• Abravanel’s World of Torah

    Abravanel’s World of Torah

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

Abravanel

  • 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
    merchandise.

    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

  • A Prologue to the Book of Leviticus

    Don Isaac Abravanel, sometimes spelled Abarbanel (1437-1508) was a seminal Jewish thinker, penetrating scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. His lengthy introduction to Leviticus provides Bible students an excellent and thorough
    overview of one of the Bible’s least understood and appreciated subjects: animal sacrifice. See
    Abravanel’s World for the discourse in its entirety.

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

    Here we bring Abravanel’s opening remarks on that discussion, one that begins by showing how the
    Book of Leviticus transitions easily from the books of Genesis and Exodus.

    Genesis details the creation of the world – from nothing. Ensuing chapters chronicle early man’s
    begetting and begetting and begetting. The narratives of the three patriarchs cover most of Genesis,
    concluding with Jacob and family leaving famine-ridden Canaan for verdant Egypt.

    Exodus records the Egyptian exile, marked by Jewish misery and enslavement. Divine redemption
    studded with miracles broke the Hebrews’ bondage, Moses and Aaron leading the way. More wonders
    met the Jews at the Red Sea, and along their desert trek. Then came Sinai, where each person
    experienced prophecy. Directly from the Creator, they heard divine commandments.

    Alas, trouble arrived. Hebrews built and prostrated themselves to a molten calf. Exodus also describes
    how catharsis healed their egregious sin. The Maker issued instruction to build for Him a Tabernacle, a
    sanctuary for His Shechinah. Subsequently, divine providence attached itself to the Chosen People. This
    became evident to the encampment on the day when the Tabernacle had been erected (and thereafter),
    as per the closing two verses in Exodus: “Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of
    God filled the Tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud
    abode thereon, and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle.”

    This, Abravanel says, sets the scene for the Torah’s third book, the Book of Leviticus. It pertains to the
    service in the Tabernacle. Central to that holy service is animal sacrifice, performed by the priests for the
    express purpose of aiding the Hebrews realign their religious priorities, and atone for transgression. In a
    nutshell, we have laid out the opening remarks of Abravanel’s very lengthy prologue to Leviticus.

  • 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
    ha’shekel
    . 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
    king?

    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
    Aharon
    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
    Israel.”

    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
    menorah.

    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

  • An Introduction to the Book of Exodus

    Don Isaac Abravanel, sometimes spelled Abarbanel (1437-1508) was a profound Jewish thinker, seminal scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. His preface to the Book of Exodus affords Bible students a compact overview of Genesis
    as well as the second book of the five books of Moses. Here we bring a synopsis of it.

    “Now these are the names of the Sons of Israel, who came into Egypt
    with Jacob; every man came with his household.”

    Divine wisdom, Abravanel asserts, had plenty of good reasons for dividing up the five books of Moses, as
    it did, the focus here being on Exodus’ organic outgrowth from Genesis. He lists four rationales for that
    link or connector. Below are the first two. See Abravanel’s World for the remaining two.

    1) Genesis recounts the deeds and formidable challenges that faced remarkable individuals.
    Among other men of renown, we single out Adam, Noah, Shem, Eber, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and
    his sons. After Genesis concludes the narratives of these outstanding personages, Exodus
    follows. It covers the Hebrew people collectively. Thus, in Exodus we read about how the
    fledgling Hebrew nation languished in the Egyptian exile and servitude. Divine miracle and
    redemption set them free. Later, at Sinai, the encampment heard God’s voice bellow the ten
    commandments. Finally, Exodus pertains to the Tabernacle, home of the mystical Shechinah.

    2) The divine Torah’s main purpose, Abravanel writes, is to hone and perfect the Hebrew people,
    the Creator’s hand-picked flock. We speak of the refinement of body and soul, accomplished
    through the observance of the commandments. When the Torah desired to elaborate on the
    Chosen People’s mission and destiny, it began with Genesis, and a meticulous chronology of the
    Hebrews’ illustrious forbears. Veritably, Jews descend from the very finest of human stock. They
    are anything but a hodgepodge of nationalities, banding together under a creed or religion.
    Hebrews neatly trace their lineage to humanity’s luminaries, really an ethical proving ground, if
    you will. Genesis, then, lays out the Jews’ rich heritage, starting with Adam. In short shrift,
    Adam’s unworthy descendants are merely mentioned in passing. In contrast to the holy seed,
    the undesirables, let us label them, lacked character, moral fiber. Hebrews hail from Adam’s
    third son, Seth, a moral giant. The divine spark passed through him and continued to Noah,
    Shem, Eber, and the three patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

    In this manner, Abravanel develops his preface to the Book of Exodus, advancing four reasons that
    illustrate just how gracefully it segues from Genesis.

