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.