In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Joseph Shulam: The Foundational Text of the Bible [2021]

There are very few nations and cultures and religious groups that have a real new beginning, every year. Jews that observe tradition have a true new beginning every year.

No, I am not talking about New Year, nor Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish traditional new year. I am talking about starting over reading the Bible in public in every synagogue!

On the last day of the feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles), all around the world in every Jewish (or Messianic Jewish) synagogue, we read the last chapters of the book of Deuteronomy and roll the scroll back to the beginning and read the first chapter of Genesis.

This Shabbat we return to read the portion of Genesis in the Torah, and Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10, and the Gospel of John 1:1-15.

This practice we can find in the New Testament several times. Yeshua comes to his hometown Nazareth and He is honored by the community to read from the prophets from Isaiah chapter 61:

“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” – Luke 4:16 [NKJV]

This honor is given to respected members of the community and usually to someone who has a birthday on that week. The apostles recommend for our non-Jewish brothers in the community to go to the synagogues every Shabbat in order to hear “Moses being read”:

“For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” – Acts 15:21 [NKJV]

People didn’t have bibles in their pockets or on their phones like today. Even a part of the Bible, like the five books of Moses, the Torah, was rare to have, even in normal synagogues. We read about the apostle Paul who traveled through Asia Minor and Greece, and every Shabbat went to a synagogue, and often was invited to read from the Torah and to preach.

This phenomenon is totally ignored by most Christians. One of the most serious problems with my Christian brothers and sisters is that they are not being taught by their churches to ask intelligent questions from the scriptures.

Intelligent and difficult questions from the Bible are not encouraged. How is it that the apostle Paul, for whom it didn’t take long after arriving in a town to go on Shabbat to the local synagogue, immediately get invited to read from the Torah and to preach?

If Paul were a typical 20th Century Christian, a stranger in town, and he walked into the local synagogue wearing a small golden cross on his chest, and having the smell of bacon from his breakfast, do you think that those Jews would invite him to come up and read from the Torah and to teach?

And after the reading of the Law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying,

“Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.” – Acts 13:15 [NKJV]

We find a specially interesting story in Acts 17:10-15,

“Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.” – Acts 17:10–15 [NKJV]

This Shabbat we are going to start again reading from Genesis. The most important and foundational text of the whole Bible is Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning Elohim (God) created the Heavens and the Earth!”

In Hebrew this verse has seven words! I don’t think that the Bible starts with seven words accidentally and these seven words are the most important word of God in the whole Bible.

Just think about it! In the Hebrew Bible the phrase: “God of Israel” appears 203 times.

This God, who has chosen Abraham and his seed to be the instrument that will eradicate idolatry from the world, that will spread the knowledge of God to the ends of the Earth, they will teach mankind to love one another, to respect the blind, and deaf, just the same as the powerful and rich – it is the God who created the heavens and the Earth!

Here some of the implications that Genesis chapter 1:1 teaches and confirms:

  1. This world was created by a God that is a spirit and truth. He has no image, nor does He need temples and monuments and statues to represent Him.
  2. Everything in our world, from the smallest to the greatest, was created and exists because the Creator designed it and planned it and wanted it and needed to have it exist in His world.
  3. The Creator created not only our small planet Earth, but our whole universe (solar system). This means that our God is much much bigger than we, small humans, can even imagine! The creation of our world and of us, as human beings, children of Adam and Eve, are created of one blood!

    “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings…” – Acts 17:26 [NKJV]

    There is no end to the importance of this text for our world. If Christians would have believed this word of the Holy Spirit – there would have been no racism, no anti-Semitism, no abuse of one race against another, and above all, our life in this world would be so much more pleasant and brotherly.

  4. If God didn’t create our world and everything in it, there must be another creator, or our world, and we ourselves, are nothing more than a cosmic accident. If we are only a cosmic accident, all morality, civility, justice, right and wrong, civil rights, become totally irrelevant! We are worse than a jungle. The jungle has rules and principles, and even the animal kingdom has respect and wisdom among the animals.

Genesis 1:1 is the most important and foundational text in the whole Bible! The most important thing that this text teaches us is that God is not a part of nature like all the idolaters hold, but above and outside of nature!

Just like any creator or artist the artist made the picture. He is the owner and creator of the picture, but he is outside of the picture, although His signature and finger prints are on His creation.

The entire Bible would be totally meaningless without Genesis 1:1, and even until now it is the most difficult verse to really understand and digest. Keep meditating on this verse it will help you pass this life with faith and special strength. Start reading your Bible from Genesis 1:1 all the way to the end.

Joseph Shulam: The Most Important Torah Reading of All [2020]

The reading this Shabbat is probably the most important Torah reading of all! We will be restarting the Torah portions from Genesis. Genesis is the most important part of the Bible.