  • Bible Students: Rachel Steals Laban’s Idols

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 31, we read about Rachel swiping Laban’s idols. Her inexcusable deed
    raises a red flag, prompting Bible students to question: What could Rachel possibly have been thinking?

    “Now Laban was gone to shear his sheep. And Rachel stole the
    teraphim that were her father’s.”

    It certainly vexed Abravanel, leading him to ask: What tempted Rachel? Did she want to ween Laban
    from his idolatrous folly? If so, how naive? What would be the likelihood that an old man set in his
    primitive ways could be cured by a young daughter? Besides, who would stop Laban from acquiring new
    gods? Finally, Abravanel raises the possibility that Rachel desired to serve idols, as her father. Answering
    his own ridiculous thought, Abravanel says emphatically – God forbid. No way would Rachel stoop so
    low!

    Jacob clearly had no inkling that Rachel pilfered the teraphim, otherwise he wouldn’t have issued a
    death warrant for the offender. The patriarch tells Laban: “With whomsoever you find your gods, he
    shall not live…”

    Here is Abravanel’s response. At best, Rachel viewed her father’s teraphim as a type of talisman. That is,
    of course she understood that the figurine couldn’t speak, but maybe it somehow inspired Laban, and
    spurred him to greater awareness. In our context, Abravanel suggests that maybe Rachel thought that
    when Jacob exited with his wives and children, Laban would run to his idols, talk to them, in hopes of
    gaining insight. Laban would take hold of the teraphim, pensively inquiring of them: “Tell me. Where did
    Jacob lead my daughters and grandchildren? Which way did they go? What route did they take etc.?”

    In sum, Rachel hedged her bet and sought to improve Jacob’s run for freedom. Since Rachel worried
    that Laban would consult his teraphim, as means to figuring out Jacob’s best escape route, she stole her
    father’s idols. The blow to Laban would blunt his powers of concentration, and ultimately thwart his
    chances to apprehend the fugitives.

  • Bible Studies : Abram Leaves Canaan

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 12, the Bible introduces the first of three patriarchs, Abram. God
    directed him to leave home and family to destination unknown. Our chapter informs us that Abram
    traveled westward with his wife, Sarai, and Lot, his nephew. Shortly, as the sojourners reached Canaan,
    the Maker appeared to Abram, and revealed the mystery destination. God let Abram know that he was
    to dwell there. Other divine messages of good tidings were communicated to him. But no sooner had
    Abram, his wife, and nephew began settling in Canaan than the émigrés faced an existential threat: a
    merciless famine.

    “Now God said unto Abram: Leave your country, and your kindred, and
    your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you…And Abram
    passed through the land…And God appeared to Abram and said: Unto
    your seed will I give this land…

    There was a famine in the land. And Abram went down into Egypt to
    sojourn there, for the famine was sore in the land.”

    As the verse above says, Abram decided not to stay put in his new homeland. Instead, he packed up the
    family and headed to Egypt.

    Abravanel poses a question. Would it have been preferable to withstand the famine and rough it until
    the crisis passed? Fortitude in the face of dire straits is not as farfetched as it may seem. Faith in the One
    Above, especially in mortal danger, does more than build character. Is it not a religious imperative?
    Certainly, King David believed it so, as he writes in psalms: “Behold, the eyes of God are upon those who
    fear Him, upon those who hope in His steadfast love.”

    Let us be clear. It was God Who sent Abram away from home in the first place, entrusting him with a
    sacred task in Canaan. Surely, divine salvation would watch over Abram in the Holy Land, and ward off
    the pangs of a killer famine.

