9

At the end of each book in his Commentary to the Torah, Ralbag gives us the date he completed it.

At the end of the book of Genesis he tells us that it was completed in October of 1329:

והנה היתה השלמת זה הספר בי"ז יום לירח מרחשון בשנת תשעים לאלף הששי

At the end of the book of Exodus he tells us that it was completed in August of 1330:

ובכאן נשלם הביאור בזה הספר והיתה השלמתו בראש חודש אלול שנת תשעים לפרט האלף הששי

At the end of the book of Numbers he tells us that it was completed in December of 1337:

והיתה השלמתו בכ"ג לחדש טבת של שנת צ"ח לאלף הששי

At the end of the book of Deuteronomy he tells us that the entire Commentary to the Torah was completed in January of 1338:

והיתה השלמתו בכ"ג לירח שבט של שנת צ"ח לפרט האלף הששי

Additionally, at the end of Parshat Bereishit he tells us that the commentary to just that section (which takes up about a third of the entire commentary to the book of Genesis) was completed in August of 1328:

והנה היתה השלמתו בסוף חדש אב משנת השמנים ושמונה לפרט האלף הששי ליצירה

As you might have noticed, I skipped the date of completion for the commentary to the book of Leviticus. This is because he doesn't seem to have mentioned it.

So based on the above we have the following:

  • It took him about 14 months to get from Parshat Noach to the end of the book of Genesis.
  • It then took him about 10 months to get from there to the end of the book of Exodus.
  • It then took him about 7 years and four months to get from there to the end of the book of Numbers.
  • It then took him about 1 month to get from there to the end of the book Deuteronomy.

There are also two more bits of information that Ralbag mentions in these concluding statements:

At the end of Parshat Bereishit he says that he wrote it in a very short period of time:

והיתה השלמתו בזמן קצר מאד

Similarly, at the end of the book of Numbers he says that he wrote it in a very short period of time, without access to books, and it therefore requires a second review:

והשלמנוהו בזמן קצר מאד ובזולת ספרים ולזה יצטרך בגזרת ה' לעבור עליו שנית

Thus, we see that the 7+ years between completing Exodus and completing Numbers was not because of Numbers. Which means that the book of Leviticus is what took all that time.

Considering that all the other books took only a short amount of time (ranging from a month to a bit more than a year), why is it that the book of Leviticus took so much longer?

  • Is there perhaps something specific about the content of that book that required all those extra years to compose a commentary?
  • Do we perhaps know of a particular event during that time period that may have delayed Ralbag?
  • Has anyone (Ralbag himself, or later scholars) explained this anomaly, or even noticed it?

Bonus question: Why is Leviticus the only book that does not include the date it was completed, and is this perhaps related to the anomaly of how long it took?

5

A couple of speculative suggestions:

1) Neema H. Adlerblum writes the following in Chapter Two of A Study of Gersonides in his Proper Perspective:

He writes somewhere that he could not go on with his writings "on account of the calamities of the times which interfered with clear thinking."

She does not provide the source for this statement, but if it was made at some point between August of 1330 and December of 1337 it could possibly explain at least part of the delay in writing the commentary to Leviticus.

2) In his introduction to his Commentary to the Torah, Ralbag twice mentions his plan to write a commentary to the Talmud:

והחיבור השני הוא שנחבר בגזרת ה' ביאור המסכיות הנכללות בששת הסדרים

ואולם הסיבה המביאה להיות סדר אלו הסדרים ומסכיותיהם לפי מה שזכרנו היא מה שנבאר בגזרת ה' בחיבור התלמודיי אשר ייעדנו חיבורו

About halfway into his commentary to Leviticus, he mentions that there is something that he would like to explain, but it would take too long and the proper place for its discussion is his commentary to the Talmud:

ולולי כי יארכו הדברים יותר מן הראוי היינו מבארים דעתנו בזה ממקומות רבים מדברי רבותינו ז"ל והיינו מתירים מה שאפשר שיסופק על זאת ההנחה אלא שזה יותר ראוי שיהיה בחיבורינו התלמודיים

This indicates that the commentary to the Talmud (or at least the part that would have dealt with this issue) was still unwritten.

