• 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.

Zev Bar Eitan

  • 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.

  • Parashat Tzav: An Excerpt

    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

    ‘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.”

    Page 132 Vayikra vol. I: The Meat of the Matter

  • Parashat Vayikra

    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.”
    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.”
    is another description of the role of the priests: “They shall teach Jacob Your ordinances, and Israel Your

    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
    In it, readers shall gain a solid grasp on animal sacrifices, an important Biblical topic that has
    become, tragically, arcane.


  • Parshat Vayikra :An Excerpt

    “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

    Page 10 Vayikra vol. I: The Meat of the Matter


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