• Abravanel’s World of Torah

    Abravanel’s World of Torah

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


  • Parashat 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

  • Parashat Yitro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  • 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


  • The Neglected Prophet

    Parashat Va’era, First Aliyah


    “And Moshe spoke thusly to the Children of Israel but they did not heed Moshe on account of
    exasperation and overexertion.” Work rendered the Hebrews emotionally drained and physically
    overtaxed. They had neither patience nor time for Moshe’s assurances. His words fell on deaf ears.
    Yes, they believed in the shepherd from Midian’s clarion call for deliverance, but these wearied
    workers were essentially oblivious to Moshe’s rousing seminars…”


    Page 103 Shemot vol. I, Sinai Rules
  • The Neglected Prophet: Moses

    "“And Moshe (Moses) spoke thusly to the Children of Israel but they did not heed Moshe on account of
    exasperation and overexertion.” Work rendered the Hebrews emotionally drained and physically
    overtaxed. They had neither patience nor time for Moshe’s assurances. His words fell on deaf ears.
    Yes, they believed in the shepherd from Midian’s clarion call for deliverance, but these wearied

    workers were essentially oblivious to Moshe’s rousing seminars…”

    Page 103 Shemot vol. I, Sinai Rules


An outstanding translation of the fascinating commentary by the last of the Spanish greats.
Rabbi Berel Wein
A major contribution to Torah literature.
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD
A masterful rendition…lucid, free-flowing and interesting.
Rabbi Zev Leff
Rabbi, Moshav Matityahu; Rosh Hayeshiva, Yeshiva Gedola Matityahu
I am perusing Vayikra, Vol. I: The Meat of the Matter, which looks very good and interesting.
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Jacob, Atlanta
Riveting and flowing elucidation of the text simplifies complex ideas leaving the reader readily able to grasp the Abravanel’s inner meaning and purposeful explanation.
Rabbi Meyer H. May
Executive Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museums of Tolerance
Open[s] our eyes and minds to the fascinating world of the Abravanel and his unique way of analyzing the Torah...in a user-friendly commentary.
Rabbi Steven Weil
Senior Managing Director, OU
Zev eminently succeeds in making the awesome wisdom of Don Isaac available to the English-speaking public. We are in Bar Eitan’s debt.
Rabbi Sholom Gold
Founding Rabbi, Kehillat Zichron Yosef, Har Nof
The translation is as beautiful as the original Hebrew and the English reader loses nothing in this excellent rendition.
Rabbi Allen Schwartz
Congregation Ohab Zedek, Yeshiva University
Abravanel needs a redeemer…Bar Eitan takes on this complex task.
Rabbi Gil Student
Student Action
At once a work of scholarship and a treat for the imagination.… Bar Eitan’s Abravanel presents Exodus as great literature, as exciting and gripping as any great Russian novel.
Rabbi Daniel Landes
Rosh Hayeshivah, Machon Pardes
Zev Bar Eitan has an intimate understanding of two characters: Abravanel and the modern reader. He traverses great distance to bring these two together masterfully.
Avraham Steinberg
Rabbi, Young Israel of the Main Line; Rosh Mesivta, Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia
An uncommon treat.… Rabbi Bar Eitan is to be commended for providing an accessible entree to this timeless masterpiece.
Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin
Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation
Relevant and accessible.… Ideal for teachers as well as Yeshiva High School, Ulpana, Yeshiva and Seminary students alike...a wonderful translation... enjoyable reading....
Rachel Weinstein
Tanach Department, Ramaz Upper School, NY
The clear, easy-to-read language and appended notes and illustrations bring the Abravanel to life, for scholars and laymen alike. A great addition to per¬sonal and shul libraries.
Rabbi Yehoshua Weber
Rabbi, Clanton Park Synagogue, Toronto
Of great value to those who have hesitated to tackle this dense, complex work.… Render[s] the Abravanel’s commentary accessible to the modern reader.
Simi Peters
author, Learning to Read Midrash
A gift to the English-speaking audience.… An important “must have” addition to the English Torah library.
Chana Tannenbaum
EdD, lecturer, Bar-Ilan University
The thoughts of a Torah giant over 500 years ago in terminology understand¬able to the modern reader.
Deena Zimmerman
MD, MPH, IBCLC,author; lecturer
Allows the reader the opportunity to see firsthand the brilliance, creativity, and genius of this 15th-century Spanish biblical commentator.
Rabbi Elazar Muskin
Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles
An excellent job bringing to life the profound ideas of one of the most original thinkers in Judaism and making them relevant and interesting 500 years later.
Rabbi Dr. Alan Kimche
Ner Yisrael Community, London
I really enjoyed the volume on Bereishis. It opened my eyes to the profundity of the Abravanel's commentary and for that I am ever grateful to you. I recommend it to all my students here at the University of Arizona who are searching for an in-depth understanding of the Chumash. Thank you very much for all your efforts. I am excited to read the next volumes on Shemos and Vayikra!
Rabbi Moshe Schonbrun
Senior educator, JAC University of Arizona
I’ve really enjoyed reading Abravanel's World of Torah. Abravanel was a great and original thinker whose perspective has broadened my understanding of Torah. Rabbi Bar Eitan presents Abravanel’s thought clearly and lucidly. I highly recommend his work. I’ve also really benefitted from being able to email Rabbi Bar Eitan regarding points where I needed further clarity.
Alistair Halpern
I want to tell you how much I'm absolutely enjoying Abravanel's World: Bereshit. I'm not much of a Torah scholar, but this is wonderful and terrific due to the seamless integration of Abravanel's thought and Bar Eitan's explication. All the kudos in the world. I'm looking forward to you completing the set.
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