• 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.

Bible studies

  • 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

  • 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

    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 : 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

    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 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 : Genesis

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508), also spelled Abarbanel was a penetrating Jewish thinker, scholar, and
    prolific Biblical commentator. In Genesis chapter 3, he explains one of the Bible’s more puzzling and
    curious narratives featuring a cunning and talking snake. Some English translations refer to it as a
    “subtle serpent.” Be that as it may, Bible readers need to understand this chapter. This blog provides a
    thoughtful approach to Genesis chapter 3 in particular, and Bible study in general.

    “Now the snake was more wily than any beast of the field…”

    Abravanel begins chapter 3 with questions.

    • Who informed the snake of God’s command to Adam, namely that he should not eat fruit from
      the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Was the snake a prophet or a sorcerer to divine
      Heaven’s message to Adam?
    •  How did Eve understand the snake’s communications, its hissing? Was Eve a snake whisperer,
      attuned to the language of snakes (or other animals)?
    • Did the snake use body language or gestures to convey ideas – a wink of the eye or the crossing
      of its legs, snapping of its fingers? If so, was Eve adept at deciphering such non-verbal

    Abravanel takes to task those commentators who have put forth such silly notions. Hogwash. Animals
    lack the intelligence to transmit such highly sophisticated communications. Abravanel also argues with
    his predecessors who posit that in the beginning of time, snakes possessed different traits and abilities.

    No, snakes were not created to stand upright and speak. No, the Garden of Eden snake was not Satan,
    disguised as a serpent. Finally, Abravanel disagrees with those who submit that our verse cannot be
    taken at face value, but rather that the snake symbolizes nature etc.

    Here is Abravanel’s approach. This lays out the authentic foundation of the snake narrative. The snake
    did not speak to Eve, nor did Eve speak to the snake. Obviously enough, serpents cannot speak. To wit,
    we don’t find a verse alerting us to the impossible or miraculous. Nowhere is it written here: “God
    opened the mouth of the snake…” Contrast that with Numbers 22:28. There readers find that the
    Almighty opened the mouth of the donkey. When Bible students do find an explicit verse preparing
    readers for highly unusual (miraculous) events, we accept it as literal, because the Bible prompts us to
    switch mental gears, if you like. We have entered the realm of the marvelous.

    No such heads-up is written with the snake, and so we must conclude that this snake did not open its
    mouth nor did it speak to Eve. No miracles. No wonders.

    Abravanel learns that this is what transpired. Eve observed the snake slithering up the tree of knowledge
    of good and evil. She further watched it eat the knowledge fruit. The snake munched and munched and
    munched. Strange, Eve thought to herself: “the snake didn’t die. It didn’t even get sick from the
    forbidden fruit.”

    Projecting, Eve said to herself, as if conversing with the snake: “Look at you. You climb up the tree of
    knowledge and you eat freely of it. Yet nothing happens. You didn’t get sick and die.”

    So, while it’s true that the verses appear to convey a “he said she said” dialogue, no such conversation
    took place. Other examples in the Bible also suggest dialogue, but really are man’s (or in this case
    woman’s) musings.

    Eve convinced herself to eat forbidden fruit and share it with Adam. Dire consequence followed. The
    rest is history…

    Genesis 3:1

    Based onAbravanel’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

    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.”

  • Bible Studies: Cain and Abel

    “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground…”

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

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 4, the Bible introduces Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s first two sons.
    Though little is explicit concerning Cain’s motive for taking Abel’s life, Abravanel plumbs Cain’s psyche.
    His observations build a case to help solve the murder mystery.

    Abravanel asks: Why did Abel choose to become a shepherd even though his older brother Cain was a
    tiller of the soil? Farmer Cain, logically enough, decided to tend crops so to put food on the table. Yet,
    Abel raised livestock – at a juncture when early man was not permitted to eat beef or mutton. Raising
    cattle or sheep that cannot be consumed piques curiosity.

    Abravanel probes further. As for the two brothers’ diverse occupations, the Bible clearly favors Abel’s
    form of livelihood. How do we know? It is because the verse gives Abel first billing, despite the fact that
    Cain was his elder: “And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground…”

    Now we turn to Abravanel’s answers that will expand the discussion. Cain committed fratricide because
    he feared not God. In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, the Maker
    pronounced Adam’s punishment: “Cursed is the ground for your sake.” Cain’s choice of vocation speaks
    volumes. More than just insensitive to God’s pronouncement, Cain was nonchalant and defiant. On
    future challenges and hardships associated with agriculture, God said: “Thorns also thistles shall it bring
    forth to you.”Conceited, Cain cared not a fig about such utterances. He thought that his ingenuity and
    resourcefulness would neutralize Heaven’s curse, rendering it irrelevant.

