. A burning, torch-like fire column lit up the
    night. Knowing all too well that His children were in for a long haul with many zigzagging pit stops in
    the wilderness, God rolled out the fire and cloud implements in advance.

    Page 256 Shemot vol. I: Sinai Rules

  • Bible Studies with Don Isaac Abarbanel: Parashat Mishpatim

    “Now these are the statutes which you shall set before them.”

    This section pertains to Jewish law, a cornerstone of Judaism. Let us provide a brief introduction to this
    all-important subject. The Torah has three distinct categories of commandments or mitzvot. At present,
    we are only interested in statutes or mishpatim, divine laws which comprise Jewish jurisprudence. At
    root is what is commonly referred to as civil law, rules that govern the relations between a man and his

    Does Jewish law or mishpatim hold advantages over other systems of civil justice? Some say no. They
    contend that Jewish jurisprudence is typical in the sense that it resembles all other people’s legal
    systems. This position flies in the face of Scripture: “He declares His word to Yaakov, His statutes and His
    ordinances unto Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation, and as for His statutes, they have not known
    Of course, from time immemorial societies have promulgated laws and conferred upon courts
    the authority to adjudicate.

    How do mishpatim stand apart? The Midrash quotes from Psalms: “The strength also of the king who
    loves statutes”
    (read: justice). Moshe addresses, the Midrash continues, the Jewish people, explaining
    that the Almighty has transmitted the Torah to them. If, however, the nation rejects mishpatim, their
    negligence will result in the entire Torah being taken away from them.

    Why should this be so? The Midrash concludes that the transmission of the Torah was predicated upon
    the observance of the statutes, as supported by a verse: “The strength of the king who loves statutes”

    The message conveyed by the Midrash begs another question: Is praise of mishpatim excessive,
    exaggerated? After all, the corpus of mishpatim discusses the mundane. How ho-hum to legislate the
    consequences of a fellow’s ox goring another guy’s mule! How underwhelming are court cases
    presented by someone who claims his garment had been damaged by another? On topic, the psalmist
    pens: “Surely for vanity they are in turmoil. He heaps up riches, and knows not who shall gather them.”

    King David calls out the superficiality of material pursuit and possessions. Given the transitory nature of
    man’s tangible holdings or other commercial interests and dealings, why does the Midrash place such
    sky-high value on the observance of mishpatim, stating that failure to heed them results in forfeiting
    Holy Writ?

    Furthermore, given that this area of the Torah deals with the ordinary, how should we understand
    Judaism’s position that mishpatim rank superior to other systems (like the Noachide Code or any other
    one), when on the face of it, we do not find glaring distinctions between how a Jewish versus non-Jewish
    court would adjudicate torts?

    And yet, the assertion is a serious one. Really, what was lacking with the code of law devised by the sons
    of Noach, or Hammurabi? In short, how should we understand our section’s lead verse: “Now these are
    the statutes which you shall set before them?”
    Assuredly, the Maker vested divine wisdom solely in
    mishpatim. To paraphrase the Talumudic sages on our verse: “Before them” – the Hebrews – and not
    before the Gentiles. Furthermore, the sages stressed “Before them” – and not before the illiterates.

    Understand this. Divine mishpatim stand unmistakably distinct from all other legal codes, such as the
    one created by Noach or successive civilizations. Here are two major differences that show Jewish
    jurisprudence’s decisive edge over the rest.

    One has to do with the intrinsic nature of mishpatim: They are abundantly rich, encompassing much.
    That is, statutes sub-divide and pullulate, giving rise to more and more legal refinement or categories.
    Some of these divine laws relate to individuals, others communal. Together, they endure far beyond
    societal conventions that people devise for purposes of maintaining civil order.

    We must especially consider the vast body of Jewish law which stems from the Ten Commandments.
    Not surprisingly, Gentiles hold a vastly different and narrower view of the interpretation of them (“You
    shall not murder” or “You shall not steal” etc.).

    Two deals with the consequence of compliance. For mishpatim, God rewards handsomely. In contrast,
    governments do not compensate the law abiding. To be sure, compliance for the Gentiles does ensure a
    smooth, orderly community. The Creator, too, does not pay the nations for good conduct. But, as stated,
    compliance does promote neighborliness.

