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.
Note: This is a double Torah portion. To learn more about double Torah portions, read here.
Yehuda Bachana: The Self vs. Responsibility: Achieving Balance – [2023 - Balak]
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Balak was the king of Moab, a region east of the Dead Sea in ancient Jordan.
The Torah paints a clear picture how all the surrounding nations are afraid of the new and mysterious people that is nearing their region. Everyone wonders what the source of Israel’s power is. Yet, perhaps the most asked question is, how Israel’s military advancement could be stopped.
Like everyone else, Balak understands that God is the One who granted the Israelites His divine protection and blessing. Balak is rightfully convinced that this blessing or spiritual protection enables Israel to be powerful and successful. Israel’s awareness of this divine gift boosts the army’s morale, which is expressed by the people’s courage, bravery and self-confidence.
In contrast to Israel, Balak’s army is inferior as it is fearful, suffers a low morale, and lacks courage and motivation. Under these circumstances, engaging into a physical conflict with Israel would not be a smart thing to do.
For this reason, Balak hires Balaam, a soothsayer, with the aim to curse Israel. The goal is to damage Israel’s spiritual strength, motivation and courage, which will then put an end to Israel’s military victories and advancement.
As the Torah portion progresses, we meet a female donkey. God opens her mouth and she speaks with Balaam. Our sages conclude, that God allowed the donkey to speak, in order to show Balaam that God gives or takes the very ability for a mouth or tongue to speak, warning Balaam to be careful.
Our words are powerful: God spoke, and the world came into being. For better or worse, speech is a tool to help us get better organized and to join forces. In the case of the Tower of Babylon, people used speech, yet with a negative result. And so, God confounds speech, making it much harder to organize the tower’s construction. This results in the people being scattered around the world.
Our words have the power to curse and to destroy. However, the opposite is also true. We have the power to bless others, to point out someone’s success, to encourage and to praise.
Nothing much has changed. While people usually tend to criticize quickly, we – however - often are less quick to give positive feedback. Let’s remind ourselves that it only takes one word to lift others up and to improve their day. I encourage myself, and us all, to do so more often.
For generations, our sages have wondered, whether the story of the talking donkey truly happened, or if it was just a dream. The truth is that this Bible story can be understood in both ways. If the story happened in reality - as a Messianic believer, I believe with all my heart - that God created the world. He created this material world out of nothing, just by speaking a word. So for me, there is no problem whatsoever, to believe that God can cause a donkey to speak.
On the other hand, this sequence of events could also be interpreted as a dream. Balaam asks the Moabite delegation to stay overnight, in order to wait for an answer from God. Indeed, God reveals Himself to Balaam in a dream that night:
“That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” (Numbers 22:20)
After receiving God’s permission to return with Balak’s men, the Torah returns to describe Balaam’s dream where a female donkey acts strangely and finally speaks. In this interpretation, the conversation with the donkey takes us back to the permission to go with Moabite ministers (verse 20):
“The angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” So Balaam went with Balak’s officials.” (Numbers 22:35)
Balaam is a very interesting and mysterious character. When we read this story, we suddenly understand that Balaam is a great prophet. He is filled with the Spirit of God and speaks with God often. Balak hires Balaam, because his words and his curses are powerful.
Caught by surprise, I need to internalize this thought: God communicates with and grants power, also to those who do not believe according to the Biblical faith. Even to those listed among our enemies.
And truly so, because God is the Lord of all flesh. God is not only ‘my God’, nor only ‘the God of Israel’. He is everyone’s God, because He is the only One: the Creator of the universe, of humanity and all of creation, and He communicates with everyone.
Balaam is a prophet from the nations. In our case, he is also evil and he dies a tragic death; nevertheless, God talks with him, and Balaam is known to us as:
“The one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High.” (Numbers 24:16)
Balaam is described by the New Testament as a false prophet. Meaning, he is a real prophet who truly hears from God; yet, his way is wrong. Balaam is greedy and proud, and he misleads and hurts others:
“Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man's voice forbad the madness of the prophet.” (2 Peter 2:15-16)
Second Peter dedicates an entire passage to false teachers like Balaam. This text shows that one can be very smart, knowing secrets and even hidden matters from Above, and still remain evil and greedy. Balaam teaches us that it does not matter how much we know, but it does matter how we use this knowledge.
Is being greedy always wrong? You see, we all want to succeed and make decisions according to what benefits us personally. The big question is, if this a sin, and why so? It is logical and normal that our actions are motivated by self-interest. This mechanism protects us and eventually leads to our success.
Can charity exist without profit? Can love exist without hate? There is an old story, named ‘two branches’, that demonstrates this question very well:
In the middle of a village stood a special, tree with two branches. This tree produced amazing fruit, but no one ate any of it. The fruit of one branch was poisonous; yet, nobody knew which one. One day, the people of the village had nothing to eat, while the old tree in the middle of the village continued to produce large, beautiful fruit.
The inhabitants gathered around the tree, not knowing what to do. Should they take a chance, and possibly eat the poisonous fruit? Or, should they not take the risk, and starve to death? The people walked around the tree, unable to decide.
Suddenly, a tribe elder picked a piece of fruit from one of the branches and took a bite. Everyone watched him eat as he continued to eat this juicy-looking fruit. Following his example, people hurried to pick the fruit from the good branch and feasted on the produce for many days. One day, someone said: “Why do we keep the poisonous branch? It does not benefit us. For sure, it is dangerous and will likely ruin the good branch.”
The townspeople took an axe and cut off the bad branch closely to the trunk, so it would never grow back again. They then returned to their homes, feeling happy and satisfied. When they returned the next morning, they found an old, dry and fruitless tree.
This story teaches us several lessons. The main one is the question: could good exist without evil? Could love exist without hate? Joy without sadness?
A person without an appetite, without the love of money, without jealousy and anger? Such a person would not take good care of him- or herself, nor make an effort to make a good living. Such a person would lack the wish for personal development, or the drive to build a family.
What inner power motivates us to persevere, compete, learn, succeed, get married, have children, to work and earn money? Would all of these be possible without desire, pride, jealousy, power and a strong inner drive?
The main lesson we learn from the story of the tree is that, in our world, good cannot exist without the possibility of evil. Besides, when we cut off the poisonous or evil part, we actually cut down the tree itself and destroy the very person and his or her very ability to strive.
