Few people in Jewish history understood the “wheel of fortune*” as well as Don Isaac Abrabanel (Lisbon, 1437 – Venice, 1508).
Born into a prominent, wealthy Portugese family, Don Isaac achieved great success over and over again through his extraordinary talent and brilliance. Professionally, Abrabanel was a minister in the court of various kings and a financial genius. He was the highly regarded treasurer of King Afonso V of Portugal until 1483, when Afonso’s successor, Joao II, accused him of conspiracy. Abrabanel was saved by a last minute warning he received that the king planned to have him beheaded.
His personal fortune confiscated, Abrabanel fled to Toledo with the intention of dedicating himself to Torah study. Before the end of his first year, however, he came to the notice of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Despite the tremendous revenue he managed to generate for them, Abrabanel was unable to convince (i.e. bribe) them not to expel the Jews. In 1492, with only a minute portion of his once vast wealth, Abrabanel headed for Naples.
In Naples he once again became a royal advisor, until he was forced to flee, together with King Alfonso II, when Charles of France captured Naples. He remained with the exiled king until the king’s death, after which Abrabanel, penniless, headed to Venice. The cycle repeated one last time, as the Venetian rulers sought his sage advice and Abrabanel became one of their leading statesmen until his death in 1508.
In addition to his talented statesmanship, Abrabanel was also a renowned Biblical scholar and Jewish philanthropist…and that is enough to merit a second Treat on Abrabanel’s next yahrtzeit, 29th Tishrei 5772.
*Sometimes a person is at the top of the wheel; at other times at the bottom.
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