    God broadcasted the Ten Commandments on Sinai to the Hebrews. They were delivered in fantastic
    shorthand (“You shall not…”). The game-changing, mountain-desert event staggered huddled masses. In
    unison, the people told Moshe that they had had enough direct communication with God. From here on
    out, Moshe would be their go-between. Subsequently, the exceedingly fine details of the Ten
    Commandments, including Heaven’s renumeration for observance, came to the Jews via Moshe.

    This preface provides proper context for our lead verse: “Now these are the statutes which you shall set
    before them.”

  • Did King David Sin with Batsheva?

    The Biblical narrative in Samuel records one of the most controversial encounters
    in the entire Bible—the story of King David and Bat Sheva. This is precisely the
    question I put to my Bible study group, which has taken several sessions to work
    out, or rather, to work through.

    A prefatory remark is in order. This discussion is based on the Abravanel’s
    lengthy and thorough treatment of the subject. 1 Abravanel, briefly, is known for
    his piercing questions and thoughtful answers; he does not pull punches in his
    search for truth, or as he puts it “the simple truth” or ha’emet hapashut (האמת
    הפשוט). Abravanel’s comments take Bible students step by step through the events
    recorded in the Bible. To be sure, for Abravanel, this means a comprehensive
    review of Biblical verses 2 as well as the Talmud’s coverage of the controversy. 3
    Finally, for our purposes here, I present Abravanel’s comments on the Book of

    Samuel in fantastic shorthand, essentially a summary or overview of the topic.

    Storyline: King David had intimate relations with Bat Sheva, a woman
    married to a warrior in the king’s service. From the relationship, Bat Sheva conceived. King David recalled the woman’s husband, Uriah Hachiti, from the
    front and urged him to spend time with his wife. Uriah refused to go home,
    insisting that the offer offended a noble soldier’s sensitivities. His commanding
    officer and fellow soldiers were in the field “roughing it.” After the king’s second
    attempt to send Uriah to visit his wife failed, he resolved that Uriah should return
    to the front and there be ambushed by the enemy. This resolution came in the
    form of a royal directive to Yoav, the commander. Uriah was, in fact, killed by
    enemy fire upon his return to duty.

    Abravanel lists five compelling reasons that point to a straightforward
    indictment of David. 4 Conclusion: the king was guilty of heinous crimes; he
    perpetrated a mighty wrong. Heaven meted out punishment to the culprit. For his
    part, the king exhibited remorse and indeed heartrending contrition.

    Abravanel then turns to the Talmud’s interpretation of the very same facts.
    The rabbis or Chazal take a totally different tack, infusing Jewish tradition and
    insight. Not only do they hold the king blameless, but they go a step further:
    “Whoever says that David sinned [with Bat Sheva] errs.” 5

    Where does this leave us? Did King David sin with Bat Sheva?

    According to Abravanel, Chazal’s innocent verdict speaks to a legitimate,
    alternate dimension of Biblical text or drush (דרוש). This stands in marked contrast
    to Abravanel, who is intent on discovering the verses’ plain reading or pshat (פשט).
    Abravanel is always reverential of Chazal, while acknowledging the pshat/drush
    divergence. The story of David and Bat Sheva eloquently highlights their distinct
    respective outlooks.

  • 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 Beshalach

    “And it came to pass, when Pharoah had let the people go, that God led
    them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was
    near, for God said: Lest perhaps the people repent when they see war,
    and they return to Egypt.”

    On our verse, readers readily note a difficulty with our verse. The Torah appears to disclose God’s
    motive for taking the escaped Jews via a desert, rather through the Coastal Route, that would have been
    a breeze. And it would have gotten the Jews to Canaan much faster.

    But what is written is not the underlying reason for God’s “peculiar” itinerary for His flock, as we shall
    soon discuss. Why does the Torah provide a feeble rationale (“Lest perhaps the people repent when
    they see war…”), when more meaty ones present themselves? Indeed, opting for a tenuous reason and
    omitting the real ones represents a glaring problem with the text.

    From the outset of the ten plagues, God was itching, you might say, to part the Red Sea, sending the
    Egyptians to Davy Jones’s locker. Below we bring three reasons to explain Heaven’s motive for leading
    the Hebrews away from the Coastal Road, instead, directing them via the divine cloud column and pillar
    of fire headlong into an arid wasteland.