    Abel, on the other hand, was a shepherd. Animal husbandry reveals a certain personality, one that
    delights in controlling others; he governs them. In bio hierarchy, animals notch a rung higher or more
    sophisticated than plant life. Readying himself to rule over man, Abel first honed his political acumen on

    Thus far in Abravanel’s analysis of Cain and Abel, we have focused on their respective vocations. Both
    choices – farming and shepherding – convey a deeper story vis-à-vis Abravanel’s understanding of the
    verses. The main thing to takeaway is this: Neither Cain or Abel displayed interest or awareness of God.

    Abravanel makes another important point about Cain and Abel. In Hebrew, Kain shares a cognate with
    the verb liknot, meaning to acquire. Cain desired to grow wealthy and acquire things with the profits he
    would turn from his farming business. Mammon can distract ethical pursuits.

    Abel in Hebrew is ‘hevel.’ It conveys that which is fleeting and illusory. To be sure, Abel’s choice of work
    portrays a man with grandiose notions, and political aspirations. Heaven frowns and disapproves of
    upon such ephemeral focus.

    In sum, Abravanel develops personality theory from the scant number of verses in our chapter. Neither
    Adam or Eve’s first two sons showed a religious bent. Occupation with worldly affairs stoked their
    passions. Hence, they and their descendants were expendable. When the great flood hit with a
    vengeance, that line of Adam and Eve’s would be obliterated.

    Seth was the couple’s third son. A truth seeker. Of noble bearing and upright character, his descendants
    would, in time, carry God’s word and message to the world.

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

    Genesis Chapter 4


  • Bible Studies: Enoch’s inner struggle

    “Enoch lived 65 years, and he had a son Methuselah. Enoch walked
    with God for 300 years after he had Methuselah, and he had sons and
    daughters. All of Enoch’s years were 365 years. Enoch walked with God,
    and he was no more because God had taken him.”

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

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 5, the Bible provides a sketch of Enoch, albeit an enigmatic one.
    Abravanel’s portrayal of Enoch adds much to our understanding of Enoch’s conflicted soul, as we shall
    now see.

    Abravanel begins by comparing verses pertaining to Enoch and Noah, both exemplary men described as
    individuals who “walked with God.” He asks: Why does Enoch’s verse praising him tack on mention of
    Methuselah: “Enoch walked with God after he had Methuselah”, yet Noah’s verse does not, as it says:
    “Noah walked with God"?

    Furthermore, why does the Bible use puzzling language to convey Enoch’s death: “And he was no more
    because God had taken him?”Wouldn’t it suffice to simply say that Enoch died?

    Abravanel answers these questions, and by so doing, gives Bible students key insights into Enoch’s inner
    struggles to keep the faith.

    To properly understand Enoch, Bible students need to first assess from whom he descended. Who was
    his father, grandfather, great-grandfather etc.? Abravanel traces ten generations of righteous
    personalities, starting with Adam leading to Noah. Each one, in his own unique way, served the Maker.
    These men put God front and center, as far as their principles and conduct was concerned.

    The Bible points out that each of these truth seekers set their minds and souls to learning God’s ethos,
    His values. Consequently, they delayed marriage until they were older and religiously mature. Enoch
    deviated from his ancestors’ precedence, marrying much younger than his illustrious forebears.

    This suggests, Abravanel writes, a less than flattering observation about “young” Enoch. He was sex
    crazed. That explains why he ran headlong into marriage so early, unlike his noble predecessors.

    After Enoch’s marriage and after his son Methuselah was born, Enoch regrouped. He found God. See
    Abravanel’s World to learn about the driving force behind Enoch’s transformation. Laudably, Enoch
    served his Creator. “Enoch walked with God for 300 years after he had Methuselah…”In a word, Enoch
    reinvented himself.

    But, he also remained with his wife, begetting sons and daughters. Compare Enoch’s family life with
    Adam’s. Abravanel teaches that after Adam fathered Cain and Abel, he temporarily separated from Eve
    for purposes of realigning his goals, putting his life in order – alone.

    In brief, we have outlined Enoch’s inner struggles. On the one hand, he aspired to Godliness, while on
    the other hand he sought spousal intimacy. Heaven looked down on Enoch’s conflicted soul, and had
    mercy: “And he was no more because God had taken him.”

