My friend for the year: Abarbanel

What is a Friend for Year? The is what Rabbi Rashi Simon of Kesher https://kesher.org.uk/about/ calls the Torah Commentary that he chooses each year. Each year, he chooses a different Torah Commentary which is his focus for the weekly Torah reading cycle. He then shares the teachings with his community in London. I am regular at the Kesher Shul as I commute to the UK for business, and the Shul lives by its motto “We believe in building a place that welcomes all”

So, encouraged by this, I decided to choose a Friend for the Year. I urge all us to choose a friend for the year. Maybe, this can be added to the Shabbat Project as it will add substance and meaning to keeping Shabbat interesting throughout the year.

So, off I go to the Pomeranz Book Shop in downtown Jerusalem and start looking at the different Torah Commentators. While more advanced Scholars learn in the original Hebrew, I was looking for an engaging classical Commentator with a good English version.

So, I come across a book on the Torah of the Abarbanel. I am immediately drawn to this, as the Abarbanel lived in one of the most trying times for Jews, was heavily involved in the secular world,  Active in business and politics and all the time a devoted and thinking Jew. After my first Shabbat, I am most happy with my choice. Who will be your Friend for the year?

Don Isaac Abarbanel was a Torah scholar, diplomat, financier, mystic and leader of his people, although living some 5 centuries ago, is particularly pertinent to the modern open society and global village in which we live, in a way that no other scholar seems to be. He is probably the last person to combine within his person 4 major and long existent Jewish traditions; philosopher, statesman, torah scholarship and cabbalist. His commentary on the Torah seems particularly suitable to those of us who earn our livelihoods, engage in business or professions and willy-nilly are confronted with the challenges of living globally, for the first time since his period, in free societies.

Faced with the challenges inherent in the cultural and religious free market of his time – 15th century Spain, his knowledge of Torah, philosophy, both Jewish and that of classical Greece and European Renaissance, and mystical sources, he presents a commentary suitable to us living in a similar assimilatory prone, open and spiritually free society. As a scion of traumatic Jewish expulsion, persecution and suffering, his ideas of galut, redemption and messianism are extremely relevant to our post holocaust generation.

Adopting a special Socratic style of detailed questions and answers, he produces a commentary on the Chumash and the Nach that is familiar and convenient for us trained as we are, knowingly or unknowingly, in Greek methods of thought and those of science and technology. Furthermore, he constantly refers to the classical commentators who preceded him- Rashi, Rambam, Ibn Ezrah, Ralbag and Ramban. However, he then goes on to supply his own comments reflecting his own very specific approach.

He was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1437, into a family descended from King David that ranked in the forefront of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula. They were distinguished by their financial, political and Jewish communal leadership achievements.

In addition,n they were known as a family that loved scholarship, and piety, and had strong moral convictions. All these as well as their commercial and financial strengths Don Yitzchak inherited. Then in 1483, with the ascension of the anti Semitic king Joao, he was forced to flee to Spain, where he re-established himself till the expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492. Ultimately, he made his way to Italy, where he lived in Naples and Venice till his death in 1508.

Source:  https://torah.org/series/abarbanel/ contributed by Dr. Meir Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (http://www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.

BIOGRAPHY IN MORE DETAIL

Don Isaac Abravanel was one of the greatest Jewish statesmen who played an important part in European history. At the same time he was not merely a loyal and strictly religious Jew, but a great scholar, Bible commentator and philosopher. He was the last of the long line of great Jewish leaders and heroes of the Spanish Golden Age.

Isaac was born into a wealthy and learned family in Portugal. His father Judah was state treasurer of Portugal, and a great favorite of Alfonso V, king of Portugal. Isaac received a thorough Jewish education and took a keen interest in languages and philosophy. Later he succeeded his father in the service of the king.

In his greatness, Isaac never forgot his humble brethren. He used his vast wealth to support the needy. Thus, when Alfonso captured the town of Arzilla in Morocco, and there were two hundred and fifty Jews among the prisoners, Isaac Abravanel appointed twelve representatives to gather funds to redeem them, and he himself was the greatest donor. When they were redeemed, he supported them from his own means for about two years, until they learnt the language and could earn their own livelihood. Abravanel also used his great influence to better the position of his brethren in other lands.

When Alfonso V died and Don Joao II succeeded to the throne of Portugal, Abravanel’s fortune changed. In the year 5243, Don Joao II began a policy that aimed at getting rid of the nobility, and particularly the ministers of state that served his father. Abravanel learned just in time that the king beheaded several of the highest ranking officers, and that he was slated -to share a similar fate. He was on the way to answer the king’s call, but on learning what awaited him, Abravanel fled to Toledo in Spain, where his family had once lived. Accompanied by his wife and two children, Abravanel arrived in Toledo almost penniless, as the ungrateful. John had confiscated all his wealth.

Abravanel quietly obtained a position with a Jewish banking firm, and was glad to have time to pursue his studies and literary work. He continued his commentaries on the Bible which he had been forced to interrupt because of the pressure of state affairs. He wrote his commentaries on Joshua, Judges and Samuel, but when he began his commentaries on the book of Kings, the king of Spain summoned him to take over the state treasury. Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain knew that they could find no greater financial genius, and in the very same year when the notorious Torquemada became head of the Inquisition in Spain, Abarvanel officially became treasurer to the king and queen (two years before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain).

When that terrible decree of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain except those who would give up their faith, became known, Abravanel tried hard to avert the catastrophe. He begged of the king and queen to reconsider their cruel decree, and he offered a huge sum to the king’s treasury. The king and queen turned a deaf ear to all his personal pleas and declined his gifts of money.

On the 9th of Av, 5252 (July 30, 1492), Abravanel and his family were on the march with the rest of their co-religionists He gave up his exalted position and joined his beloved brethren in exile and suffering. The unfortunate refugees finally reached Naples in Italy. When Ferdinand learned that the Jews found a haven in Naples, he requested the king of Naples (also called Ferdinand) that he should not permit the refugees to. remain in his land. The young king of Naples, however, ignored the protest and demands of the cruel rulers of Spain. Moreover, he invited Abravanel to the royal house and appointed him as his adviser. Abravanel served both him and his son Alfonso II who succeeded to the throne in 1494. Unfortunately, Naples was captured by King Charles of France in the following year, and King Alfonso II fled to Sicily. Abravanel accompanied his Majesty in exile, and continued to serve him with a fatherly devotion until the exiled king died. Then Abravanel left for the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean.

Having lost all his wealth to the French conquerors, Abravanel suffered poverty and hardship. He moved to Monopoli, a town in the Kingdom of Naples, and 8 years later finally settled in Venice. Here it was not long before the rulers of Venice invited him to the council of state, and Abravanel became one of the leading statesmen of that Venetian Republic. Here in Venice Abravanel died in the year 5269, at the age of 71, deeply mourned by the Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Venice. The leading rulers of Venice attended his funeral, and he was laid to rest in Padua.

Source: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/111855/jewish/Don-Isaac-Abravanel-The-Abarbanel.htm

About the Author
Jeffrey is a Blogger, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist (we can only dream) living in Jerusalem. He has five kids and three grandchildren. He is looking to spread the message of Ahavat Yisrael and Jewish Unity through the music and teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and connecting our lost Jewish brothers and sisters to Israel. God and themselves.
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