    One has to do with the Hebrews leaving Egypt courtesy of and by permission of Pharoah. It was
    understood that the monarch authorized them to serve God in the desert per Moshe’s request: “Let my
    people go, that they may hold a feast unto Me in the wilderness.” From the first meeting at the palace,
    the wilderness was the professed destination. For that reason, the Creator did not bring them out to the
    Coastal Route. It would have given Pharoah license to slander the prophet, calling him a liar. Further,
    Pharoah would have deduced that their destination was the land of the Philistines, with no intention to
    serve God in the desert. This is expressed by our verse: “And it came to pass, when Pharoah had let the
    people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines…”

    The Torah stresses that Pharoah permitted the Jews to leave. It was understood that they would
    celebrate in a serene, albeit barren setting. For that reason, Hashem could not guide them to Canaan via
    the land of the Philistines, adjacent to Egypt. Such a plan would have brought the monarch to conclude
    that in the land of Philistines were where the encampment sought refuge.

    Two concerned another wrinkle God may have anticipated. Had the Hebrews traveled along the
    Philistine Road, there stood a strong likelihood that the Philistines would have girded for war. Jewish
    preparedness, let us say, was nil. The masses would not have mustered up the courage to fight. And
    given that Egypt was nigh, they would have returned to it, opting for enslavement. We have concluded
    the second reason. Before we continue to the third one, we interject a midrash, based on our verse.

    “Although that was near” allows for multiple interpretations. In Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, it is hinted that
    “although that was near” cloaks one of the very first Hebrew wars, one that ended in abject disaster. We
    speak about a misguided attempt by the Children of Efraim to hasten the liberation of Canaan. The
    impetuous tribe of Efraim marched headstrong out of Egypt and into the land of the Philistines, where
    they were soundly smashed. Two hundred thousand soldiers met death in their inglorious rush for
    redemption: “The Children of Efraim were as archers handling the bow, that turned back in the day of
    Our verse states, “Lest perhaps the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” It alludes to the annihilation of the tribe of Efraim. When the encampment witnesses Efraim’s carnage,
    their brothers’ bones strewn about on the Philistine Road, they will chant in unity: Let us return to

    To summarize the second point, we put forth that God did not guide them along the Coastal Highway,
    rather He opted for the desert. A vital lapse of time (forty years!) would grant the Hebrews precious
    opportunity to thoroughly train for war. After decades in the wilderness, they would encounter Sichon’s,
    Og’s, and the Canaanites’ formidable forces, emerging victorious. Further, these enemies are based far,
    far away from Egypt. Geographical considerations would have given pause to the Hebrews about a
    return to their former slaveowners.

    Three is the most powerful and compelling. The Philistine Route offered no body of water. The Creator
    hungered to split the sea for the Jews, and to drown Egyptians in it (revenge for Egyptians drowning
    Hebrew babies). That necessitated the nation to be led into the desert. The Red Sea served as the plan’s
    centerpiece. Our section’s second verse says: “But God led the people about, by the way of the
    wilderness by the Red Sea…”

    We can prove our point by interjecting a Hebrew grammar rule. Specifically, it concerns the usage of the
    Hebrew letter vav, generally a conjunction meaning “and.” However, in Scripture a vav may also signal a
    root cause. For our purposes here, we will show how it works, and reframe the section’s second verse
    accordingly. “And God, in order to lead the people about by the way of the wilderness – because of the
    Red Sea…”

    Rendering the verse as we have provides the proper accent or tone. Consequently, we better
    understand God’s main rationale for doing what He did. That is, he led them into a desert, and not into
    Canaan via the Coastal Road, because of a highly-anticipated confrontation and divine rendezvous at the
    Red Sea with their heartless, quondam taskmasters and baby-killers.


  • Parashat Bo: An Excerpt

    “So that I might place these signs of Mine in his midst.”

    ‘Pharoah was a lost cause but God aimed to instill lessons of eternal faith within His people. When
    they looked around them and saw God’s hand everywhere, it would be a boon. Belief would spring
    eternal. A better approach to these verses is that Moshe was taken in by Pharoah’s post-hail promise
    to liberate the Jews. The Almighty’s messenger mistakenly thought further plagues unnecessary.