    Genesis Chapter 5

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


  • Bible Studies: God Speaks to Man

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 13, the Bible reiterates divine promises previously made to Abram in
    an earlier chapter. Here again, God tells Abram that his progeny will wax prolific, and that they will
    inherit the Holy Land.

    “And God said unto Abram, after Lot separated from him: Lift up your
    eyes, and look from the place where you are – northward and southward
    and eastward and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I
    give it, and to your seed forever. And I will make your seed as the dust of
    the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall
    your seed also be numbered.”

    Abravanel wants to get a read on the reason why the Creator repeats both divine promises, essentially
    the same message that He already communicated with Abram. Further, Abravanel compares the
    language of the two divine communiqués. He finds that the second time around goes into far greater
    detail than the terse, first prophecy.

    Abravanel’s answer educates Bible students. Readers will not only learn why there is a repeat of the
    prophecies, but they will also become sensitized to a theme Abravanel drives home throughout his
    commentary on the Bible. It is this: prophecy does not come in a vacuum. God speaks to man, assuaging
    his inner turmoil and distress.

    The verse quoted above, then, sets the all-important context. God spoke with Abram after his nephew
    Lot separated from him. Abravanel plumbs the patriarch’s mood, post separation. In a word, the
    patriarch felt forlorn. Years of trial and tribulation together had brought the uncle and nephew
    extremely close; they bonded.

    When Lot bolted, Abram had no other family member remaining with him from his father’s household.
    Despondent, the patriarch received the Creator’s message, one of profound comfort and cheer – he
    would be the patriarch of a burgeoning nation, one whose number can be likened to the dust of the
    earth. More good news – his descendants would inherit the Holy Land.

    For sure, the first divine message carried the same gist, albeit in shorthand. However, after Lot
    abandoned Abram, the Creator sought to gladden a heavy heart. The second, amplified prophecy hit its

    Abravanel brings a second reason that answers why the Bible reiterates the original prophecy delivered to
    Abram.  You can learn about it in Bereshit: Theory of Moral Evolution


  • Bible Studies: Is Meat OK?

    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 9, the Bible turns to diet for Noah, his family, and their progeny. Is
    Scripture biased toward veganism or, at least, vegetarianism?

    “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you, as the green herb
    have I given you all. Only flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood
    thereof, shall you not eat.”

    The verses we have quoted above cannot be more explicit: the Creator gives man license to eat meat;
    it’s kosher. But what changed? God stopped Adam and pre-flood mankind from ingesting animal flesh.
    One Biblical commentator writes that plant life was violently uprooted during the great flood,
    irretrievably so. That commentator isn’t right. God’s green light to Noah should not be viewed as an
    emergency measure, based on a new reality on the ground. It’s just not true. In time, a soggy earth
    would dry and bounce back. Agriculture would be restored to its antediluvian level. Actually, post-flood
    soil was more nutrient rich than prior to the deluge.

    Abravanel explains the diet change by way of a historical sweep. Recall, the Maker transported Adam
    into the Garden of Eden. The place lacked for nothing. Plentiful fruit trees and other yummy edibles
    grew marvelously, as per the verse: “And out of the ground made God Almighty to grow every tree that
    is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” Furthermore, with the exception of the tree of knowledge,
    God welcomed Adam and Eve to enjoy the Garden of Eden’s delights: “And God Almighty commanded
    the man saying, of every tree of the garden you may freely eat.”

    Here is the thing. Though drenched loam had not been permanently ruined during the deluge, it had
    taken a hit, forcing a setback. Neither fruit trees, vineyards, or berry bushes survived high waters. Had
    Noah and family needed to attend to plowing, planting, sowing seeds, and harvesting produce, they
    would have wasted away before gathering and filling their first basket. Recognizing an impending, albeit
    temporary food crisis, God permitted Noah and his family to eat meat.

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

  • Bible Studies: Is the Bible a History Book?

    Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis chapter 10, the Bible chronicles Noah’s children’s progeny – but in fantastic
    shorthand. To be sure, history may be gleaned from the Bible, but it cannot narrowly be called a history
    or historical book. Let us explain, using the verses below as an illustration.

    “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and
    Japheth, and unto them were sons born after the flood….And unto
    Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth,
    to him also were children born.”

    “And Shem, the father of all children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, to him also were children
    born.” Eber was Shem’s great grandson: Shem begot Arpachshad; Arpachshad begot Shelah. Shelah
    fathered Eber. Yet, Scripture makes it sound as if Shem only bore Eber. Abravanel asks: Why do
    Arpachshad and Shelah get short shrift?