God created us with two conflicting powers that struggle within us. The balance between these enables us a good life. It would be unhealthy to always be on the giving side. Time, strength, energy, attitude, the ability to listen and money: our resources are limited!
Even when we give to those in need, it will always come at the expense of something or someone else. It comes at the expense of our spouse, our children, our congregation or that of our friends. We must beware of the ultra-righteous attitude.
It is not right and even unwise to think that we should only invest in others. Giving to others is a commandment; nevertheless, we are not commanded to give our entire field away, but rather just the fringes, corners and whatever falls during the harvest. All the rest is ours.
It is okay to love yourself, and very worthwhile to invest in your appearance, to exercise and be fit, to look good, to care for your garden and to enjoy it. We should make ourselves a nice home and enjoy coming back home. It is a good and healthy thing to do.
God invested in this world. He created it and planted it with great love. At the end of the six days of creation:
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
There is nothing wrong with our desire to receive a payment or a reward. As we return to Balaam, how did he sin? It seems like he asked for God’s guidance every step of the way. Even when King Balak is angry with Balaam, he replies with a similar anger:
“From the start I told you that I can do nothing without permission from God."(Based on Numbers 23:26)
In fact, instead of cursing Israel, Balaam blesses our people with the famous words that every synagogue in the world repeats weekly:
“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!” (Numbers 24:5)
When and where, then, was decided that Balaam was greedy and evil? What is wrong with greed, meaning, the wish to make a profit or to be paid? However, the very definition of ‘greed’ does not mean ‘to make a profit’. Rather, being greedy means that someone takes a crooked path that includes deception, theft or lying. Being greedy always comes with the addition of hurting others, and that is unacceptable.
The New Testament gives a detailed list of qualities that are required of a leader:
“For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money.” (Titus 1:7)
These are some of the qualities that are required of leadership, and it includes not being greedy, meaning: not to profit at the expense of others.
At the end, Balaam advises Balak in a way that would damage Israel. Balaam advises Balak to exploit the Moabite women into sexually seducing the men of Israel. The goal was to damage Israel spiritually. We know that this was Balaam’s idea, because it is written in the Torah (Numbers 31:15-16).
After the war with the Midianites, Israel returns with bounty, which includes women as well. Moses is very angry that the Israelites have not learned their lesson. Through these women and due to Balaam’s advice, the Israelites falls into idolatry:
“And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.” (Numbers 31:15-16)
The story of Balaam teaches us that everyone is accountable for his or her own actions. And we will give an account for our own actions and decisions. Yeshua summarizes this by saying:
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mathew 12:36)
Yehuda Bachana: Messiah in likeness of the brass serpent [2023 - Chukat]
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Chukat is vital to the story of the Exodus. The Israelites finally are about to enter the Promised Land, after having wandered the desert for 40 years! It is with great sadness that we have to part from the wilderness generation, including the loss of our beloved leaders, Miriam the Prophetess and Aaron the Priest.
This is the Torah portion in which Moses strikes the rock, which bars him from entering the Land. We read about the diplomatic incident with the King of Edom, and a similar diplomatic incident with the Amorite King of Sichon. In the Haftara (Judges chapter 11), Jephthah of Gilead reminds us of the incidents with Edom and Sichon which the Torah describes.
It is interesting that then, like today, we had to defend our homeland, having to argue and prove our ownership of this land. In this Torah portion the children of Israel complain about God and Moses, yet again. G-d, then, sends snakes as a punishment. At times, snakes serve as a punishment from God in the Scriptures, for example:
“‘See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you’, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 8:17)
At the end of the punishment, Moses prepares the brass serpent according to God’s instructions. The serpent brought healing to those who looked at it.
Parashat Chukat opens with the words that can be literally translated with ‘these are the Laws of the Torah'. We deal with the uncleanliness of death, which is the greatest impurity of all. God provides us with the red heifer to purify us.
We read about the complete separation between life and death, separating those who passed on to the next world from the living. Likewise, the place where someone died is separated. Furthermore, an unclean person must be purified, because otherwise
“They must be cut off from Israel.” (Numbers 19:13)
There is a clear separation between the world of the living and the world of the dead.
The Scriptures explain that our reality is here and now, and that the divine commandments are given to us for this world. Everyone should remember that life is a gift from God. Truly, we also believe in life after death and in the world to come, with Yeshua as the gate to heaven.
Nevertheless, this world is our primal scene. Here we are tested and rewarded. For example, we are commanded to honor our parents, and instead of promising to take us to Himself more quickly, God promises us a longer life here on earth:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)
The essence of God’s commandment is for us to ‘choose life’ (Deuteronomy 30).
The idea ‘Yehareg v’al ya'avor’, literally means ‘let him be killed, and don’t transgress’. There are only three commandments that are more valuable than life, namely murder, incest and idolatry. Only these three extreme prohibitions stand above the sanctity of life, while all the other commandments are inferior to life itself.
All – but these three - commandments are to be canceled if their cancellation could save a live! Life, for example, is more important than preserving the Shabbat, and thus a doctor may work on Shabbat. God’s law is the law of life!
The Jewish culture, including the Messianic Jewish movement, is a culture of life. Our life in this world truly matters, and this world is very meaningful, too, as God created it with great love. He placed us in His garden to keep and maintain His creation.
According to our point of view and according to Jewish culture, we strive to improve our life here: to ease pain, to support and help one another. This stands in contrast to some other cultures that sanctify death, where the dead serve as a source of inspiration and suicide bombers are elevated to heroism. A culture of death sees murder in name of religion as legitimate and even worthy.
Unlike these, however, Parashat Chukat distances us from dealing with death. Death defiles, whereas the Word of God requires us to stay pure. So, how do we achieve such purity today?
The New Testament reorganizes the entire structure of worship; in fact, Yeshua embodies the solution. Since we don’t have the red heifer, we are unable to offer sacrifices and cannot approach the priests in the Temple. Therefore, we are in need of the Source through which we can receive purity. Hebrews points at Yeshua the Messiah as the source of holiness with all that it entails, including the priestly service, forgiveness through sacrifice and purification.
Hebrews explains the importance of Yeshua. Messiah Yeshua is the priest of the heavenly Tabernacle, which is perfect, pure and holy. The divine Tabernacle is not manmade.