You might say, “Joe, why are you saying that the first chapters of Genesis are the most important chapters of the whole, Bible? The reason is simple: Everything that we know and everything that we have in this ball floating in the vast expanse of endless space called the Universe – is based on Genesis.

Now, in the last few years one of the most disturbing things about Christian Universities in the USA and in Europe is that Bible departments and Bible professors are casting a shadow on the veracity of the account of Genesis as truth.

It makes me very sad! The reason that it makes me very sad is that I know what these wonderful and good men have studied in the best universities in the West! I studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the early 1960’s and in the 1970’s and in the 1980’s.

In those years some of the top Jewish Bible scholars at least in the Jewish world, were my teachers and I don’t remember any of my teachers as doubting the stories of the creation and the story of the flood having true historical or para-historical roots.

The reason why some of the scholars in the “wild West” doubt the story of Genesis is because there are several Mesopotamian “myths” of creation that pre-date Abraham and Moses. The claim is that the writer (writers) of Genesis was deeply influenced by those older Mesopotamian myths of creation.

It is interesting that my teachers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem used this same argument to prove the exact opposite. Because of the existence of:

  • Enûma Eliš the Babylonian creation myth, discovered by the archaeologist Austen Henry Layard in 1849 in the ruins of the Ashurbanipal library at Nineveh (Mosul, Kurdistan).
  • The Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis by historian Thorkild Jacobsen, is found on a single fragmentary tablet excavated in Nippur by the Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania in 1893. The date of this Sumerian myth is estimated to date to around the 17th century BC. The first part of the story is lost, but the flood story is there with many connections with the Genesis flood story.
  • The Ancient Korean shamanic creation narrative. With the following order of creation:
    • Splitting of heaven and earth
    • Giant creator
    • Nature of the early universe
    • Flower contest and the root of evil
    • Doubled sun and moon
  • Kumulipo. The Hawaiian creation myth in the form of chants, and poetry. First discovered by western scholars in the 18th Century. Please note the connecting points with both the Babylonian and the Sumerian and the Genesis account:
    • At the time that turned the heat of the earth,
    • At the time when the heavens turned and changed,
    • At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
    • To cause light to break forth,
    • At the time of the night of Makaliʻi (winter)
    • Then began the slime which established the earth,
    • The source of deepest darkness, of the depth of darkness,
    • The source of night, of the depth of night
    • Of the depth of darkness,
    • Of the darkness of the sun in the depth of night,
    • Night is come,
    • Born is Night

Kalevala is a 19th-century Finnish epic poem compiled from Finnish oral folklore and mythology, telling the story about the creation of the Earth, describing the wars and the voyages of the heroes from Kalevala and Pohjola.

First Väinämöinen Cycle

Verse 1–2, The poem begins with an introduction by the singers. The Earth is created from the shards of the egg of a goldeneye and the first man Väinämöinen is born to the goddess Ilmatar. Väinämöinen brings trees and life to the barren world.

Verse 3–5, Väinämöinen encounters the jealous Joukahainen and they engage in a battle of song. Joukahainen loses and pledges his sister’s hand in return for his life; the sister Aino soon drowns herself in the sea.

Verse 6–10: Väinämöinen heads to Pohjola to propose to a maiden of the north, a daughter of the mistress of the north, Louhi. Joukahainen attacks Väinämöinen again, and Väinämöinen floats for days on the sea until he is carried by an eagle to Pohjola. He makes a deal with Louhi to get Ilmarinen the smith to create the Sampo. Ilmarinen refuses to go to Pohjola so Väinämöinen forces him against his will. The Sampo is forged. Ilmarinen returns without a bride.

I could bring at least another dozen creation myths from the North American Indians, and the South American Indians and from India and Africa and ancient Egypt…

The interesting thing about all these myths is that they all have some common elements.

  1. The Earth was created.
  2. Nature was created.
  3. Man was created.
  4. Man looks for a woman companion.
  5. There is war between the land and the ocean, between earth and water.

The connections and elements vary, who created this earth differs, from many gods to two gods that war with each other, but one wins in the end.

What does this variety of creation stories prove! Does it prove that the Earth doesn’t exist? Does it prove that the Earth is a myth? Does it prove that the Earth is a cosmic accident that just happened to happen? Does it prove that there is no God who created and planned and engineered every aspect of this Earth and the Universe?

