“Ask your father and your wise elders,” Moshe advised.
The great Spanish sage, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel (1437-1508), a.k.a. Abarbanel, comments that Moshe was telling his nation, “Although most of you never witnessed the slavery and exodus from Egypt, remember that ‘your fathers’ did. They were there, and they must have surely described it to you down to the very last detail.
Even if they didn’t and are not here today to tell you about it (since the previous generation had died out because of the Sin of the Spies), there are still “wise elders” around who witnessed these events – Yehoshua and Kaleiv. These righteous ones are alive and well, and more than willing to share the story of HaShem’s miracles with you. So, it’s up to you. Go ask them and learn from them!”
The lesson is clear. To learn from history, it’s always best to go to the source, the personal witnesses. Perhaps we can do the same. Ask your parents or your grandparents, or anyone a lot older than you and learn about history through their firsthand experience.
Does the year 1492 ring a bell? That was the year Columbus discovered America. But 1492 was not so wonderful for the Jewish people. It was the year of the horrific “Spanish Expulsion,” when Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand brutally drove out the Jews from Spain.
And do you know who was the royal treasurer to the “not-very-friendly-to-the-Jews” king and queen? It was none other than Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel (known to the king and queen as “Don Isaac Abarbanel” – “Don” is a title of honor in Spanish).
On the 9th of Av, 5252 (July 30, 1492), the “Spanish Expulsion” took place and the once wealthy but now penniless Abarbanel was on the run together with his family. They first settled in Naples, Italy, then moved to the island of Corfu in the Mediterranean, and finally the Abarbanel spent his last years in Venice, Italy, where he completed his amazing commentary on the Chumash.
Rashi, Ramban, Rashbam, Sforno, Chizkuni, Ibn Ezra, Kli Yakar, Ohr HaChaim and the list goes on and on. These are just a few of the many classic Chumash commentaries, each one explaining the words of the Torah in their own way.
Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel’s commentary on the Chumash, fondly known as “The Abarbanel,” is different than the rest. It’s written in a unique style. Instead of explaining each Posuk on its own as the other commentators do, he breaks up the Parsha into units, trying to understand each topic.
He cites different commentators who also addressed some of these issues and most of the time offers his own very creative explanations. But first the Abarbanel lists all his questions, usually more than 20 of them! The all-time record is on the second Perek of Bereishis, where he asks 42 questions in a row!
As the royal treasurer for one of the most powerful kingdoms in the world, Abarbanel saw things in a unique way. For example, at the final words of the Book of Bereishis, the Abarbanel shares an amazing insight with us:
“Yosef remained at his lofty position of rulership for 80 years straight!
It’s amazing! I have not seen anything like it in all the history books of the Roman Emperors and their ministers or in the history books of any other nations.”
Think about it… who ever heard of any royal or government officer (besides for a king or queen) remaining in power for such a long time?! But Yosef, who became viceroy at the age of 30 and passed away at 110 years old, held on to his position for 80 years!
It was not Rashi, not Ramban, nor any of the hundreds of other commentaries of the Chumash who made this observation. It was Abarbanel. It was he, as the royal treasurer, who had personal experience running the affairs of a very powerful and rich king and queen. He most certainly had enemies who plotted to overthrow him from his position. Indeed, the Abarbanel looked at Yosef, second in command to Paraoh, with a “different pair of lenses.”