Perhaps the most important point that the New Testament repeats frequently, is that Yeshua is clean and pure, as such that He is worthy to purify us, too. Besides purifying us externally, Yeshua - unlike the ash of the red heifer – purifies our hearts, as well:
“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13-14)
When I read the Sermon on the Mount from Mathew chapters 5 through 7, I understand that Yeshua came to write the Torah on our hearts. As a result, our commitment to God and those around us is not merely external nor superficial. Yeshua enables us to internalize the Word of God into our hearts. Likewise, our commitment and responsibility towards God’s Word become real and tangible, coming from within us, being visible through our day-to-day life.
Hebrews quotes Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant twice, both in chapter 8 and chapter 10. Chapter 8 quotes perhaps the longest quote found in the New Testament. What is the purpose hereof? The author of Hebrews sees much similarity between his own time and the time of Jeremiah the Prophet.
Most scholars agree, that the letter to the Hebrews was written around the time, or right after the destruction of the second Temple and that of Jerusalem. Similarly, the first Temple was destroyed in the days of Jeremiah. In both cases, the contemporary religious leadership was corrupt and greedy.
The population of Jerusalem went into exile. The people were concerned and fearful about their future as they lived with complete uncertainty. Therefore, the Epistle to the Hebrews is written as an encouragement, saying: you are not abandoned. Yeshua the Messiah fulfills every priestly duty, every sacrifice, every requirement for forgiveness and purification.
The end of chapter 8 explains that:
“By calling this covenant ‘new,’ He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (verse 13).
This verse talks about the Temple service and sacrifices. The same people of that time, and we too, are facing a strange reality: a reality without a Temple, without priests and without sacrifices. It is a reality that lacks purification. The purpose of this verse is to pass the no longer existing service of the earthly priests to the heavenly Hight Priest:
“Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (8:1)
Our purification is through Him, through Yeshua.
The main focus of Hebrews chapters 8 through 10 are questions concerning purity, forgiveness of sin, the priestly laws and sacrifices. Both Hebrews and the New Testament do not discuss the content of the Torah and its
commandments; however, it views the fact that the blood of Messiah cleanses us and purifies our lives in a period following the destruction of the Second Temple, which was followed by the elimination of the priestly services and sacrifices.
As mentioned before, in Parashat Chukat, the Torah jumps over a long period of time in the Biblical story. From Exodus chapter 12 to Numbers chapter 20 only 2 to 2,5 years have passed. Yet, suddenly in chapter 20 of Numbers, we reach the 40th year in the wilderness, the old generation passed, a new generation is born, and we are about to enter the Promised Land.
Specifically at this time and place, after the victory over the Canaanites and the release of the captives, Israel complains again. The people complain about the long journey, the manna, the water shortage; and so, they bring the punishment of the serpents upon themselves. Why does this happen?
I think the explanation lies in the combination of two things: the people leash out and are impatient as the result of their lack of confidence, and due to their uncertain situation. Another component is their lack of gratitude. Sadly enough, it’s natural for every generation to complain and forget to be thankful, even though we live in abundance.
The Exodus Generation received their freedom 40 years ago. They began their journey as a generation of slaves and were hurt, frightened, enslaved and were used to a certain slave-mentality. This generation was accustomed, and even dependent on certain daily routines. Suddenly, one random evening, this generation was granted its freedom. This clearly was a new situation for everyone.
The open and free wilderness caused them to search for new boundaries, and to figure out what is allowed and what is forbidden, and until when and where. At the same time, they lived in extreme uncertainty, especially at the beginning of their desert journey when every difficulty and every danger caused the former slaves to want to return to the safety of the well-known, familiar and predictable Egyptian prison.
In Chukat, we meet the new generation that was born in the desert for the very first time. To them the Egyptian slavery was merely a story they were told; yet, one they had never experienced personally. This generation was born free, which is why their sudden complaints catch us off-guard.
I could only imagine that one of the reasons for the complaints could be their fear of the unknown, the fear of change. Until now, this generation lived in a highly protected environment. God took care of everything: He provided heavenly manna and led them in the right direction with the pillar of cloud. Miraculously, He made sure their clothes did not wear out.
Now all of this was about to change. In the past, people only had to go outside and gather their daily portion of manna; tomorrow, however, they would have to plant, fertilize and irrigate, hoping the soil will produce some edible fruit and not just weeds and thorns. In the Promised Land we return to the ancient curse:
“Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for your, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In a sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17-19)
God punishes Israel with snakes, after which they repent and ask for forgiveness. God, then, commands Moses to make a brass serpent. The New Testament also uses a symbol of healing, as whoever wishes to be healed ought to turn to Yeshua:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3: 14-16)
These verses are perhaps the most beautiful ones in the Scriptures. They are the summary of the New Testament and explain the idea of salvation in one breath. Like the serpent in the desert, Messiah has to be lifted high for everyone, and whoever looks at Him, will be saved. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to give us everlasting life!
What is the analogy here? This story is still so relevant for us today. We live in true abundance, having everything we need and more. Yet, we are not always thankful and sin before God and people. God might send us snakes, in order to set us straight. Of course, such snakes could appear in a variety of problems or difficulties.
When we are ready to repent and return to serving God faithfully, again, God provides us with Yeshua. And, like the children of Israel looked at the brass serpent and were healed, we look to Yeshua and are healed. Yeshua heals us entirely, including our hearts. He transforms our heart of stone to a gentle, loving and serving heart.
The image of a serpent can serve as an important reminder, as Moses made this serpent in accordance with God’s instructions. Were we to have such a serpent today, it would be very special and impressive. As human beings, we love souvenirs, pictures and objects to bring back memories. Likewise, the Torah commands us to remember.
To remember the Exodus from Egypt and to remember the Shabbat. We even have to remember what Amalek did to our people. The Word of God commands us to look at the tassels, and to remember God’s commandments. As Messianic believers, we participate in the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of our forgiveness of sins through Yeshua.
On second thought, the serpent would likely turn into an idol. I can imagine how sick people from all over the world would travel here to look at it, hoping to be healed. What makes me think this? Because this is exactly what happened in the days of our kings.
King Hezekiah understood that the brass serpent had turned into idolatry, and therefore destroyed it:
“He removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars, cut down the wooden image and broke in pieces the brass serpent that Moses had made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan.” (2nd Kings 18:4)
The serpent does not heal, God does. In the same way, as Messianic believers, we place God and Yeshua at the center of our lives. They alone, and nothing else. Yeshua is our healer.
