Abarbanel’s first Aliyah to Parashat Tzav, an excerpt from Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan
“And God spoke to Moses saying: Command Aaron and his sons saying. This is the law of the burnt offering…”
‘Recall that in the earlier section of Leviticus, Moses addressed the Hebrew general assembly. That was because the section dealt with and focused on categories of the populace needing to bring sacrifices. In contrast, here the Torah highlights Aaron and his sons, as Moses instructed them in proper procedures. After all, they were entrusted with officiating in the Tabernacle. Some tasks were performed by Aaron the High Priest, while others were done by Aaron’s sons. They were subordinate to him. “Command Aaron and his sons.”
Abarbanel’s introduction to Leviticus based on Abravanel’s World of Torah by Zev Bar Eitan
“And God called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the Tent of Meeting. Speak unto the Children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you brings an offering unto God, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or of the flock.”
In the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra), Abravanel lays out his lengthiest introduction of any of the Torah’s five Books of Moses. (Interestingly, some books have no prefatory remarks whatsoever.) Naturally, this presents a blogger, who is intent to keep blogs short, with a pickle. Our solution is to present below a sampling or taste of this important prolegomenon.
Genesis (Bereshit) of the divine Torah tells about the creation of the world ex nihilo. Readers also learn about the roots of mankind and the first generations. We also read about the lives of the saintly Jewish patriarchs, culminating with Jacob and his family descending into Egypt.
In the Book of Exodus (Shemot) the Torah conveys how Egyptians manhandled the Hebrews, against a backdrop of exile and enslavement. Centuries of misery concluded with God’s redemption of His chosen ones, Moses and Aaron playing lead roles. Miracles a many accompanied the Jews in Egypt and at the Red Sea. The desert trek, too, played a venue to wonders.
And then came Sinai. There the entire nation experienced full-blown prophecy. From the mouth of the Maker, they received the Torah and commandments. Folly followed; the people sinned egregiously when they fashioned a calf of gold. How was catharsis achieved?
When the Hebrews built the Tabernacle, to house the mystical Shechinah(the presence of God) and spread divine providence in their midst, Heaven’s cloud swathed the encampment. Specifically, the cloud covered the Tent; God’s glory permeated the Tabernacle.
This brings us to the Torah’s third book – the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra). It explains the service of the Tabernacle. We learn how the priests or Kohanim served the Creator, service that helped the Holy People achieve atonement for their sins. For the Kohanim’s part, they dedicated their lives to plumb the depths of the Torah, Jewish Law, and the divine six hundred and thirteen commandments. Moreover, the Kohanim taught their brethren good conduct. These pious mentors showed the Jews to walk in God’s ways, the path to upright character and deed, per the verse: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” On topic, Scripture records: “And you shall come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days. And you shall inquire, and they shall declare unto you the sentence of judgment.” Here is another description of the role of the priests: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your law.”
Now we turn to another topic in the introduction to Leviticus: sacrifices (korbonot). The Torah is explicit regarding animal sacrifices in the Tabernacle. However, for modern readers, sacrifices have become a closed book. Too many centuries of non-performance of the holy service have taken their toll. With the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Hebrews’ glory and magnificence has faded. The Rambam, a classic Biblical and Oral Law expositor, writes as much.
Further contributing to why we have a spotty understanding of sacrifices has to do with the Torah’s treatment of the multifaceted subject. In a word, it is all over the place. For instance, one aspect is mentioned in Exodus. Another source may be traced to Numbers, where more than ten separate sections on sacrifices are interspersed. And, of course, sacrifices will be spoken about in Leviticus.
Hence, the need for our prolegomenon. We will not introduce novel ideas. Instead, our steady course will follow the Scripture’s treatment of the subject, as well as the authentic Oral Law. The Rambam’s far- reaching eye, too, will be our guide. Our task, then, will be to gather disparate sources, and properly organize them.
As stated, we provide only a thumbnail sketch of the original version of Abravanel’s introduction. Interested readers are encouraged to read the full introduction in Vayikra volume I: The Meat of the Matter. In it, readers shall gain a solid grasp on animal sacrifices, an important Biblical topic that has become, tragically, arcane.
“And God called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the Tent of the Meeting. Speak unto the Children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man of you brings an offering unto God, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, even of the herd or the flock.”
‘Heaven acknowledged how priests deserved the Jews’ financial support. Through a system of tithes and gifts, their needs were taken care of. This not only freed them from having to make a living, but it also provided repose and sufficient peace of mind to allow them to do their jobs maximally. An equitable arrangement assured steady income for the Kohanim and their families.
Clearly the Torah foresaw how priests, a branch of the tribe of Levi, would accede to special status within the national fabric and rise to predominance. Their admirable erudition, refinement, and character were also marked by outward appearances. In this, particular vestments played a pivotal role…'
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
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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
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.
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....
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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.
author, Learning to Read Midrash
A gift to the English-speaking audience.… An important “must have” addition to the English Torah library.
EdD, lecturer, Bar-Ilan University
The thoughts of a Torah giant over 500 years ago in terminology understand¬able to the modern reader.
MD, MPH, IBCLC,author; lecturer
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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.
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.