    Abravanel wasn’t the only one to raise an eyebrow over Abram’s decision to leave Canaan in search of
    greener pastures in Egypt. One commentator went further. He impugned Abram’s judgment,
    characterizing the move as a woeful sin. Abravanel writes that the criticism of Abram was unfair and
    uncalled for.

    Notwithstanding, Abravanel does ask: Was Abram’s departure from Canaan wrong, sinful? What was he
    thinking?

    Here is Abravanel’s approach. It provides Bible students with a peak into Abram’s logic.

    • Abram believed that the divine commandment to dwell in the Holy Land did not categorically
      ban going to Egypt for good cause, such as engaging in commerce or other weighty
      considerations. The patriarch presumed it alright, based on his understanding of the
      commandment. Hence, a short jaunt beyond Canaan’s borders did not present a problem, an
      infringement of God’s will. Abram would return to his new home the moment the famine
      passed. This attitude, Abravanel teaches, had been prevalent among “Israelis.” Namely, they
      were accustomed to attend to business outside of the land, and then return to it after they
      wrapped up their commercial affairs. For Abravanel, Abram’s conduct was perfectly reasonable
      insofar as he acted with what he believed to be something acceptable in Heaven’s eyes. Put
      succinctly, Abram assumed that the mitzvah to dwell in Israel allowed leeway. The Bible writes
      as much: “And Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was sore in the
      land.”The term “sojourn” suggests a temporary visit and not permanently.
    •  Abram understood that divine commandments come with a qualification or condition.
      Fulfilment of God’s word must bring the believer or adherent a betterment to his lot and
      enhance his life. If, however, compliance with a given commandment brings death, then God
      suspends it. When faced with a raging famine – a clear and present mortal danger – Abram
      reasoned that the conditions were not right to stay put in Canaan. Dying in the Holy Land would
      prove nothing. The Talmudic sages concurred. To paraphrase: If famine plagues a city, run away.
      For Abram, moral clarity dictated that existential threat obliged him to leave Canaan. God, the
      patriarch thought, would approve the temporary move, with the intention to return when the
      threat subsided. “For the famine was sore in the land.” Necessity forced Abram’s departure. In
      extreme circumstances, the Maker allows for dispensation.

    There was another compelling reason for Abram to leave Canaan and go to Egypt. Please see
    Abravanel’s World Abravanel’s Worldto learn more.

     

  • Bible Studies : Genesis Chapter 16 Ishmael

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

    “And the angel of God said unto her: Behold you are with child, and shall
    bear a son. And you shall call his name Ishmael, because God has
    heard your affliction. And he shall be a wild ass of a man. His hand shall
    be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall
    dwell in the face of all his brethren.”

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. Earlier in Genesis, Bible students read of God’s promises to Abram. The patriarch heard
    that he would be the father to many nations, and that his descendants would inherit Canaan. Yet,
    Abram and Sarai grew older and older, with no children in sight.

    In Chapter 16, things come to a head. Sarai senses that she is reproductively impaired. Ten years in the
    Holy Land brought no boost to the couple’s fertility. Still no babies.

    Sarai came up with a strategy. She pleaded with Avram to wed Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian handmaid.
    Perhaps, Sarai hoped, Hagar would have a child. Sarai would help raise him. In that way, Sarai would do
    her part in participating in the fulfilment of Heaven’s plan.

    After repeated requests from Sarai, Abram acceded to Sarai’s pleas. Abram married Hagar, and she
    conceived. Verses tell us that Hagar also grew conceited. She looked down on Sarai. The domestic scene
    between Sarai and Hagar became more than just sticky; it was toxic.

    Abram’s two wives couldn’t get along. At all. Strife tore the patriarch’s family apart. Hagar ran away.
    While wandering in the adjacent desert, an angel of God appeared to Hagar. Several communications
    passed between them. See the verses quoted above.

    Abravanel focuses, among other things, on the son that Hagar would soon bear: Ishmael. What will
    become of him, Abravanel asks. Bible aficionados believe the answer to be a simple one, as per the
    verse: “And he shall be a will ass of a man.” Clearly, the description of Ishmael as a “wild ass” is not open
    to interpretation, we would think.

