• Abravanel’s World of Torah

    Abravanel’s World of Torah

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


  • 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

  • Introduction to the Book of Exodus

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

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

  • Parashat Beshalach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  • Parashat Bo: An Excerpt

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

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

    God knew differently…’

     Page 172 Sinai Rules by Zev Bar Eitan

  • Parshat Mishpatim : An Excerpt

    "In sum, tight linkage between the Utterances (10 Commandments) and accompanying laws convincingly persuades readers that Parashat Mishpatim conveys divine directives unlike any manmade moral code."

    Shemot: Sinai Rules, page 464

  • Prophets and Prophecy


    “And I appeared unto Avraham, unto Yitzchak, and unto Yaakov, as God

    Almighty, but by My name [Hashem] I made Me not known to them.”  Parashat Va’era, First Aliyah

    Classic commentators struggled to make sense of our verse. Some hold that it means that God had not
    revealed Himself to them via the Ineffable name. Others posit that Hashem made promises to them, but
    did not fulfil them. Both positions are weak, as we shall now demonstrate.
    The first school missed the mark because the Torah writes that God, in His Ineffable name, did
    communicate with Avraham. In one instance, the Ineffable name entered into a covenant with Avraham
    (in Hebrew the brit bein ha’betarim). On a separate occasion, the Ineffable name commanded Avraham
    to undergo circumcision or brit milah. Both verses are explicit.
    There are more: “And He said unto him: I am God…”, “And Avram called there on the name of God”, and
    “And, behold, God stood beside him and said: I am God…” Here we have proof that the Maker revealed
    Himself to the patriarchs by way of the Ineffable name.


    The second school falls short, for God fulfilled His promises to the patriarchs. It presupposed that He
    conveyed an oath that they would inherit the Holy Land in their lifetimes. That is a blatant misstatement.
    God never uttered such a thing. He did foretell, though, that the fourth generation of Hebrews
    sojourning in a foreign land would emerge to liberate, and take possession of, Israel.
    Other divine promises were made for the patriarchs’ lifetimes, and kept. To Avraham, He foretold that
    he would father children. And he did. Similarly, to Yitzchak and Yaakov, God extended promises.
    Promises were kept, as we read in those parshiyot pertaining to Yitzchak and Yaakov.
    One last clarification for the classic Biblical commentators. They argued that God had not performed
    miracles for the patriarchs along the lines that He had done for Moshe. For their proof, they bring the
    example of turning Moshe’s staff into a snake. Or another example of something supernatural that the
    Creator did for Moshe was the wonder of the prophet’s hand becoming leprous, and then hale again.
    We beg to differ. Actually, God generously dispensed miracles to the patriarchs. To begin with, Avraham
    was saved from Ur Kasdim’s clutches. Being rescued, unscathed, from Pharoah’s lusty play for Sarai also
    ranks as major. Later, the first patriarch experienced supernatural assistance from the Holy One with
    Sedom and Gemorrah, culminating in a successful mission to rescue Lot, against all odds. Or what about
    Lot’s wife’s punishment? She morphed into a pillar of salt. Given this raft of believe-it-or-not wonders,
    who can put forth that God had not performed prodigiously for the patriarchs, as He had with Moshe at
    this early stage in his career as a seer?


    We now turn and suggest what amounts to a truer read of our verse. Backdrop is essential. At the time
    when God reached out to Moshe, both he and nation had grown disillusioned over the prospect of ever
    gaining freedom from Egyptian taskmasters. Centuries of exile stripped slaves of their faith, relegating
    redemption or geulah to no more than a quixotic pipe dream of yesteryear. “For since I came to Pharoah
    to speak in Your name…”
    The Maker disabused the prophet of a mindset maligned by despair. Geulah, the prophet heard at
    present, was a foregone conclusion. It would absolutely come to fruition for multiple reasons. For
    brevity, we bring only the first rationale.


    What is the simple reading or pshat on our verse? Let us focus on divine communication, from the
    perspective of Hashem. He had not revealed Himself to the patriarchs in a manner by which they could
    know Him. God’s messages had come via an intermediary, and not directly or panim el panim.
    While it is true that those non-physical intermediators received their dispatches from Above, still and all,
    an intimate peek into God remained blocked. A barrier held the patriarchs at bay. When we review the
    verse, inserting the Hebrew names for God, we gain clarity: “And I appeared…as Kel Shakai, but by My
    name [Hashem], I made Me not known to them.”
    The verse informs us of a distance or gap separating the patriarchs and Hashem. Divine communication
    had been carried out via Kel Shakai’s angelic messengers. And yes, even on occasion, the
    communication had come about through His name – Hashem. Crucial is this. Intimacy or panim el panim
    had never been granted to the patriarchs.
    This was about to change. Geulah absolutely had to transpire (That was God’s solemn oath.). While in
    the desert, redemption would enable Moshe and every single Hebrew access or entrée to God – directly
    – each according to their spiritual preparedness and piety. Read: panim el panim (face to face). Said intimacy opens up
    avenues to know God’s glory and exaltedness. The patriarchs never attained panim el panim, their
    prophecies a notch below. In sum, a sea-change was in the offing, since God sought to upgrade His
    relationship with the Jews. For that to happen, geulah became more than an expedient; it became a



An outstanding translation of the fascinating commentary by the last of the Spanish greats.
Rabbi Berel Wein
A major contribution to Torah literature.
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Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles
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