    God knew differently…’

     Page 172 Sinai Rules by Zev Bar Eitan

  • 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

  • Parashat Va’era, First Aliyah

    “And I appeared unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak, and unto Yaakov, as God
    Almighty, but by My name [Hashem] I made Me not known to them.”
    Classic commentators struggled to make sense of our verse. Some hold that it means that God had not
    revealed Himself to them via the Ineffable name. Others posit that Hashem made promises to them, but
    did not fulfil them. Both positions are weak, as we shall now demonstrate.
    The first school missed the mark because the Torah writes that God, in His Ineffable name, did
    communicate with Avraham. In one instance, the Ineffable name entered into a covenant with Avraham
    (in Hebrew the brit bein ha’betarim). On a separate occasion, the Ineffable name commanded Avraham

    to undergo circumcision or brit milah. Both verses are explicit.

    There are more: “And He said unto him: I am God…”, “And Avram called there on the name of God”, and
    “And, behold, God stood beside him and said: I am God…” Here we have proof that the Maker revealed
    Himself to the patriarchs by way of the Ineffable name.
    The second school falls short, for God fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs. It presupposed that He
    conveyed an oath that they would inherit the Holy Land in their lifetimes. That is a blatant
    misstatement. God never uttered such a thing. He did foretell, though, that the fourth generation of

    Hebrews sojourning in a foreign land would emerge to liberate, and take possession of, Israel.

    Other divine promises were made for the patriarchs’ lifetimes, and kept. To Avraham, He foretold that
    he would father children. And he did. Similarly, to Yitzchak and Yaakov, God extended promises.
    Promises were kept, as we read in those sections pertaining to Yitzchak and Yaakov.

    One last clarification for the classic Biblical commentators. They argued that God had not performedmiracles for the patriarchs along the lines that He had done for Moshe. For their proof, they bring the example of turning Moshe’s staff into a snake. Or another example of something supernatural that the Creator did for Moshe was the wonder of the prophet’s hand becoming leprous, and then hale again.

    We beg to differ. Actually, God generously dispensed miracles to the patriarchs. To begin with, Avraham
    was saved from Ur Kasdim’s clutches. Being rescued, unscathed, from Pharoah’s lusty play for Sarai also
    ranks as major. Later, the first patriarch experienced supernatural assistance from the Holy One with
    Sedom and Gemorrah, culminating in a successful mission to rescue Lot, against all odds. Or what about
    Lot’s wife’s punishment? She morphed into a pillar of salt. Given this raft of believe-it-or-not wonders,
    who can put forth that God had not performed prodigiously for the patriarchs, as He had with Moshe at
    this early stage in his career as a seer?


    We now turn and suggest what amounts to a truer read of our verse. Backdrop is essential. At the time when God reached out to Moshe, both he and nation had grown disillusioned over the prospect of evergaining freedom from Egyptian taskmasters. Centuries of exile stripped slaves of their faith, relegatingredemption or geulah to no more than a quixotic pipe dream of yesteryear. “For since I came to Pharoah to speak in Your name…”

    The Maker disabused the prophet of a mindset maligned by despair. Geulah, the prophet heard at
    present, was a foregone conclusion. It would absolutely come to fruition for multiple reasons. For

    brevity, we bring only the first rationale.

    What is the simple reading or pshat on our verse? Let us focus on divine communication, from the
    perspective of Hashem. He had not revealed Himself to the patriarchs in a manner by which they could

    know Him. God’s messages had come via an intermediary, and not directly or panim el panim.

    While it is true that those non-physical intermediators received their dispatches from Above, still and all,
    an intimate peek into God remained blocked. A barrier held the patriarchs at bay. When we review the
    verse, inserting the Hebrew names for God, we gain clarity: “And I appeared…as Kel Shakai, but by My

    name [Hashem], I made Me not known to them.”

    The verse informs us of a distance or gap separating the patriarchs and Hashem. Divine communication
    had been carried out via Kel Shakai’s angelic messengers. And yes, even on occasion, the
    communication had come about through His name – Hashem. Crucial is this. Intimacy or panim el panim

    had never been granted to the patriarchs.