    Readers will be surprised by Abravanel’s approach, one that paints Ishmael, the patriarch’s first son, in a
    positive light. Here is how:

    The angel of God chided Hagar for leaving the creature comforts of home. He told her, in so many
    words, to return to Abram and Sarai, come what may. Among the arguments that the angel put forth to
    coax Hagar back was one of environment. What will she gain for her or her son should she decide to
    adopt a nomadic existence, traipsing from wilderness to wilderness? Is a barren desert any place to live,
    let alone raise a son?

    If Hagar was to call the desert home, then the prospects would be bleak, said the angel of God. Do you
    want to raise your son, he continued, to be a societal outcast? Do you think it’s in Ishmael’s best
    interests to grow up without social skills, uncouth and uncivilized? In this manner, did the angel bring
    about a change in Hagar’s heart.

    To be sure, Abravanel uses finesse, with a stress on intonation: “And shall he be a wild ass of a man?”
    Abravanel reads the verse rhetorically, as we have translated it.

    The angel of God threatened that undesirable outcome, if Hagar relocated to the desert. Next, the angel
    from above showed how Hagar could opt for a better life for her and her son, predicating it on her
    return to Abram’s and Sarai’s holy household.

    “His hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him…” These are the angel’s words
    should Hagar take the high road home. The angels expressed the following. To the question, “And shall
    he be a wild ass of a man” came the answer from above. NO!

    “His hand shall be against every man.” It means that Ishmael will be cultured. He will develop healthy
    ties with his fellow man. He’ll be cultured. Moreover, the verse teaches that he’ll conduct commerce
    with others, partnering up with them. Finally, the angel foretells that Ishmael, in time, will be close with
    his half-brothers (children born to Abraham and Keturah).

    Based onAbravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan

  • Bible Studies : The Flood

    Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
    time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
    offering enduring interpretations of the Bible. In Genesis chapter 7, the Bible details and describes the flood that wiped clean an
    entire planet, after repeated Heavenly warnings fell on deaf ears.

    “And the flood was forty days upon the earth. And the waters increased,
    and lifted up the ark. And it was carried above the earth. And the waters
    prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth. And the ark went upon
    the face of the waters.”

    In the chapter that conveys how Heaven unleashed the great flood, Abravanel notes the redundancies.
    Multiple verses appear to go over the same material – “increasing waters” and “prevailing waters” etc.
    He asks: Wouldn’t it suffice to write of these things once?

    Abravanel introduces his answer after he wryly remarks that other Biblical commentators attempt, in
    vain, to get the right read. They fail to adequately explain the reason why the verses repeat key terms
    pertaining to the flood. The best these commentators could come up was literary license and emphasis.
    Namely, increasing and prevailing waters claimed the lives of every single inhabitant of the world, the
    lone exceptions being the passengers on Noah’s ark.

    Bible 101 presumes this: Holy Writ does not waste words. No verbiage. Each word, each letter serves a
    purpose. Indeed, they impart divine knowledge. Working with that assumption, Abravanel provides a
    rationale for the seeming redundancy of this chapter’s description of increasing and prevailing waters. In
    addition, Abravanel explains why the Bible seems to repeat itself when the chapter turns to outlining
    the carnage.

    “And all flesh perished that moved upon the earth, both fowl, and cattle…and every man. He blotted out
    every living substance…and they were blotted out from the earth. And only Noah was left, and they who
    were with him in the ark.”

    Abravanel spells things out. God’s flood obliterated the planet. The Creator desired to give the world a
    thorough scrubbing from its moral turpitude and stench. Earth was sorely needful of a redo. Water
    would do the job. “Living substance” in the verse above does not narrowly refer to living beings. Instead,
    it takes on a broader scope. Specifically, according to Abravanel, “living substance” takes into account
    nature at large, including majestic and mighty trees, vast forests and jungles.

    “Living substance” means more. It refers to urban and societal accessories, institutions, and
    achievements. They all came crumbling down, the sprawling palaces, neighborhoods, and cities.
    Needless to say, even the more modest and makeshift structures like cattle sheds and nests made of
    sticks met their end, no differently than “impenetrable” city walls and “impregnable” defense systems.
    In a word, whatever had any association whatsoever with the “living” melted away, vanished in flood
    waters.

