Abarbanel on the Parsha

For the week ending 23 February 2013 / 12 Adar I 5773

A Brief Biography of the Abarbanel

by Rabbi Pinchas Kasnett
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Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel is known simple as ‘Abarbanel’ in the world of Torah exegesis. He was born into a wealthy and learned family in Portugalin 1437. Due to his wealth and financial expertise he was King Alfonso V of Portugal’s treasurer but was forced to flee to Spainin 1483. He occupied a high financial position in the court of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. In 1492, the entire Jewish population of Spainwas subjected to the Alhambra Decree which forced them to choose between conversion of expulsion. Abarbanel pleaded vociferously but in vain to the King and Queen to have the decree revoked, even offering large amounts of money from his own personal fortune. He followed his fellow Jews into exile, settling in Italy. He died in Venicein 1508 and was buried in Padua. Owing to the destruction of the Jewish cemetery there in 1509, his grave is now unknown.

His commentary on the Torah is extensive and unique. He begins each section with a series of questions and proceeds to address each question in his commentary. The range and nature of these questions are very broad and enable students of all levels of knowledge and sophistication to understand the essential meaning of the Torah, especially in regard to the narrative sections where the actions and motivations of the personalities are subjected to intense scrutiny.

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