No! The multiplicity of creation stories that span the whole earth, from the islands in the Pacific Ocean to the frozen North Pole above Finland, and the Maori culture of New Zealand, only proves the following points:

  1. Humans need to know and be reassured that they are not a cosmic accident. That human existence is a planned and organized event that has reason and purpose far above our basic animal nature that we hold in common with all mammals. This is a very important point. All mammals have most of their nature in common.
    • We human beings, along with lions, tigers, dogs, rats, elephants, and even the dolphins in the ocean, who are mammals, share the fingerprints of the same artist that designed us all.
    • We human beings, although different in the color of our skin and the kind of hair we have, all have the same capacity and imaginative faculty, the ability to imagine and invent and produce and fabricate new elements, art, music, and now even AI.
    • We as humans have from the dawn of history the faith and knowledge that our lives don’t end with our death. This is a very important point. The earliest archaeological finds from the dawn of history indicate that those who buried their dead, believed in an afterlife. They buried their dead in ossuaries shaped like their homes. They placed articles of food with their burials, they laid down the weapons of the dead next to their dead bodies etc.
    • Worship of what was considered divine powers or what was considered “super-natural” was as early as the invention of fire.

I could go on and on, on this issue, but it is time to draw conclusions:

  1. The Bible is true and it will stand any scrutiny of logic and reason and evidence to prove that it reflects the assertion that this world is an intelligent creation of an intelligent creator.
  2. The idea that this world is millions of years old does not negate the biblical story. The biblical narrative does not give or attempt to inform us of the age of this world. What some Christians and some Jews believe about the age of this world is pure human assumption, and vain calculation. If the word of God clearly stated the date for the beginning of this world, I would embrace it fully without question, but since it does not state a date only a process that the Creator and His Son followed in the creation of Heaven and Earth, I have no argument regarding the age of this star that we live on called by we humans “Earth.”
  3. The one father and creator of this Earth so loved His creation that He sent His Son, the only begotten by the Father of all mankind, as redeemer and savior of the world, and by His death He bequeathed us life eternal.

I will have to continue this discussion at a later occasion, but for now let us all celebrate the beginning of our planet and our God who loves us and all His creation, and prepare for the end. Because it is an axiomatic truth that everything that has a beginning also has an end. Since we believe that there was a time when this Earth didn’t exist and that it has a beginning, we also must believe that with every day that passes we are approaching the end of our universe.

This is the story of the whole Bible – it has a beginning and it has an end. Everything is pre-planned and complete – We all hope for the best and prepare for the worst! Spread the seed of life today so that you might inherit the fruit of an eternal life tomorrow.

Joseph Shulam: The Lord Can Use Those Who Seek to Walk With Him [2019]

We are starting all over from the very beginning. The reading this next Shabbat is from Genesis 1:1 – 6:8. This is the most glorious story of the entire Bible, and also the saddest of all biblical stories, of all human history.

Everything starts good, every day the Almighty God creates something new, and every day He, the Lord of all, gives Himself a grade: It was morning, and it was evening, and it is all good. Even on the day when He created the creeping and crawling varmints and snakes, the Lord saw His creation and declared that it is good.

The crown of the Lord’s creation was the human being. It was the last thing that God created. Man and woman He created them! The human species was in the highest state above all the animal kingdom.

God gave the humans the right to rule the earth and take care of it. If you ask me how do I know that, my answer would be very simple. Whoever gives the name, whoever attributes the identity of any thing, is the master of the thing or the being that He names. The control of the identity is also the control of the person or thing that he named.

So, when God appointed the human being to give the names of the animals, God gave the human being the right to catalogue and to rule over the animal kingdom, over nature. The most important phrase of the story of Genesis is from 2:15.

The man is not indigenous to the garden. He is fashioned elsewhere, and finds himself in the garden only by the grace of God. It is very important for us to realize that the human being is not like the trees or flowers of the garden, and not like the animals. He is put there by God’s grace to work, to till, and to guard God’s creation and give the names, that is, to rule over God’s creation.

Yes, his needs are easily taken care of in the garden, but his life in the garden is not to be one lazy lifestyle. He has duties to perform. It is his responsibility to nurture and conserve the perfection of the garden.

This he must do by the labor of his hands. This is before man and woman sinned and disobeyed the Lord’s command. The design of the Lord was for man to administer and protect God’s creation. He was not to exert power over the creation, but he was to respond to nature’s needs with intelligent and wise guidance, so that it will be preserved and develop according to the original design of the Creator Himself. The Hebrew phrase in that verse of Genesis is “la’avda v’leshmara”, “to work (or serve) it and protect it”.

The end of this parasha of Genesis is verse 6:8. From that great divine appointment of the beginning of mankind’s design, and the close relationship of the men of flesh and blood in God’s domain, mankind has deteriorated and fallen to the point that God repents that He created man!

One of the saddest verses in the whole Bible is from Genesis 6:5,6:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” – Genesis 6:5,6 [NKJV]

The Hebrew word for “sorry” is “nacham”, which actually means “repent”. I have heard of parents that regretted giving birth to their child, and saying that it would have been better if they would have aborted this child before he was born. This is a sad state of a family. When a father or a mother rejects their child and wishes he was not born is bad enough, but when God, who created all things and crowned man above all of His creation, “repents” that He created man, that is much more than sad.