    When the deluge receded, not a trace of life stood in its former place. As the Talmudic sages taught:
    Even household implements like mortar and pestle disappeared, gone for good. “He blotted out every
    living substance…and they were blotted out from the earth. And only Noah was left, and they who were
    with him in the ark.”

    In sum, Abravanel teaches how our chapter alludes to the annihilation of a world gone awry. God had,
    after dispatching Noah to warn people, resolved to vanquish His creation. From its most intricate and
    majestic forms to its most jejune and rudimentary parts – all were swept away in a maelstrom. Each
    verse lent additional information, and imagery, about the utter ruin to befall an expendable world.

    Based onAbravanel’s World of Torah, by Zev Bar Eitan

  • Bible Studies :The Covenant with Abram

    The Covenant with Abram

    “And when Abram was ninety-nine-years-old, God appeared to Abram
    and said unto him: I am God Almighty. Walk before Me and be
    wholehearted. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and
    will multiply you exceedingly…This is My covenant, which you shall keep
    between Me and you and your seed after you. Every male among you
    shall be circumcised.”

    Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
    time. In Genesis chapter 17, God once again appears to Abram. However, this time was
    different, notes Abravanel. The commentator asks: Of all the divine communications with the patriarch,
    why does only this one peg the prophecy to Abram’s age? “And when Abram was ninety-nine-years-old,
    God appeared to Abram.”

    Further, Abravanel observes that if the point was to inform us that Abram was a nonagenarian, it would
    not make sense. Why? That information will be conveyed at the end of our chapter: “And Abraham was
    ninety-nine-years-old when he was circumcised…”

    In chapter 15, the Bible recorded an earlier covenant between the Creator and the patriarch. It taught
    Abram that his progeny would flourish. The patriarch accepted the joyous news wholeheartedly, a
    reaction that God attributed to Abram’s piety: “And he believed in God, and He counted it to him for
    righteousness.”Shortly afterward, Ishmael was born to Abram.

    Abram believed that the divine promise was coming to fruition. Ishmael would carry the patriarch’s
    legacy and take title to the Holy Land. At present, in our chapter, God appears to Abram. The message
    would disabuse the patriarch of his misunderstanding.

    Abravanel elaborates. God’s message came in the form of a divine commandment. The patriarch needed
    to undergo circumcision. “Every male among you shall be circumcised.”This informed Abram that the
    sacred act of circumcision was an integral component of the covenant. It paved the way to producing a
    Holy Nation. Children born to a circumcised father started conception, and life, on the right foot.

    The Creator clarified matters more when He announced to Abraham later in chapter 16: “But My
    covenant will I establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear unto you at this set time in the next year.”
    Note the progression in our chapter.

    The first patriarch underwent a name change from Abram to Abraham, the matriarch Sarai became
    Sarah. These were precursors to the commandment to undergo circumcision, an additional preparation
    preceding the birth of Isaac – from holy and pure Abraham and Sarah.

    An emerging picture took shape and the patriarch grasped its intent. That is, Abraham understood his
    miscalculation. Not Ishmael but rather Isaac would be the patriarch’s exclusive progeny to enter into the
    Abrahamic covenant and take possession of the Holy Land.

    Why? It is because Ishmael had been born prior to his Abraham’s circumcision (and name change). In
    spiritual jargon, these events were profoundly significant; they were game-changers. Both requisite
    preparatory steps brought the patriarch to higher levels, facilitating his ability to better commune with
    the Creator. In stark contrast was Isaac’s conception and birth, circumstances that carried mystique.

    In sum, Isaac would solely carry his father’s mantle to civilization insofar as the miracle baby entered the
    world with a halo, figuratively of course, that bespoke his hallowed spiritual readiness. As for Ishmael,
    only the mundane marked his welcome into Abram’s and Hagar’s household.

  • 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 and Classic Bible Commentary: Angels

    “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”

    Introduction to Angelology and Abarbanel

    Throughout his groundbreaking Biblical commentaries, Don Isaac Abravanel (also spelled Abarbanel)
    (1437-1508) writes extensively on angels. This should not come as a surprise. After all, angels or
    heavenly facilitators played and continue to play significant roles in heaven and on earth. What is
    surprising, Abravanel asks, is this: Given that of all God’s creations, angels rate topnotch. Why is the
    creation of them not mentioned here?