Joseph Shulam: Do We Bear His Reproach? – [2023 - Chukat-Balak]
This week we will read a double portion from the Torah. The reading will be from the portions called Chukat and Balak: Numbers 19:1-22:1, and for Balak the reading is from Numbers 22:2 – 25:9. The normal reading from the prophets this Shabbat for Chukat is from Judges 11:1-33, and for Balak from Micah 5:7 – 6:8. From the New Testament the reading this next Shabbat will be for Chukat from John 3:10 – 21, and the reading for Balak is from Revelation 2:12-23.
You might be totally confused now. Yes, the reading in the Land of Israel is different from the readings in the diaspora (around the world). Sometimes, there are two weekly portions read together in the Diaspora and of course this is what is happening this Shabbat of July 1st, 2023 outside of Israel. In Israel the reading will be only from the portion of Chukat, i.e., from Numbers 19:1-22:1, and from the Prophets from Judges 11:1-33, and from the New Testament from the Gospel of John 3:10-21.
What can I say, “It is not easy being green!”  There are differences in the Torah readings schedule between the Land of Israel and the rest of the world. There are also differences in the readings between Jews from the Arab and Spanish countries (Sephardic Jews) and those Jews who come from the Yiddish (Germanic language mixed with eastern European languages). So, it is true, “it is not easy being green!”
Now to the actual Torah texts; from the Torah portions called Chukat which is translated in NKJV as “ordinance of the law”. It could also be translated as “Constitution.”
This Torah portion is very interesting because it starts with what is called the “Red Heifer.” This is a cow that is red (like a red headed hair of a man or a woman.). The uniqueness of this teaching in the Torah is very interesting because it is the only sacrifice that was offered outside the temple (also outside of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.).
In fact, it was offered outside the whole camp of Israel in the wilderness and none of the offering was eaten by anyone. The whole animal was burned all the way to ashes, and only the ashes were used for different modes of purification of lepers, and clearing a woman who is accused of adultery (See Numbers 5:11-30).
Without the ashes of the Red Heifer there cannot be any purification from ceremonial or medical impurity. It is essential for Israel to have this sacrifice that was sacrificed outside the camp. Right now, all of the Jews in the world don’t have this kind of sacrifice, don’t have a temple, and don’t have a kosher priesthood, and therefore don’t have the ashes of the RED HEIFER!
It is interesting that in the New Testament, it is written in Hebrews 13:10 -16.
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. 16 But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Please notice that this sacrifice, that the writer of the book of Hebrews is talking about, is sacrificed outside the camp. Notice that the priests are not allowed to eat from this sacrifice. Notice that that blood of this sacrifice is brought to the temple for atonement of sins.
He is not talking about the sin of the High Priest’s sins, or individual sins, but the collective sins of those who serve in the temple.
After reading the text from Numbers 19 – it is very interesting that the writer of the book of Hebrews (who himself must have lived in the desert of Judea) makes the RED Heifer sacrifice, that comes from our Torah reading on this Shabbat from the portion Chukat, applicable and fulfilled in Yeshua (Jesus) who was sacrificed
“Outside the camp in order to sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”
The conclusion of this situation is that Yeshua was actually the ultimate sacrifice of the Red Heifer outside the camp and we, Yeshua’s disciples, must be willing to go with Yeshua outside the camp, and bear His reproach.
This is a very important teaching by the Holy Spirit calling us, the disciples of Yeshua, the followers of our Rabbi, Savior, Son of God, The Word of God that has put on flesh, i.e., the living Torah Himself. The worldly church is no longer willing to bear His reproach or suffer the persecution and rejection of the world.
The worldly church today, wants to be in concert and consensus with the world; to inherit the wealth of the world and wallow in it. The worldly church today wants to be not outside the camp, but to lead the world away from the suffering and sacrifice of the cross. It doesn’t want to “take up the Cross and follow Yeshua!”
Here is the text itself from the book of Hebrews. I am repeating the relevant text and urging all the leaders and teachers in the Body of the Messiah, worldwide, to get ready for rejection, and persecution, and alienation and repudiation of the followers of Yeshua ,who are living and walking and practicing what our Lord and the Apostles commanded us to do and live.
“Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. 15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”(Hebrews 13:13)
Those of us who lived in Israel as disciples of Yeshua in the 1960’s and 1970’s and 1980’s – know well what it means to bear the reproach of Yeshua for real, physically and emotionally, sometimes daily for months. Here are some of the things that Marcia my wife, and my whole family, had to go through as a part of following Yeshua and bearing His reproach outside the camp.
This is going to be a short list:
10 p.m. a knock on the door! Two young Orthodox Jewish men, stand with two big brown paper bags in their hands. I open the door and they cast the content of the two bags into our house. The children are sleeping. Laboratory mice, white, black, brown, run in our apartment in every direction. My mother, who was truly afraid of mice, and Marcia and Salim Munayyer who was our guest that night, started catching the mice and throwing them into the bathtub. (There was no water in the tub.).
After catching 39 mice and loading them, Salim Munayyer and I took the mice to the main police station in Jerusalem. It was already past midnight. We drop the bag of mice on the desk of the policeman who was on night duty. His name was Mikey Levi. Recently he was the speaker of the Knesset (Parliament) in Jerusalem. Mikey Levi the policemen started to scream, “Take them out from here!”
This event was the opening chapter of over three months of daily and nightly persecution, damage to property, threats, false reports that they have killed me and cut me to pieces. Marcia’s answer to the persecutors was, “Fine, my husband is now in Heaven, and you are going to hell forever!”
The situation stopped only after Mike Adams, who was the congressional aide to senator Howard Baker from Tennessee, took the news to the President of the USA. The President called the Israeli ambassador, who called Jerusalem, and immediately that wave of reproach and persecution stopped.
I am sharing these things with you just as an example of what it means to bear the reproach of Yeshua in the 20th century. I could continue sharing three times attempted murder on me, a military hand-grenade, a tinkering with my car so that I would die going down a steep hill going out of my house with the car…. beatings and more.
My point my dear brothers is that what the writer of the book of Hebrews is writing in the first century is not in theory. It is real, and just now, the Israeli television, on June 28th, in the afternoon, in Jerusalem, Christians were stoned and damage was caused to their home. In the last week Catholic Priests were beaten in the streets of the Old City. Yes, my dear brothers even in the 21st Century all over the world, not only in Jerusalem there are faithful disciples of Yeshua suffering His reproach.