In his commentary to the beginning of Deuteronomy he says that he explained something in his commentary to Masechet Berachot:

ואולם לרז"ל בזה המאמר על צד ההפלגה והגוזמא ויש לו פנים זולת מה שיובן ממנו להמון כמו שבארנו בביאורנו במסכת ברכות על מה שאמרו רז"ל עקר טורא בת תלתא פרסי

If we assume that the commentary to Masechet Berachot is (part of) the commentary to the Talmud previously mentioned, then this tells us that he had already written (at least part of) it by the time he was writing the beginning of his commentary to Deuteronomy. As mentioned in the question, we know that the commentary to Deuteronomy took only a month to write, and the commentary to Numbers took "a very short time"1 to write.

From these facts we can suggest that Ralbag wrote his commentary to the Talmud (however much of it he actually wrote – none of it has survived) before the commentary to Numbers, and possibly after half of the commentary to Leviticus but certainly after the introduction to the Commentary to the Torah.

If this is the case, we can then suggest that perhaps (part of) the reason why it took so long for Ralbag to complete his commentary to Leviticus is that he may have been devoting that same time to writing his commentary to the Talmud.

And to stretch the speculation even further, we can attempt to also answer the bonus question: Perhaps Ralbag specifically did not include the date of completion of the commentary to Leviticus precisely because it was not a continuous work. Unlike the other books where the date of completion minus the date of completion of the previous book might actually represent the time spent on the commentary, by Leviticus it could be misleading to make it seem like it took seven years if in reality he had been working on other things instead during that time.


1. In the Ma'aliot edition of the commentary to Numbers the editors appear to argue that from the fact that he does not describe Deuteronomy as taking a very short time, we can derive that Numbers took even less time than Deuteronomy (i.e. even less than a month).

האם ניתן בכל זאת לקבל מושג על אותו "זמן קצר מאד" שבו נכתב הספר? דומני שאכן ניתן באמצעות השוואה לביאור ספר דברים בסוף ביאור ספר דברים מציין רבינו את תאריך השלמת החיבור כג בשבט ה'צח חודש אחד בלבד לאחר סיום ביאור ספר במדבר ושם אין הרלב"ג מוסיף שהביאור הושלם בזמן קצר

3

For the most part, Vayikra deals with the intricate laws of korbanos, there is simply a lot of intricate, detailed laws to comment on. The Malbim has two full volumes on Vayikra compared with a single volume on the other 4 books. Kodshim as a seder in Shas covers a large amount of material. So the answer as to why he spent more time on it is probably because of the detail and complexity of the laws of korbanos compared with the stories in the other books. The Ralbag's writings tend to be verbose and lengthy when the subject matter is complex and difficult to understand. His Magnum Opus Milchemes Hashem, which printed eds don't include the Astronomy section is massive in of itself. The Astronomy Section has 100 chapters!

As regards why the time is not mentioned, I would say simply that people are able to keep track of smaller increments of time - I started in Sivan and finished 12 months later - easy to keep track of. But a 7-year project is harder to have an accurate measure because sometimes review and editing can be considered as part of it, and perhaps he didn't feel he finished it, or he could have not put a date because he didn't want to be a month or two off.

  • Comparing the Malbim on Vayikra to the Malbim on Bereishis is not a good comparison. They're completely different works. Shemos, Bamidbar, and Devarim (with middle of Ki Seitzei through the end mostly missing) are like Vayikra for the halachic parts and like Bereishis for the rest. I don't know if the same goes for the Ralbag. – Heshy Oct 25 '18 at 15:07
  • I'm comparing size. It seems that other meforshim also spend a lot of time on Vayikra. Bereishis is 50 chapters, Vayikra is 26. Yet, the Malbim's commentary spans two volumes on Vayikra and one on Bereishis. Regardless of the content, there is a lot more material in Vayikra as opposed to Bereishis, which is almost double the length in chapters. I can, therefore, understand why the Ralbag or any other commentator would spend more time on it. Looking at from a perspective of ratios, the ratio of chapters I see Vayikra to Bereishis is a 2:1 ratio. – user18155 Oct 25 '18 at 16:46
  • I would, therefore, expect a commentary length to be 2:1 but the opposite is true, Vayikra is double the commentary length of Bereishis. In the Ralbag's case the ratio is 1:6 in terms of time it took. – user18155 Oct 25 '18 at 16:51
  • @Heshy Ralbag's commentaries to Bamidbar and Bereishis are significantly shorter, but his commentary to Devarim is only a little shorter (and was completed in one month) and the commentary to Shemos is about the same size as Vayikra. (Judging by the sizes of the different volumes in the Mossad Harav Kook edition; I haven't actually done a word count.) – Alex Oct 28 '18 at 0:22

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