    Many classic commentators, among them Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rabbi Bachya, Ralbag and of course, the
    Talmudic sages, have put forth their respective reasons for the apparent and glaring void in the Torah.
    Abravanel sought a simple answer to this key question. He writes that he did not find it among the
    ancient sages or classic commentators.

    Below is Abravanel’s approach to and explanation for a lack of verses discussing the creation of angels.
    “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.” The Torah’s opening verses do not encompass a
    narrative featuring all of the higher and lower creations, those that are simple or essential, nor those
    that are composites of other creations. Instead, “In the beginning…”, teaches that when the Almighty
    created His world out of nothing, there initially existed what we may call a blob. Everything was jumbled
    and clumped together. Celestials and planets, sun and moon, as well as other more complex creations,
    had not been defined, let alone formed. To be sure, that was also the original state of what would later
    become angels, wholly, non-corporeal beings.

    We circle back to Abravanel’s question concerning angels. Where in the creation story do we read about
    angels being created? “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.” According to Abravanel, in an
    in-depth essay about the Torah’s lead verse, he learns that the word “heaven” alludes to angels or
    heavenly facilitators, among other creations. Furthermore, Abravanel asserts that a close reading of the
    words of the midrash corroborates his opinion.

    Based on Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan

  • 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
    friend.

    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
    them.”
    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”
    justice.

    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.”

  • Bible Studies: Abraham and Keturah

    Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
    time. Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 25, Abraham marries again. For Abravanel, the patriarch’s decision to
    take a wife is more than baffling, it’s disturbing. That is because, at first glance, it seems so out of
    character.

    “And Abraham took another wife, and her name was Keturah. And she
    bore him Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and
    Shuah.”

    Abravanel shares his cognitive dissonance, let us call it. The patriarch was on in years, well on. We would
    expect him to devote the limited time left to study and meditation, to commune with his Maker.

    But there’s more to the strange turn of events surrounding his nuptials. Keturah was much, much
    younger than Abraham, young enough to bear him children, as is written. “And she bore him Zimran,
    and Jokshan, and Medan…”Abravanel, of course, intends to flesh out the holy patriarch’s decision.

    For a starting premise, and to be blunt, Abravanel rules out sexual motives, namely that the patriarch
    experienced a yearning for spousal intimacy. Absurd.

    Below Bible students will find several intriguing reasons to explain Abraham’s conduct. For brevity, we
    list two here. Please see Abravanel’s World for the full treatment of this counterintuitive, albeit telling
    story. It will stimulate lively Bible study discussion and show how Abraham’s determination to marry
    youthful Keturah bespoke purpose and moral clarity.

    Earlier in Genesis, God had promised the patriarch: “But your name shall be Abraham, for the father of a
    multitude of nations have I made you. And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of
    you, and kings shall come out of you.”The divine message presaged that Avraham would father many
    and multitudinous progeny. By marrying Keturah, and having many children with her, it would set the
    scene for God’s blessed tidings to come to fruition.

    Here is a second rationale. When Abraham reached one hundred, God commanded him to undergo
    circumcision. Together with the commandment, the patriarch received a prophecy. That is, the aged
    Abraham would become a father. The Bible records his reaction: “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and
    laughed, and said in his heart, shall a child be born unto him that is a hundred years old?”Incredulous.

    After Abraham fulfilled the divine commandment to undergo circumcision, change took place. He was
    strengthened, invigorated. So much so that in his late years, he married Keturah. With her, he fathered
    six children. “But they that wait for God shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with the wings of eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”The prophet Isiah penned these words; Abraham epitomized them.

    As stated, Abravanel writes four additional rationales to explain Abraham’s choice to marry. Taken as a
    whole, Bible students are the richer for it. They portray Abraham’s spiritual awareness and unwavering
    service to God.

     

  • Bible Studies: Abraham's Transformation

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

    In Genesis chapter 18, God once again appears to Abraham.

    “And God appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat by
    the tent door in the heat of the day.”

    Abravanel notes the peculiar aspects surrounding this prophecy. That is, readers receive minutiae that
    don’t seem to hold much relevance. In order to sharpen Bible student’s minds, Abravanel peppers them
    with questions.