You, my dear brothers and sisters, who live in freedom and without bearing any reproach for your faith, must consider one of the following possibilities:
1) That you are living in a community that is Christian and holy and democratic.
2) That you are not really following Yeshua, but living your life as a part of the world and the world likes you and pampers you because you are not threatening it and although you are going to church and claim to be a disciple of Yeshua, your life and action has no threat or criticism of the world.
3) That you are actually Christian by name only and have never given your life to Yeshua and to the Kingdom of God. You are nominally “a Christian!”
May be like in Finland, and Scandinavia, you give a part of your taxes to the Church and sometimes you might even go to Church. If some of these apply to you, the doors of repentance are always open and it is never too late for you to take Yeshua (Jesus) seriously and be committed and be converted and make Yeshua your LORD and SAVIOR and start serving Him; willing to go outside the doors of the city and bear His reproach like a flashlight shining in the dark, stand out.
The second reading portion on this Shabbat, outside of Israel, is the reading from the Torah portion called Balak. This Torah portion is named after a Mesopotamian sorcerer
(magician) who was hired by the King of Moab to curse Israel and give advantage to Moab and the other enemies of Israel to achieve victory and keep Israel from entering into the promised land.
The portion of Balak starts from Numbers 22:2 – 25:9. The whole story is fascinating, but the most fascinating thing is Balaam’s donkey. Balak is the King of Moab, and he invites Balaam the magician the sorcerer to come and put a magic spell on Israel so that they would be cursed, and God would abandon them, and they would not enter pass through his land.
Balak, the King, was willing to pay in gold to Balaam, who claimed that he will listen and do only what God will tell him. But Balaam’s greed gets the best of him, and he wants the best of both worlds. Balaam wants the gold that Balak promised him if he would curse Israel, and also at the same time wanted to hear and do what God commands him.
The Torah portion Balak is fascinating because Balaam, the international famous magician, had the ability to curse Israel. Balak, the King of Moab, offers Balaam gold and wealth and Balaam wants to receive the gold and wealth that Balak is offering, and he titers between wanting the wealth and approval of the WORLD and what the World can give him, but at the same time Balaam says these words:
“Then Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more. 19 Now therefore, please, you also stay here tonight, that I may know what more the LORD will say to me.” Balaam wants the wealth of the world and the political acclaim, but he also states that “I could not go beyond the word of the LORD my God, to do less or more.” (Numbers 22:18-19)
How many of us also have the same dilemma? On the one hand, we want to be faithful to the Creator, to our God and father. On the other hand, we want to be in with the WORLD and enjoy the riches and sinful pleasures of this world.
It is difficult for us all to step out of our cities, our world, and to out to the desert to meet and fellowship with Yeshua. The world is strong and tempting and inviting and Balaam was fortunate to have a donkey that could see more of the spiritual things than the famous Balaam.
The Angel of the Lord stands in the way of Balaam; trying to keep Balaam from falling into his temptation to curse Israel. The Angel tries to stop Balaam, but Balaam doesn’t see the Angel of the Lord. Balaam’s donkey sees the Angel holding the sword in his hand and threatening Balaam.
The donkey does all that he knows how to do to stop Balaam, but Balaam is blind to what is standing in front of him. The international magician and prophet doesn’t see the Angel, but his donkey sees the angel, and has a conversation with the Angel.
Balaam doesn’t understand why his donkey is behaving so differently and not being obedient and starts beating the donkey on the head with his stick. The donkey starts actually speaking to Balaam and conducting a conversation with Balaam and finally Balaam sees the Angel holding his sword in his hand.
The moral of the story for us today, is very simple and important. A beast of burden like the donkey, sometimes sees and hears more of God’s revelation than some prophets and “men of God!” We have the text from Isaiah that says,
“Who is Blind like my servant Jacob.”
There are so many lessons to be learned from the story of Balak and Balaam, but the main and most important lesson is that God can guide the man of God even by a speaking donkey, or even by a dumb donkey.
Sometimes a donkey can see more from God and be closer to God than the “man of God” – the pastor - the elder or the bishops. Leadership can often be blind to the Lord and His revelation, when a small child or a donkey, with open eyes, can be a leader for God’s people.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Balak [2022 - Balak]
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom. My name is Joseph Shulam. In partnership with Brad TV, we are doing the Torah portions that are being read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
This next Sabbath, the portion is called Balak. It starts from Numbers chapter 22, verse two and ends in chapter 25, verse nine. The parallel reading from the prophets is from Micah chapter five, verse seven, to chapter six, verse eight. And from the New Testament, Revelation chapter two, verse 12 to verse 23.
Now the interesting thing is that in all these places Balak, the king of Moab, is mentioned and of course, Balak the king of Moab is mentioned in connection with Balaam, the international Soothsayer, the international prophet. He is invited by Balak the king of Moab to come and curse Israel, put a spell on Israel. The reason that he wants to put a spell on Israel is because he is afraid. Israel’s been wandering in the Sinai desert for 40 years with big and formidable enemies like the Amalekites waging war against Israel.
The Israelis are a bunch of slaves that have been freed from Egyptian slavery. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for nearly 200 years. And so, there are several generations, four or five generations of people that were born slaves in Egypt, in hard labor. And after Joseph’s death, several pharaohs later, the Pharaoh that arises that doesn’t know the story of Joseph and sees these slaves growing and multiplying. He gets scared. And in the end, with 10 plagues from God on Egypt, he releases them and we have the Passover story and they’re in the wilderness.
Now for years, 40 years total, they’re approaching the land of Canaan. They have a battle with the king of Arad, which was one of the big cities in the Northern negative desert; a city that is at that time already a couple of thousand years old when the children of Israel came and had war with the king of Arad.
Now they’ve crossed on the other side of the dead sea into the land of Moab and Balak. The son of the poor sees them approaching his land. And he is dreaded because the children of Israel are so many. And he says that they are like the ox that eats up the grass of the field and leaves nothing behind him. And he thinks, how am I going to deal with these Israelites? They’re winning every war. Of course, he doesn’t know that they’re winning the wars, not because of their strength and their abilities. They’re winning the war because God, the God who created the heavens and the earth, is on their side. And he delivers the Amalakites and other enemies into their hands; miraculously, supernaturally, if you wish.
