Abarbanel’s problematical interpretations
Abarbanel had many ideas that would bother modern people. He supposed, like Rashi, Nachmanides, and others that God is involved in everything that occurs in this world and sometimes manipulates people, like puppets, to do the divine will. Even grass does not grow or rain fall unless God tells it to do so. He imagined that God made Samson reveal that he was a Nazir so that he would be weakened, captured, and tortured; and this would prompt Samson to take revenge against the Philistines for weakening and blinding him and for their oppression of Israel. This latter view of God forcing a person to act is contrary to the view of rationalists such as Maimonides who felt that people have free will and God does not make people act as puppets. When Scripture states that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Maimonides explained that this was a natural occurrence, the result of the laws of nature God created: Pharaoh had repeatedly acted arrogantly against the Israelites until his behavior hardened his heart (Guide of the Perplexed 2:48).
Abarbanel listed six lessons that people can learn from Micah’s story in chapter 17. At least four of them are notions that most people today would find problematical.
- One misdeed prompts others (aveira goreret aveira). Micah stole money from his mother in chapter 17 and the Danites stole his Levite and temple articles from him in chapter 18.
- Most evils (rov hara’ot) come because of women. Adam sinned because of Eve and Micah sinned because his mother suggested that he build an idol.
- When someone repents from an evil act (in Micah’s case, stealing his mother’s money) people should not suggest to him that he do another evil act for he has shown that he has a tendency to do wrong things and he will do the second improper act. Abarbanel understands that Micah’s mother suggested that he make an idol with the money she gave him, he returned it to her saying he did not want to do so; she asked him again, and having shown he has an evil disposition, he agreed to build the idol.
- An oath made by a woman is worthless. Micah’s mother vowed to give the entire 1100 shekels that her son returned to her after stealing the money from her, but only donated 200 shekels to the project.
- Men inherit their mother’s nature. Micah made an idol based on her suggestion, with her money, and improperly made his son, who was not a descendant from Aaron, as his temple’s priest.
- People need kings to rule over them; and where there is no fear of the monarchy, there will be no fear of heaven.