    •  Why is venue important – “by the terebinths of Mamre.”
    •  Why is Abraham’s body posture significant – “as he sat by the tent door.”
    •  Why is the climactic condition newsworthy – “in the heat of the day.”

    Abravanel wonders what it all means. Does location provide vital clues? Are Bible students any smarter
    by knowing that prophecy came to the patriarch in Mamre, and not in a different hamlet?

    In addition, Abravanel asks about the verse supplying readers with Abraham’s sitting position by his
    tent’s entrance. And if he reclined inside his house, or on a chair or sofa, would it make an iota of a
    difference? Or if he sat under a tree in his garden instead of his patio?

    Next for Abravanel, he questions: What do we gain by knowing that the patriarch sat down? If he was
    lying on his back, and not sitting, are we on to something earth-shattering? Finally, does it even
    remotely matter that it was hot outside? And if it was a rainstorm, do we better grasp the unfolding
    scene?

    Students get the drift of Abravanel’s pounding questions. Now he supplies answers. Actually, Abravanel
    says, these painstaking details are very important. They tell us of Abraham’s transformation, informing
    students of the sea-change in the way that the patriarch embraced his Maker.

    Abravanel clarifies. Actually, he relies on Maimonides to address the patriarchs’ metamorphoses.

    Maimonides holds that the three patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) constantly occupied themselves
    with the Almighty. Said differently, it means that they kept God constantly in focus. Even while they
    performed day-to-day affairs, they kept their God tab open, in a manner of speaking. By infusing the
    Divine into their mundane chores or habits, they sensed Him in tangible and intangible ways.

    This requires more explanation. When Abraham, for example, applied God to eating time, it was the
    patriarch’s method to elevate food to the point where mealtime became an exercise in godliness.
    Abravanel illustrates the point from our verse. “And God appeared unto him by the terebinths of
    Mamre, as he sat by the tent in the heat of the day.”

    Before Abraham underwent circumcision, when the Creator appeared to him, we find that the intense
    experiences felled him; he dropped to his feet. Moreover, the patriarch also had to prepare himself
    through seclusion and quiet and meditation – far from the hustle and bustle of his daily life’s routine. He
    had to still his senses. Nighttime was most apt, when quiet reigned.

    After the patriarch’s circumcision, that all changed. Abraham could channel prophecy, and stand his
    ground. How is this deduced from the verse just quoted? For Abravanel, “the heat of the day”does not
    refer to the temperature outside. Rather, it suggests a general time of day (morning) when folks
    heatedly rush hither and thither – off to work etc. Rush hour madness. Even in his hometown of Mamre
    where his business beckoned him, he communed with God. Even when he sat on his house’s stoop, and
    passersby bellowed and brawled, he sensed stillness.

    The patriarch had been transformed by his circumcision. It religiously charged him. That, in a nutshell, is
    precisely why our verse writes in such detail concerning Abraham’s prophecy.

    Indeed, the patriarch entered his Creator’s holy space while the world around him blared loudly and
    boisterously, honking and hawking during the day’s rush hour.


PRAISE FOR THE WORK

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
An interpretive reading in crisp, contemporary English.... [An] important contribution.
Yitzchok Adlerstein
Rabbi; cofounder, Cross Currents
Rabbi Zev Bar Eitan has embarked on a very ambitious project to make Abarbanel accessible to all Jews regardless of background. Baruch Hashem, he has succeeded admirably.
Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz
Rav, Kehillat Ohr Somayach
In clear, straightforward language…Bar Eitan opens the Abravanel’s world of complex ideas to the layman in a way that it has not been opened before. Highly recommended.
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin
Past President, Rabbinical Council of America; author, Unlocking the Torah Text and Unlocking the Haggada
Rabbi Zev Bar-Eitan…has achieved a rendition of the Abravanel which will enable all English readers to comprehend the depths and innovativeness of the original Hebrew text.
Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff
Professor of Rabbinic Literature, Caroline and Joseph S. Gruss Institute, Yeshiva University
In an accessible and flowing language accompanied by a variety of visual aids, Abravanel is presented to the English reader in all his glory. [An] illuminative commentary.
Rachelle Fraenkel
Torah educator, Midrashot Nishmat and Matan
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
London
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.
Michael
New Jersey