So, he decides to deal with it, also with what he would consider a supernatural power. He invites an international, Soothsayer an international magician, an international prophet. We would say false prophet, but a very capable prophet that has great international reputation. And he invites Balaam. The son of Beor from the land of Mesopotamia of the river. Great rivers and Balaam is offered a lot of wealth for coming down to curse the children of Israel.
Now, the fascinating thing about this story is that Balaam that Gentile false prophet has abilities has a reputation and international reputation has a record of success in his profession in his ministry as a soothsayer as a prophet as somebody who can call supernatural powers to participate in whatever curse he applies on on people and nations and Kings. So Balak. The king of Moab invites, Balaam gets on his donkey and he on the way to Moab from Mesopotamia from Iraq of today, he comes to what is Jordan today?
The country of Jordan first Balaam refuses to come. He refuses to come for several reasons. One of the reasons that he refuses to come he wants more pay. He wants more wealth to come to his side is not happy with what Balak the king of Moab offers him. But finally, they come to an agreement and Balaam gets on his donkey and he uh is hearing that Balak the king of Moab is going to give him house full of silver and gold and beyond words. So he, he, he agrees with the price and he gets on his donkey and he saddles his donkey. And he starts going down toward Moab quite a journey by the way, several hundred miles.
God is angry at Balaam and he sends an angel, the angel of the Lord. And he stands in the way of Balaam and his donkey. The donkey sees the angel of the Lord standing in the way with a drone sword in his hand. And the donkey doesn’t wanna go forward.
He starts turning aside. He starts to avoid the angel Balaam gets angry at the donkey. He starts beating the donkey Balaam doesn’t see the angel the donkey sees the angel Balaam think that the donkey is just being stubborn disobedient unwilling to cooperate but the donkey sees the angel and tries to avoid confrontation with the angel.
And he is being led by Balaam. Balaam has a stick and Balaam a hits the donkey cause the donkey doesn’t wanna go forward. Finally, the donkey goes against the, the rock against the cliff and squeezes Balaam’s leg against the wall, trying to get his attention. And Balaam *bong boom* hits the donkey on the head with a stick. Finally, the donkey talks in human language to this Gentile idolatress prophet called Balaam.
I said, why are you beating me? Why, why are you striking me three times? And Balaam answered the donkey because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my end that now I would kill you.
Balaam threatened the donkey the donkey answers Balaam and said, listen, am I not? your donkey? Have I not served you all these years that you’ve been riding on top of me, faithfully? And now what is it? What is it? You know, why can’t you understand what’s happening in front of you?
And only then the Lord verse chapter 22 of numbers chapter verse 31, the Lord opens Balaam’s eyes and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his drone sword in his hand. And he bowed his head and fell flat on his face in front of the angel of the Lord.
Now this, this story of the donkey talking is an interesting story. And you could take it anywhere you want to. I take the word of God, literally in this case because God can talk through the wall. He can talk through the wind. He can talk through the storm. He can reveal himself in any way that he wants. In this case Balaam the famous international prophet for prophets. Doesn’t see what the animal sees. He doesn’t see what the donkey sees. He doesn’t hear what the donkey hears. I think that there’s a great message there for today.
Why am I saying that that is a great message for today because today you’ve got 10 false prophets for a dime a penny of false prophet and, and most of ‘em are pastors and Christian leaders and, and, and television stars. That claim to be apostles, patriarchs, prophets whatever you want. But here you have a situation where the donkey has better insight on the things of the Lord than the famous international prophet Balaam.
Now, the interesting thing is that this false prophet Balaam does communicate from God and does hear from God and and that’s taken oath to do only what God wants him to do. He, he wants two things. He wants the gold and the silver that Balak king of Moab offered him at the same time he wants to do God’s will.
So how he is going to do it. So in the end, what happens is because he wants both things he does go down to Balak and uh agrees to go and, and talk about Israel. And he says some of the, s- some of the most famous prayer opening in the Jewish world every synagogue service around the world starts with the words of this Gentile prophet Balaam. The son of Beor coming from Mesopotamia.
He comes to curse Israel and he turns out that he blesses Israel and, and and the synagogue service in all the world on every holiday on every Sabba starts with the words how wonderful are your tents oh Jacob your dwelling places. Oh, Israel quotation from Balaam. The son of Beor “Ah, how wonderful are your dwelling places, Israel” your tents oh Jacob.”
That’s how the prayer services start in every synagogue on every holiday on every Sabbath day. Yes Balaam becomes one of the great villains of the Bible is mentioned all the way, many many times in the book of numbers. Beginning of chapter 22, almost to the end of the book of numbers is mentioned in the book of Joshua is mentioned in the book of Micah is mentioned in the book of Revelation will go to Revelation and see how how Balaam is mentioned.
And Balak is mentioned the king of Moab trying to harm the children of Israel. Stop the children of Israel from inheriting their rightful inheritance that was promised to Abraham to Isaac and to Jacob, our forefathers.
But, but the key part of this text that we call Balak is that all the means that human beings anti-Semites anti Israelites want to use to destroy Israel work and backfire at those who want to destroy Israel and to erase the Jewish people the people of Israel off the map of the world.
Now the only nation that I know in history that repeatedly throughout history, there have been attempts to delete them to cut their existence by big empires is the, the the small nation of the Jewish people, folks. We have in the Bible, more than one attempt. This is one attempt by the king of Moab Balak. That invites Balaam to delete Israel by cursing them.
Then you’ve got Haman in the book of Ester that proposes to art, Ahasuerus that emperor of the Persian empire Great Persian empire that ruled all of South Asia all the way to Kazakhstan all the stans Persia, Azerbaijan, Pakistan Northern India, Kazakhstan Birobidzhan, all these Southern former Soviet Union states who were ruled by, by Artaxerxes. And he attacked Greece. He lost the battle of Salamis in Greece with his armada ships.
That same Artaxerxes is convinced by his prime minister. By second in command Haman to write the letter to destroy lead the Jewish people from the empire delete the Jewish people didn’t work in in our own day. My parents are survivors of the Holocaust. Hitler decided to delete the Jewish people. The Catholic church during the inquisition in Europe decided to delete the Jewish people by forced converting them to Catholicism didn’t work. And in this case, the donkey of Balaam was smarter and a greater prophet than Balaam himself. It didn’t work.
Why didn’t it work? Cause God has chosen the Jewish people to bring salvation to the world through his son, a Jew, the king of the Jews. Yeshua, Jesus and anybody who turns against Israel in the end pays the price.
