יום חמישי ז' בכסלו תשפ"ג 01/12/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Don Yitzchak Abarbanel

At a time of terrible decrees against the Jewish people, including the infamous expulsion from Spain, Rabbeinu Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, the great scholar and advocate for his brethren, suffered together with his people.

Barak Sarig 11/06/2009 15:24
Rabbeinu Don Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel was born in the year 5196 (1437ce) in Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, into a family that traced its lineage back to Dovid haMelech; occasionally, Don Yitzchak would sign his name with the addition of ‘descended from the house of beis Lechem’. In addition to its noble ancestry, the family was also extremely wealthy, with close links to the Portuguese monarchy - Don Yitzchak’s father was the Royal Treasurer to the King.

Already at an early stage, Don Yitzchak’s father discerned the superior intellectual abilities of his son, as well as his sterling character traits. He hired the best tutors to learn with the young Don Yitzchak and to imbue him with yiras Shamayim. Indeed, his teachers were themselves gedolei hador, leading scholars of the time, including Rabbi Yosef Chayun, the rav of the Lisbon community, who authored the work ‘Mili d’Avos’.

Despite his exceptional progress in learning, Don Yitzchak had an insatiable desire to progress yet further and deepen his understanding of all facets of Torah; therefore, he did not suffice himself with the opportunities that his home town offered, but instead chose to exile himself to more prominent bastions of Torah learning, including the yeshiva of Rabbeinu Yitzchak Abuhav, the ‘Menoras haMeor’. He also desired to comprehend all other spheres of learning that could be of assistance to him in his development into a true Torah scholar; to this end, he learned the science of astronomy, investigated the natural sciences and medicine, studied philosophy and had an excellent command of Latin, Portuguese, Catalan, Arabic and Greek.

Before he reached the age of twenty-five he had authored his first sefer, ‘Ateres Zkeinim’, which deals with prophecy and Divine providence. During the same period he began to work on his commentary to the Written Torah, but since he was concurrently serving as the King’s treasurer (having inherited the position from his father), and was also involved in various other matters for the benefit of the community, insufficient time remained for him to complete this work, and he deferred it for a later opportunity.

In the year 1471ce Portugal conquered Morocco and the two hundred and fifty Jews who had been living in the town of Arziliva were taken captive and brought to Portugal to be sold as slaves. Don Yitzchak collected funds to redeem them and then concerned himself with their sustenance for the ensuing two years until they had left the country for Spain. During this period, the King of Portugal was King Alfonso, who in general continued with his previous mode of conduct in all matters concerning the Jews under his sovereignty.

As long as the Portuguese monarchy had not been established on a firm-enough footing, the King had imposed harsh decrees on his subjects. Jews had been forced to wear distinguishing, derogatory forms of clothing marking them as Jews; they had been taxed and otherwise stripped of their assets for the benefit of the Crown; and they had been forbidden to dwell in areas other than the locations that had been stipulated for their residence. Only years later, when his rule had been consolidated, did the King abolish these decrees, and even came to greatly admire his Jewish treasurer. This admiration stemmed from Don Yitzchak’s proficiency in financial matters, and also from his exceptionally gracious demeanour and his diplomatic skills, to which no other was equal in the Portuguese royal palace. The King was fond of conversing with Don Yitzchak on all manner of subjects, including natural science, geography and philosophy. There was no other person in the entire royal court who could even remotely compare to him in his ability to elucidate any of the branches of wisdom.

King Alfonso even commissioned the court artist to prepare a portrait of Don Yitzchak, which he then hung in his personal chambers. He beheld it when he arose in the morning, and it was the last thing upon which he would gaze before retiring for the night. It is superfluous to state that as the King’s affection and admiration for Don Yitzchak grew, so did the jealousy and hatred in the hearts of the Christian nobles of Portugal mount against him. Don Yitzchak was himself keenly aware that his position of importance was flimsily based, being dependent on remaining in the graces of the King. He felt neither desire for nor attachment to his role in the royal court, yet he knew that this was his sole means of being of such assistance to his fellow Jews at a time when their situation in Portugal was becoming increasingly precarious. Hostile winds were blowing in from Spain against the Jews, and the atmosphere in neighbouring Portugal was also slowly becoming poisoned. Don Yitzchak’s only regret was that his extensive duties left him almost without occasion to devote himself to Torah, and he longed for the day when he might once again learn in tranquillity.

Once Alfonso became embroiled in war with the Spanish state of Castile, his powers weakened and his finances were depleted. In addition to this, a deadly plague broke out in Portugal which struck down many, including the King himself, Don Yitzchak’s close friend and admirer. His son, the cruel Juan the Second, was crowned in his place, and he proceeded forthwith to plan Don Yitzchak’s assassination.

At the last moment, Don Yitzchak was informed of the insidious designs of the new King, and he fled to Toledo in Castile, where his ancestors had once lived. From there, he dispatched a letter to King Juan, protesting his innocence, but the king refused to reconsider the matter, and then confiscated all the possessions of the Abarbanel.

Don Yitzchak arrived in Toledo weary from the rigours of the journey and the stormy events that had overtaken him, and also bereft of his wealth which he had always used for the benefit of his people. Despite this, he did not give in to despair, but accepted the decree that HaShem had enacted upon him. He chose instead to focus on the negative aspects of his former life, stressing that during all his days that had been spent in the royal court he had been unable to learn in depth. “I spent all my hours and days in empty pursuits, in order to gain honour and riches; and now that my wealth has left me, and honour has departed from me; now that I am forced to wander over the earth, lacking in money – now I can delve into HaShem’s Torah, as I was previously unable to do” (from a teshuvah written to Rav Shaul Cohen of Kaleniya).