    Another thing. Abravanel questions why Holy Writ identifies Shem as Yapheth’s older brother, but fails
    to mention Ham, who also was Shem’s younger brother. In a word, Abravanel wonders why our verse
    appears fragmented or incomplete, as far as Shem’s lineage is concerned. Curious.

    Here is Abravanel’s approach. Shem’s progeny was many. Shem’s family of origin included his two
    siblings, Japheth and Ham. Respectively, their children made up Shem’s extended family.

    Who was Shem? Abravanel posits that he was a devoted truth seeker. Shem’s chiseled soul soared to
    spiritual heights. He dedicated himself to study and upright conduct, surrounding himself with like-
    minded thinkers. Now let us apply this knowledge to our verses, with a focus on this blog’s title: Bible as

    The Bible is not particularly interested in painstakingly chronicling mankind. It is, among other priorities,
    interested in shedding light into personalities, especially saintly ones. As Abravanel ascertains, for Shem,
    Heaven’s values mattered most. Shem’s affinity was reserved for his erudite, great grandson Eber. He
    had less in common with his own son Arpachshad and grandson Shelah. Shem also fawned over Eber’s
    descendants. Soulmates, they explored timeless lessons in hallowed study halls.

    Shem also didn’t have too much time for his brother Ham or his descendants. Let’s just say that their
    lifestyles and choices parted ways. Japheth and Shem, on the other hand, enjoyed brotherhood. Literally
    and figuratively. They found a common language, interests.

    Abravanel reiterates, that Shem favored Eber so much in comparison to Arpachshad and Shelah, it was
    as if they weren’t his son and grandson. As for Shem’s siblings, there is the same model. Namely, Shem’s
    closeness with his brother Japheth dwarfed his relationship with Ham, to the extent that Shem hardly
    related to Ham as kin.

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

  • Bible Studies: Jacob and Esau

    Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
    time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
    offering enduring interpretations of the Bible. Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
    commentator. In Genesis Chapter 33, we read about the long-anticipated reunion of Jacob and Esau.
    Twenty years had elapsed from the time the twins had last seen each other.

    “And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked and behold, Esau came and
    with him four hundred men. And he divided the children unto Leah, and
    unto Rachel, and unto two handmaids…And he himself passed over
    before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he
    came near his brother. And Esau ran to meet him and embraced him,
    and fell on his neck and kissed him. And they wept. And he lifted up his
    eyes and saw the women and children and said, Who are these with
    you? And he said, The children whom God has graciously given your

    The Bible makes Jacob’s conduct before Esau explicit. Unabashedly, the patriarch showed deference to
    his brother, behavior befitting a servant before his master. “And bowed himself to the ground seven
    times until he came near his brother.”

    Abravanel shares his thoughts on the brothers’ encounter. The verses illustrate Jacob’s subservience.
    But, how did Esau receive it? When Esau observed Jacob’s demeaning posture and proper etiquette, he
    softened, or better, melted. “And Esau ran to meet him and embraced him…and kissed him.” Jacob, too,
    choked up. For a stitch in time, sibling hostility dissipated. Brotherliness and affection swept over them,
    filling their hearts. They may have asked themselves why they let so many years pass apart from each

    After the brothers hugged it out, Esau opened the conversation with a question. “And he lifted up his
    eyes and saw the women and children and said, Who are these with you?” Jacob answered, but only
    partially. “And he said, The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”

    Abravanel picked up on Jacob’s evasiveness, as the patriarch only touched upon his children. Why didn’t
    Jacob breathe a word about his wives, as Esau had enquired? Apparently, Esau assumed that some of
    the women and children were Jacob’s, others were not. Perhaps some women and kids were related,
    say cousins.

    Abravanel writes that Jacob didn’t want to open himself up for humiliation. How so? Jacob was reticent
    to tell Esau that he had four wives, lest Esau give his kid brother a rakish, goofy grin before cracking
    ribald remarks. What a paradox! You my righteous and God-fearing brother have four wives! One or
    even two wives don’t suffice? You outdid your evil brother. I only have three wives etc.

    In responding to Esau, the patriarch chose the path of discretion. He pivoted the conversation to his
    children. “And he said, The children whom God has graciously given your servant.”As for the womenfolk
    accompanying Jacob, the patriarch was mum. Thus, Jacob sidestepped Esau’s booby trap.


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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
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
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