Here is the great love and grace of the Creator for His creation, and above all, for the man and woman that He created. Even though God was sorry that He created the humans, He found one man, who was not perfect, who had weaknesses and had problems, but relative to his generation, he was a righteous man – Noah!

Notice the small word between verses 7 and 8, and pay attention to the importance of one man in the way that the Lord of the universe makes His decisions. Don’t underestimate yourself and allow your meekness and weakness to block you from doing God’s will:

“So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” – Genesis 6:7,8 [NKJV]

Verse 9 is also of great importance to me:

“This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” – Genesis 6:9 [NKJV]

The “just” here is also “righteous” in Hebrew. The rabbis say that if Noah had lived in a different time (generation), he might have not been considered just or righteous, but in that evil generation he was relatively just and righteous.

Noah Building the Ark (Dalziels' Bible Gallery) | Parashat Bereshit
Noah Building the Ark (Dalziels’ Bible Gallery) 1881

How comforting and how wonderful is our Lord, who judges us on the bell curve, and relative to the time and place and the world we live in. This does not give us permission to do wrong, but it does say to us, and especially to me, that as long as I walk with the Lord, even in my weakness, and even if I fall, I can get up and keep on walking, holding on to the Lord’s gentle hand.

The Lord can use me, and you, and us, and all our brothers and sisters who seek to walk with the Lord and do it!

Joseph Shulam: A Comparison Between Divine and Pagan Creation Stories  [2016]

This next Shabbat, all the synagogues in the world will start reading the Torah from Genesis 1:1. They will read the story of creation. In some Christian circles, the story of creation is under attack. It is not considered “historical”, it is considered as an ancient epic poem not to be taken literally.

One of the reasons that some scholars have this opinion is that there are two ancient epic poems that precede Moses, and both of them have creation narratives. I would like to share a short comparison of the Genesis text with the Enuma Elish (Enûma Eliš), a Babylonian narrative of the creation story, and give you my analysis:

Enuma ElishGenesis
Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal.Divine One creates cosmic matter and exists independently of it.
Primeval chaos; Tiʾamat (the goddess of the abyss) enveloped in darkness.The earth a desolate waste, with darkness covering the deep (tĕhōm).
Light emanating from the gods.Light created.
The creation of the firmament.The creation of the firmament.
The creation of dry land.The creation of dry land.
The creation of luminaries.The creation of luminaries.
The creation of man.The creation of man.
The gods rest and celebrate.God rests and sanctifies the seventh day.

The Genesis text is dependent on (or has taken or learned from) the Enuma Elish (the Babylonian story of creation).First of all, we clearly see the similarity between these two texts. Second, we also see the differences. In the Genesis account we see that there is One creator divine Spirit. Because of the similarities, we have at least three possible explanations:

  1. The Enuma Elish and the Genesis texts are dependent on a third source that we don’t know and don’t have. Both of the stories are dependent on a common source that does not exist today.
  2. Each one has developed the narrative of creation by observance and analysis independently.

In this puzzle, all the possibilities are open. The most significant part of these texts is that both of them consider that the luminaries, the sun and the moon and the stars, were not created in the initial stage, but first there was a light from God, in Genesis, and from “the gods” in the Enuma Elish.

In other words, there is information here that is beyond the scope of natural observance. There is an element that is beyond the common knowledge and understanding that speaks of an undefined source of light that is divine, either by one God or by multiple gods of the idolatrous world.

Now let us remember, that in the book of Genesis, there were no idols and no nations in existence before chapter 11, and all of humanity spoke the same language. Among the nations (“goyim”) there must be a latent memory and information that is carried over as an epic of creation, that preserves ancient elements and reinterprets these elements in light of their present circumstance, that is idolatrous.

What we have here, in my opinion, is collaborative information from an ancient historical memory, transmitted in the pagan context of the nations, and reinterpreted in the idolatrous context of their history. What we have in Genesis is not a part of that historical ancient memory, because Israel was not a nation and did not exist before the Tower of Babel.

Abraham is called out by the Almighty God in chapter 12, after the fall of the Tower of Babel and the establishment of the nations. Therefore the story of Genesis is a divine revelation and not an epic poem based on a copy of the ancient Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, or the ancient Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh, that also has some common elements of historical memory.

The most significant difference is that the Divine One is independent of His creation. He created the world, and all that is in it, and He is still outside of the creation and above it. In the pagan view, the gods are a part of creation, and a part of matter, and coexistent with creation. This difference is of the greatest importance, because we have a wonderful creation that the Almighty God made for us as human beings, and He is above and beyond the physical creation.

I remember the words of the Apostle Paul that actually says it all:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” – Romans 1:18-23 [NKJV]