In his new place of residence he did not waste his time in bitter recriminations over his new status as one forced to flee for his life, but instead he dedicated his strength and energy to the learning of Torah and composition of seforim. He wrote swiftly, to compensate for all the times that he had been unable to dedicate himself to the holy Torah. He managed to complete his commentary to sefer Yehoshua, and approximately one month later he had already finished his commentary on sefer Shoftim – only a short while later he had completed commentaries on Shmuel Aleph and Beis – these are his only commentaries on the early prophets.

Thus it was precisely during this period, when he had so recently been stripped of his wealth, honour and position that he delighted in his newfound ability to dedicate himself whole-heartedly and completely to Torah study. However, this period was not to last long; just a short while after his arrival in Spain he was summoned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Castile to serve as the royal treasurer of Spain.

He held this position for eight years, during which he again found himself the master of great riches. His home was open to the population and indeed masses of the needy would turn to him for assistance, in all areas of concern, from decrees relating to their sustenance to problems with the Spanish priests, who constantly sought ways to cause suffering for the Jews. All who came found in Don Yitzchak a sympathetic and attentive ear and an open heart ready and willing to help them. The Jews of the city and surrounding area did not cease to offer thanks to HaShem, that they had merited to host such a personage amongst them; such a prince of Torah, who enlightened their eyes in learning, freely proffered his advice on all matters in which it was sought, and who assisted them in a multitude of other ways.

Despite the intense hatred towards the Jews displayed by the gentiles during this period, the Abarbanel succeeded in endearing himself to the Spanish king and his noblemen. His standing increased until he could state of himself; “I have gained for myself the respect of kings and rulers of the world – I have become the leader of my people” (from the introduction to his commentary on the Pesach Haggadah). The ninth year of his service in the Spanish royal court corresponded to the year 1492ce, when the decree of expulsion was pronounced against Spanish Jewry.

“Our wish is that Spain should become and remain a pure Christian country. Jews will furthermore have no right to dwell here, unless they accept upon themselves the Christian religion.” Such was the proclamation issued by the King and Queen, who were greatly influenced in this new endeavour by the cardinal Torquemada, who was also the head of the Inquisition. The King owed an enormous sum of money to Don Yitzchak, and requested of him that he remain in Spain, since he was aware of Don Yitzchak’s great abilities and uprightness; he was even willing to allow him to remain a faithful Jew. It was at this time that the nobility of character of Don Yitzchak came to the fore, when he refused to remain in Spain if his brethren would be forced into bitter exile. He exerted himself to the utmost to have the decree rescinded, but all his efforts were in vain, and he was exiled together with his fellow Jews.

Three hundred thousand Jews were driven from Spain, the land where they had been born and had lived all their lives, going back generations, for hundreds of years. It was a sharp blow that now fell upon the Jews. Many thousands of the exiles died along their various routes in search of a haven, and among those who remained in Spain, there were some who professed to having renounced their faith, and continued to act as Jews in secret; these became known as ‘anusim’ (forced ones).

King Franco the First of Naples was one of the few rulers who allowed the expelled Jews into his kingdom. Despite the fact that they remained in a wretched state after having been driven from their homes, these Jews nevertheless felt themselves to be fortunate. In Naples Don Yitzchak resumed his former role as leader of his people, and he was appointed as an advisor to the king, and also to his son who reigned after him.

With time, the Jews of Naples began to acclimatise to their new surroundings, and to forget their previous tribulations. Then, one day they awoke to the sound of battle, and upon emerging from their homes to investigate the source of the dreadful noises, they discovered that King Karl the Eighth of France had declared war upon Naples. The French conquest was swift and Don Yitzchak, together with the King, fled into exile, to the island of Sicily. There he continued to serve as advisor to the king, until the latter’s death in the year 1495ce, after which Don Yitzchak left Sicily for the island of Corfu, where he lived in great poverty, since his entire wealth had previously fallen to the French invaders of Naples.

Once again, Don Yitzchak did not allow himself or even any member of his family to fall into despair at their new circumstances. “Everything that HaShem does is for the good” he was accustomed to say, at times when sadness threatened to envelope him or others. These words served to strengthen and encourage them, and when they were forced once again to relocate, this time to Monopoles, near the Adriatic coast, it was with peace of mind in the knowledge that this too was for the good.

In this town, Don Yitzchak achieved his ambition in life. For seven whole years he engaged solely in the pursuit of Torah, with no outside disturbances, no communal concerns to divert his attention. These years were dedicated to the composition of his seforim and the completion of his commentary on Chumash Devorim.

The works that he composed during this period included; ‘Zevach Pesach’, his commentary to the Pesach Haggadah; ‘Nachalas Avos’, a commentary on Pirkei Avos; and three other seforim dealing with the coming of Moshiach which he collectively titled ‘Magdil Yeshuos’.

In the year 5263 (1503ce) Don Yitzchak left the small town of Monopoles for Venice, where several of his works were published. There he also completed his commentary on the Chumash and on Nevi’im (Prophets).

In the year 5269 (1508ce) Don Yitzchak Abarbanel was niftar at the age of seventy-one and was buried in the city of Padua, Italy. The following year, the town was destroyed, and the place of his grave is unknown to this day.