    This was about to change. Geulah absolutely had to transpire (That was God’s solemn oath.). While in
    the desert, redemption would enable Moshe and every single Hebrew access or entrée to God – directly
    – each according to their spiritual preparedness and piety. Read: panim el panim. Said intimacy opens
    up avenues to know God’s glory and exaltedness. The patriarchs never attained panim el panim, their
    prophecies a notch below. In sum, a sea-change was in the offing, since God sought to upgrade His
    relationship with the Jews. For that to happen, Geulah became more than an expedient; it became a



  • Parashat Vayakhel

    “And Moses assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel,
    and said unto them: These are the words which God has commanded,
    that you should do them.”

    Abarbanel notes that the lead verse requires explanation. If Moshe gathered the Hebrews for the
    purpose of issuing a command to build the Tabernacle, as it says, “These are the words which God has
    commanded, that you should do them”,
    why does he first start with the mitzvah to observe Shabbat:
    “Six days shall work be done?”

    The question looms larger, Abarbanel asks, because the obligation to keep Shabbat had been broached
    in an earlier section, the one discussing manna. Further, the Jews heard a repeat of the Shabbat
    mitzvah, later on Sinai. Moreover, four chapters earlier, yet another reference to Shabbat observance
    was mentioned. Hence, Abarbanel’s glaring question here: Why bring up Shabbat again?

    One final point. In last week’s section, Ki Tisa, we find the Torah issued a warning to heed Shabbat after
    wrapping up a broad discussion on the Mishkan. Yet, here we find the order reversed. Shabbat gets
    mentioned prior to verses speaking about the Mishkan.

    Abarbanel supplies a timeline. After Moshe descended from Sinai, he commanded the entire nation,
    men and women, to gather outside of the camp, specifically in his lecture hall, or the Tent of Assembly.
    The prophet intended to inform the masses what God had commanded. That is, each person should
    donate to the Tabernacle enterprise. This follows the opinion of the classic Biblical scholar, the Ramban.

    Likely, this assembly took place the day after Moshe had descended from Sinai. He conveyed to his
    brethren that the Maker had forgiven and pardoned them for their iniquity. Moreover, the Shechinah
    would rest in their midst. Wonders, stupendous wonders, would He do for them, beyond the likes of
    which had ever been performed – anywhere or anytime.

    Of course, the Hebrews delighted in the news. Ecstatic. That is when Moshe saw fit to teach them about
    the Mishkan. To be clear, the prophet had learned of this divine commandment as he sat upon Sinai,
    before his co-religionists had built a Molten Calf. When the Creator reconciled with His nation,
    evidenced by the giving of the second set of Tablets, God entered into a covenant: the Shechinah would
    dwell among the Hebrews.

    The loving and intimate relationship between the Jews and God had been repaired, restored. Reclaimed
    affection expression may be summed up in an earlier verse: “Build Me a Tabernacle that I may dwell in
    your midst.”
    Thus, after divine anger subsided, a time of renewed intimacy had been ushered in.

    That is precisely when Moshe bid his brethren to build the Tabernacle: “These are the words which God
    has commanded, that you should do them.”
    At this juncture, the prophet cautioned the Hebrews to
    observe Shabbat. This signaled that Mishkan’s and its vessels’ activities would take place during the six
    work days of the week, Shabbat excluded, for it is a holy time for God. Put differently, Mishkan work
    does not trump Shabbat sanctity, with its concomitant dos and don’ts.

    This section’s third verse reads: “You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath
    Prohibiting fire on Shabbat taught the Jews that the sanctity of the seventh day exceeded that of
    the Jewish festivals, where fire is permitted (in certain cases of food preparation or ochel nefesh).

    With this important element in place, Abarbanel answers his original question regarding the seeming
    peculiar insertion of the Shabbat verse in a section otherwise dedicated to the building of the
    Tabernacle. It conveys the sanctity of the Sabbath, one which ranked higher even than the other major
    festivals, celebratory occasions where fire may be permitted under proper circumstances (ochel nefesh).

    As for the words “throughout your habitations”, they teach another Shabbat rule. Namely, the Hebrews
    are obliged to keep Shabbat wherever they reside, in the Holy Land or elsewhere. Major Biblical writers
    learn something else about this prepositional phrase: “throughout your habitations.” The prohibition
    does not apply to the priests engaged in Mishkan activities (at least some of the holy activities, but
    that’s for another blog).

