By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Netziv: Davar B’Ito
R. Naftoli Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1816-1893), best known by the acronym Netziv, led the famed Volozhin Yeshiva for almost forty years. His first wife was the daughter of R Yitzchok Volozhin, son of R Chaim Volozhin, regarded as the spiritual successor to the Vilna Gaon, according to whose suggestion the yeshiva had been founded. Weathering multiple fires that destroyed the town, as well as internal struggles, the yeshiva flourished under the leadership of the Netziv. He reluctantly closed it rather than submit to demands of the Czarist government that would have banned Torah study between the hours of 9 and 3 as well as evenings.
His Torah labors extended beyond the traditional curriculum of the yeshiva. He responded in the Jewish press to attacks on tradition. His collection of responsa (Meishiv Davar) showed his willingness to address matters of applied halachah, which was not a specialty of the yeshiva. He involved himself in the nascent movement to reclaim the land of Israel, as a supporter of Chivas Tziyon, although he drew back somewhat in his later years. Nonetheless, several secret religious Zionist cells operated in the yeshiva.
He wrote extensively on Tanach, and gave a regular parshah shiur each morning in the yeshiva. His work on Chumash, Ha’amek Davar, is the source of this ongoing shiur. R. Nachman Bulman zt”l suggested to me decades ago that the Netziv should be included in the group of outstanding gedolim of late 19th century Europe who responded head-on to the challenge of haskalah and Biblical criticism by showing the organic relationship between the Written Law and the Oral Law. (The others were R. Yaakov Mecklenburg, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, and the Malbim.)
Ha’amek Davar has become a modern classic. It should be of interest to us, I believe for a number of reasons:
- Netziv will not entertain any separation between Torah She-b’al Peh and Torah She-b’ksav. Importing seemingly unrelated sugyos in Torah She-b’al Peh is Netziv’s chief tool with which to explain textual anomalies or difficult passages in Torah text. He does this seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly. His product is thus a chizuk emunah against those who took a heretical position about Rabbinic Judaism.
- More often than not, an approach of Netziv to any episode in Chumash will have to do with the primacy and importance of limud Torah. Ha’amek Davar is an important source of understanding the love for Torah and its centrality in pre-War Lita.
- Netziv similarly reads gemara and midrashim into Nach, taking difficult or obscure passages and suggesting elegant approaches that account for every phrase and word.
- Netziv was an original thinker. In many places, he offers what he concedes are approaches to text and topics that vary with the giants who preceded him. They are often breathtaking in their originality
Each week, this shiur will sample some text from Ha’amek Davar on the parshah, and offer it in paraphrase, rather than translation. Over the year, it will sample all of the areas of interest given above. Where possible, it will concentrate on the larger elaborations that the Netziv provided in his Harchev Davar footnotes to Ha’amek Davar.
- Bereishis Parshas Bereishis – The Good Spouse
- Noach Parshas Noach – The Good Rasha and the Bad Tzadik
- Lech Lecha Parshas Lech Lecha – Mastering the Names
- Vayera Parshas Vayera – He Who Laughs Richest
- Chayei Sarah Parshas Chayei Sarah – Baruch Hashem!
- Toldos Parshas Toldos – The Natural Law of Chesed
- Vayeitzei Parshas Vayeitzei – The Gate of Peaceful Coexistence
- Vayishlach Parshas Vayishlach – Mistakes Will Providentially Happen
- Vayeishev Parshas Vayeishev – Food For Base Thought
- Miketz Parshas Miketz – A Guarantee You Can Count On
- Vayigash Parshas Vayigash – Daughters of a Different Kind
- Vayechi Parshas Vayechi – Choosing Your Tefillah Weaponry
- Shemos Parshas Shemos – Only What You Understand
- Vaera Parshas Vaera – Four and a Half Cups
- Bo Parshas Bo – A Guide to Jewish Weaponry
- Beshalach Parshas Beshalach – Eleventh Hour Reprieves, and Beyond
- Yisro Parshas Yisro – Room For Compromise
- Mishpatim Parshas Mishpatim – When A High Becomes A Low
- Terumah Parshas Terumah – Eating At The Royal Table
- Tetzaveh Parshas Tetzaveh – Moshe’s Oil
- Ki Sisa Parshas Ki Sisa – When To Assume Risk
- Vayakhel-Pekudei Parshas Vayakhel & Pekudei – Covering All Options
- Ki Seitzei-Pekudei Parshas Pekudei & Ki Seitzei – What’s In a Reversal
- Tzav Parshas Tzav – Holy By Contact
- Shemini Parshas Shemini – Chilling Out
- Tazria-Metzorah Parshas Tazria & Metzorah – When Tzora’as Is Contagious
- Acharei Mos-Kedoshim Parshas Acharei Mos & Kedoshim – Laws and Decrees, Decrees and Laws
- Emor Parshas Emor – A Sukkah Built For Two
- Behar-Bechukosai Parshas Behar & Bechukosai – Inverse Relationships
- Bamidbar Parshas Bamidbar – Three Books in One
- Naso Parshas Naso – A Song Missing a Note
- Behaaloscha Parshas Behaaloscha – Genuine Simchah
- Shlach Parshas Shlach – Two Halachic Highways
- Korach Parshas Korach – Who’s To Blame
- Chukas-Balak Parshas Chukas – How To Speak To A Rock
- Chukas-Balak Parshas Balak – Did Bilam’s Ason Survive? Do Angels Read Minds?
- Pinchas Parshas Pinchas – Yehoshua’s Coronation
- Matos-Masei Parshas Matos & Masei – A Winning Strategy
- Devarim Parshas Devarim – Public Secrets
- Vaeschanan Parshas Vaeschanan – The Bitter Mystique of the Bamah
- Eikev Parshas Eikev – Multiple-Choice Avodah
- Reeh Parshas Reeh – Segulos, Kosher and Not
- Shoftim Parshas Shoftim – Kohanim and Levi’im, Upgraded
- Ki Seitzei Parshas Ki Seitzei – What’s In a Reversal
- Ki Savo Parshas Ki Savo – Blame It On The Angels
- Netzavim-Vayeilech Parshas Netzavim – Closer Than You Think
- Netzavim-Vayeilech Parshas Vayeilech – Seeing Double
- Haazinu Parshas Haazinu – Providence, Justified and Explained