We pay the price too, because of our disobedience. We have suffered the diaspora of 2000 years. God promised he would, if we go against him and harden our heart against him, the land will vomit us out. And it did.
There were almost no Jews here for nearly 2000 years in this land. There were the Romans and the Byzantines and the Arabs and the Persians Finally, the, the, the British but finally God kept his promise to the people of Israel and the resurrection of the nation of Israel at 20th century phenomena.
The return of the Jewish people are still returning. It’s not over, we’re in the middle of the resurrection of the Jewish people. And, and we are going to see the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel, including the promise which was made by Isaiah, by Amos by Zachariah and by other of the prophets and by the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 11, verse 25 and verse 26 is a thus all Israel shall be saved in the end of the time of the fullness of the Gentiles which is taken a verse taken from Luke chapter 21, verse 24 describing what does it mean? The fullness of the time of the Gentiles?
It means when Jerusalem will it return to be ruled by Israel, by the Jewish people. And this happened in 1967, since 1967 dear brothers and sisters, the number of Jewish believers in Israel multiplied by thousands of percents. And not only in Israel around the world God is keeping his promises and every Christian in the world that wants to be on God’s side needs to be on Israel’s side.
If he wants the blessing that God gave to Israel may God bless all of you and keep reading the Bible in the name of our Lord. Yeshua keep reading the Bible open your mind read for yourself and pray for the holy spirit to quicken his word to you.
God bless you until the next Shabbat will continue reading the Bible and go to the portion called Pinchas uh Phinehas the way it’s pronounced in English Shalom from Jerusalem and blessing. Amen.
Joseph Shulam: This is the Ordinance of the Law [2022 - Chukat]
The reading this Shabbat is called Chukat (“This is the ordinance of the law”), from Numbers 19:1-22:1. From the prophets we will be reading Judges 11:1-33, and from the New Testament we will be reading from John 3:1-21. The Hebrew date today is 3 Tammuz, 5782.
In the Hebrew Bible, the names of the months are 1st, 2nd, 3rd — the months don’t have names, nor do the days, they are just numbers. We have Phoenician names of months from the time that Solomon brought thousands of foreign workers from Tyra. They are only in the chapters that deal with the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem in the days of Solomon.
I actually want to start today to discuss the Hebrew (pagan) name of this month, Tammuz. The names of the months that are used in the Jewish calendar in the last approximate 2000 years are Sumerian, Babylonian, and Canaanite names — most of them names of pagan gods.
Tammuz is the worst of the Babylonian gods. He was mainly the god of the summer harvest. He died in the winter and was resurrected in the spring. Because Tammuz was the god of fertility, the rites of worshiping Tammuz were absolutely horrible.
Tammuz was very popular in Canaan. And the Israelites adopted him so deeply that in the book of Ezekiel we read that inside the Temple in Jerusalem they had a statue of Tammuz, and the women were crying for him.
Tammuz was the god that had power over everything that the shepherd culture of Israel wanted. He was the god that made the wheat grow and be harvested, and he made the grass in the hills of Judea and Galilee grow in abundance.
If I had to describe Tammuz in terms of 21st century Christian culture, Tammuz would be the ultimate god of prosperity. Many of the prosperity-preaching pastors, and a few messianic Jewish rabbis, would be very happy with Tammuz. They would gladly worship Tammuz and promise prosperity to anyone that would bring a bushel of fresh harvested wheat or barley to put at the feet of the priests in the temple of Tammuz.
The reason that I am sharing this with you, dear brothers and sisters, is that modern Judaism, both in the diaspora and in Israel, has much to clear and clean up in the process of restoration, in the return to the Torah and the prophets and the writings. (We call them in Hebrew “Tanach”, and in English you call these books “The Old Testament.”)
Cleaning up paganism, in my opinion, is essential before the return of the Lord. Here is a picture of the return of the Messiah from Isaiah chapter 60:1-9:
“Who is this who comes from Edom, With dyed garments from Bozrah, This One who is glorious in His apparel, Traveling in the greatness of His strength?— ‘I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.’ Why is Your apparel red, And Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? I have trodden the winepress alone, And from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, And trampled them in My fury; Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, And I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, And the year of My redeemed has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, And I wondered That there was no one to uphold; Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; And My own fury, it sustained Me. I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, Made them drunk in My fury, And brought down their strength to the earth. I will mention the loving-kindnesses of the Lord And the praises of the Lord, According to all that the Lord has bestowed on us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies, According to the multitude of His loving-kindnesses. For He said, ‘Surely they are My people, Children who will not lie.’ So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old.” — Isaiah 63:1-9 [NKJV]
Note who this text from Isaiah describes first – the one that is coming from Edom and Bozrah. This was a code word for Rome, and later for the Roman Catholic church.
This glorious One, traveling with the greatness of His strength (meaning He is all-powerful) is coming to judge the people of the land (the world), and HIs garments are stained with blood, because the judgment that is coming is not ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s. It is a horrific event that will cause death and suffering in the world.
In the first coming of the Messiah described in Isaiah 53, the Messiah comes humble, rejected, suffering, taking our sins upon His shoulders. Not in the second coming. He is now riding on a horse, not on a donkey. He still has lovingkindness for His children. He still will bestow mercies to His people, but He will also bring judgment on the evildoers and those who rebelled against Him and the Lord.
The reason that I am writing this to you, dear brothers, is because not only Christianity has much to clean up in preparation for the return of the Lord to this world to be King and Savior. But because Judaism and the nation of Israel also have to clean up and get away from the tons of idolatrous and pagan things that we have carried with us during the more than 2000 years of diaspora.
I would like to see Jews help Christians to restore the faith of the apostles and the prophets of God, and would like to see Christians encourage Jewish disciples of Yeshua to clean up the vestiges of paganism that we have imported to the land of Israel, but also to our Jewish hearts. This cleanup is an urgent necessity for both Jews and Christians.
We each can’t do it alone. And history of the last few centuries proves that the Protestant Reformation and the Restoration Movement that started in 1807 in Cain Ridge, Kentucky, have both failed miserably. Instead of creating unity, like the original pastors in Cain Ridge wanted, more division and new denominations keep growing like poisonous mushrooms, spreading hate and not love for each other. A thing that would be easy for the Jewish people would be to clean up from the pagan heritage that we carried with us from Babylonian, Roman, Protestant, and American paganism.