  • Parashat Vayikra

    Abarbanel’s introduction to Leviticus based on Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan

    “And God called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the Tent of
    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 of the flock.”

    In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra), Abravanel lays out his lengthiest introduction of any of the Torah’s five Books
    of Moses. (Interestingly, some books have no prefatory remarks whatsoever.) Naturally, this presents a
    blogger, who is intent to keep blogs short, with a pickle. Our solution is to present below a sampling or
    taste of this important prolegomenon.

    Genesis (Bereshit) of the divine Torah tells about the creation of the world ex nihilo. Readers also learn
    about the roots of mankind and the first generations. We also read about the lives of the saintly Jewish
    patriarchs, culminating with Jacob and his family descending into Egypt.

    In the Book of Exodus (Shemot) the Torah conveys how Egyptians manhandled the Hebrews, against a
    backdrop of exile and enslavement. Centuries of misery concluded with God’s redemption of His chosen
    ones, Moses and Aaron playing lead roles. Miracles a many accompanied the Jews in Egypt and at the
    Red Sea. The desert trek, too, played a venue to wonders.

    And then came Sinai. There the entire nation experienced full-blown prophecy. From the mouth of the
    Maker, they received the Torah and commandments. Folly followed; the people sinned egregiously
    when they fashioned a calf of gold. How was catharsis achieved?

    When the Hebrews built the Tabernacle, to house the mystical Shechinah(the presence of God) and spread divine providence
    in their midst, Heaven’s cloud swathed the encampment. Specifically, the cloud covered the Tent; God’s
    glory permeated the Tabernacle.

    This brings us to the Torah’s third book – the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra). It explains the service of the
    Tabernacle. We learn how the priests or Kohanim served the Creator, service that helped the Holy
    People achieve atonement for their sins. For the Kohanim’s part, they dedicated their lives to plumb the
    depths of the Torah, Jewish Law, and the divine six hundred and thirteen commandments. Moreover,
    the Kohanim taught their brethren good conduct. These pious mentors showed the Jews to walk in
    God’s ways, the path to upright character and deed, per the verse: “For the priest’s lips should keep
    knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
    topic, Scripture records: “And you shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall
    be in those days. And you shall inquire, and they shall declare unto you the sentence of judgment.”
    is another description of the role of the priests: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your

    Now we turn to another topic in the introduction to Leviticus: sacrifices (korbonot). The Torah is
    explicit regarding animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle. However, for modern readers, sacrifices have
    become a closed book. Too many centuries of non-performance of the holy service have taken their toll.
    With the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Hebrews’ glory and magnificence has faded.
    The Rambam, a classic Biblical and Oral Law expositor, writes as much.

    Further contributing to why we have a spotty understanding of sacrifices has to do with the Torah’s
    treatment of the multifaceted subject. In a word, it is all over the place. For instance, one aspect is
    mentioned in Exodus. Another source may be traced to Numbers, where more than ten separate
    sections on sacrifices are interspersed. And, of course, sacrifices will be spoken about in Leviticus.

    Hence, the need for our prolegomenon. We will not introduce novel ideas. Instead, our steady course
    will follow the Scripture’s treatment of the subject, as well as the authentic Oral Law. The Rambam’s far-
    reaching eye, too, will be our guide. Our task, then, will be to gather disparate sources, and properly
    organize them.

    As stated, we provide only a thumbnail sketch of the original version of Abravanel’s introduction.
    Interested readers are encouraged to read the full introduction in Vayikra volume I: The Meat of the
    In it, readers shall gain a solid grasp on animal sacrifices, an important Biblical topic that has
    become, tragically, arcane.


  • Parashat Yitro

    “Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard of all that
    God had done for Moshe, and for Yisrael His people, how God brought
    Yisrael out of Egypt.”

    The verse creates a curious conundrum: After we read that Yitro “heard of all that God had done for
    Moshe, and for Yisrael”, which really represents a catch-all, it then offers a slimmed down version of
    that grander observation: “how God brought Yisrael out of Egypt.” Put differently, at first the Torah
    alludes to miracles galore, indicating discussion of all of the wonders that devastated Egypt, including
    the vast miracles performed at the Red Sea. Viewed as a whole, this panorama is followed by news of
    the Jews’ exodus. But, isn’t the exodus part and parcel of that bigger picture, “all that God had done for
    Moshe, and for Yisrael His people?”

    Furthermore, why doesn’t our verse refer to the plagues that rocked Egypt, bringing it to its knees? Mammoth miracles a many. And yet Yitro focuses on the Hebrews casting off their shackles and gaining freedom. Finally, why isn’t a word of Moshe’s performance uttered?
    “Now Yitro, the priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law, heard…” Despite Yitro’s dominant position
    within Midian society, and despite the honor Moshe might have shown to him by going to Midian and
    debriefing the elder statesman, things did not turn out that way. Distance was not the issue; Midian was
    close by. The prophet had even more compelling reasons to take the jaunt to Midian: His wife and
    children were there. Why, then, had Moshe, uncharacteristically for a husband and father, not departed
    and rode out to his wife and kids?

    In fact, we need to reassess the entire scene. When Yitro, who was “the priest of Midian” and “Moshe’s
    father-in-law” heard the news’ headlines, he was naturally gobsmacked. The priest learned “of all that
    God had done for Moshe”, meaning the honor and prominence accorded to him. Yitro heard about
    national redemption and unprecedented rescue operation: “And for Yisrael His people.” The purpose of
    these wonders featured “how God brought Yisrael out of Egypt.” Divine miracles accompanied the
    Hebrews out of bondage. Note, the Hebrew term we originally translated as “how” or ki needs a tweak,
    seeing that ki allows for multiple meanings. We substitute “when” for “how” or ka’asher.

    This emerges. The verse is meant to be read as a tell-all of what transpired in Egypt, “all that God had
    done.” Thus, we understand that Yitro had been apprised of the plagues and ultimate crippling of what
    had been a vibrant country and economy. The priest also knew about the splitting of the Red Sea,
    including the drowning of Pharoah and his troops. Even the news of the Jews’ victory over Amalek had
    made the rounds.

    Sensational headlines piqued Yitro’s interest, to state it lightly. He also wanted to bring Tzipporah to
    Moshe. The priest’s presence would help smooth reconciliation. When the prophet would see his wife
    and two sons, healthy family life could resume.

    This is especially so since the boys were a source of blessing and good cheer. One son’s name was
    Gershom, a name given to mark Moshe’s sojourn in a foreign land: “I have been a stranger in a strange
    land.” The second son’s name was Eliezer. That name invoked salvation – “the God of my father was my
    help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.” Indeed, providence stayed Pharoah’s hand from
    executing Moshe as the prophet delivered plague after plague after plague.

    Moshe, for his part, did not want to budge from the encampment, a place resonating with closeness to
    the Creator or devekut. Moreover, the prophet served as the nation’s leader and he did not want to
    leave his brethren. Also, Moshe needed to oversee the people’s preparation for receiving the Torah at
    Sinai. Hence, the seer did not go to Midian so close to where the camp marched, to honor Yitro. Nor was
    the prophet in the position to go to Midian and encourage his wife to join him, or to see his sons. This
    devolved upon Yitro; he needed to make the trip.



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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
Zev eminently succeeds in making the awesome wisdom of Don Isaac available to the English-speaking public. We are in Bar Eitan’s debt.
Rabbi Sholom Gold
Founding Rabbi, Kehillat Zichron Yosef, Har Nof
The translation is as beautiful as the original Hebrew and the English reader loses nothing in this excellent rendition.
Rabbi Allen Schwartz
Congregation Ohab Zedek, Yeshiva University
Abravanel needs a redeemer…Bar Eitan takes on this complex task.
Rabbi Gil Student
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.
Rabbi Daniel Landes
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.
Avraham Steinberg
Rabbi, Young Israel of the Main Line; Rosh Mesivta, Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia
An uncommon treat.… Rabbi Bar Eitan is to be commended for providing an accessible entree to this timeless masterpiece.
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin
Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation
Relevant and accessible.… Ideal for teachers as well as Yeshiva High School, Ulpana, Yeshiva and Seminary students alike...a wonderful translation... enjoyable reading....
Rachel Weinstein
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.
New Jersey