You might be angry with me, for being so direct, opinionated, and harsh. No, dear brothers and sisters around the world, don’t ascribe to me harshness or meanness or hate of my Christian or my Jewish brothers and sisters.
The only thing that I am concerned with is my deep love for you, my Christian brothers and sisters from the valleys to the highest mountains of this world. My only concern is that when the Lord returns to Zion with a sword in His hand, we will enjoy His love and grace and not the judgment that He is going to afflict on those who have been stuck in the old paganism that our fathers were infected with by their places of exile.
The diaspora was and is a threshing floor that is separating the wheat from the chaff in the judgment of the Lord upon His return. I want to be among those who have cleaned up and taken the extra oil for my lamp in case the Lord is delayed and coming late.
I don’t want to celebrate the death of Baal on the first day of the seventh month, as new year. I want to hear the trumpet sound and declare war on idolatry, not sink in the deep pools of blood of those who have worshiped the beast. I hope you too want the same!
Now a few words on the Torah reading of this shabbat. This shabbat is one of the special shabbats called “The Shabbat of the Red Cow”. The Red Cow ceremonies are fascinating.
The one that is very interesting to me is the one where a husband is suspecting that his wife is not being faithful to him. He takes from the ashes of the Red Cow (heifer) that is burned outside the camp and mixes these ashes in water and lets his wife drink from that water that is mixed with the ashes.
If she is speaking the truth when she says that she was faithful and didn’t sin, nothing will happen to her. However, if she is not speaking the truth and she did actually committed adultery – the same water with the same ashes would give her very big and serious pain, and it would be known to all that she did commit adultery and betrayed the trust of her husband…
One more function of the ashes of the Red Cow is the cleansing of the person who had leprosy. Without the ashes of the Red Cow (heifer), a person who had leprosy, or was suspected of leprosy, could not be declared clean. And a person who touched a dead person or a beast could not be declared clean.
The other major issue in this week’s portion of the Torah is the story of Moses and the rock that gave Israel water. The story is much more complicated for Christians, because they don’t remember what happened in Exodus chapter 17 when Israel also didn’t have water and Moses cried to God.
This is what God spoke to Moses:
“So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” — Exodus 17:4-7 [NKJV]
The story in our Torah portion is the cause why God didn’t allow Moses to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It is a harsh punishment that was given to Moses for striking the rock in place of talking to it. But, I am sure that the Lord had another agenda for Moses, and for the type of leadership that was needed to launch a military campaign to conquer the land that God gave to Abraham and his seed as an everlasting inheritance.
So, we do see that the first time there was a need for water in the wilderness of Sinai, the Lord told Moses to take the leaders of Israel with him, and strike the rock, and water came out of the rock.
In 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, Paul makes some very strange statements. The most difficult to understand is verse 4:
“…and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 10:4 [NKJV]
I would like to unravel the mystery that Paul is bringing here. The first thing that I would like to do is to try to understand this text in the simple and plain exegesis.
“Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.” — 1 Corinthians 10:1-5
“And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, ‘Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.’ And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” — Exodus 17:3-7
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the rod; you and your brother Aaron gather the congregation together. Speak to the rock before their eyes, and it will yield its water; thus you shall bring water for them out of the rock, and give drink to the congregation and their animals.’ So Moses took the rod from before the Lord as He commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock; and he said to them, ‘Hear now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you out of this rock?’ Then Moses lifted his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came out abundantly, and the congregation and their animals drank.” — Numbers 20:7-11 [NKJV]
“…who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock…” — Deuteronomy 8:15 [NKJV]
“And they did not thirst When He led them through the deserts; He caused the waters to flow from the rock for them; He also split the rock, and the waters gushed out.” — Isaiah 48:21 [NKJV]
Paul knew that pharisaic midrash of the rabbis’ previous generations. The Rock that gave the water according to Paul is the Messiah, and the Messiah, as the Rock, followed them in the wilderness.
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Chukat [2022 - Chukat]
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam, together with Brad TV, we are partnering in doing the weekly portions of the Torah that are read in every synagogue.
This week we are talking about a portion that is called Chukat, which means “my laws”, “God’s laws”, and it’s from, Numbers 19:1, till Numbers 22:1. The portion from the prophets, that is read in the synagogues, is Joshua from chapter 11:1-33 and from the New Testament, we’re reading, John chapter 3:1-21.
This portion, in the synagogue, is called the portion of the red heifer. The ‘Red Cow’, is one of the most mysterious commands in the whole five books of Moses. It’s a strange command. It’s a mysterious command, but it’s an important command, nonetheless.
It deals with a red heifer, a red calf, that has to be completely red, and cannot have a white spot, not in the leg, not in the forehead, not in the body; or a dark spot, or a black spot, a completely red cow. It has to be a perfect specimen, without a blemish.
It has to be a calf, a cow that has never been yoked, or put to work, as with a plow, or in other jobs on the farm, or to pull a cart. It has to be, sacrificed, but not in the normal sacrificial, way of sacrificing animals to the Lord, which is either in the tent of meeting during the wilderness, or in the temple in Jerusalem, on the altar, in the temple by the priest.
No, this calf, this red cow, has to be sacrificed outside the camp. In a place that is not in Jerusalem, but outside Jerusalem. And it has to be burned completely. The whole cow has to be burned, turned into ashes. But before it is burned, you have to add to it cedarwood. And you have to add to it, hyssop, which is essentially oregano; wild oregano is hyssop. And you have to add scarlet yarn; wool yarn that is scarlet, red. And this red heifer is burned completely. Its ashes are what’s important.
It’s not eaten. It’s the only sacrifice that nobody eats from; not the priest, not the people who sacrifice it. It’s not donated by somebody from the outside. It’s something that the temple itself, the priesthood itself, has to provide. It’s a very different sacrifice.
It was used for several purposes in the Law of Moses. One of the main purposes is purification. If a person is defiled, that he touched a dead body, or he had some kind issue of voluntary secretion of some bodily liquids, or he was a leper, and he had to be, you know, announced pure from leprosy. Then these ashes, of this red heifer, played a major role. Without these ashes, a person could not be purified or could not be declared pure. So, the red heifer had a very important function.
When the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, obviously there was no more temple, no more priesthood that’s functioning, no more sacrifices in the temple, and no more red heifer. The ashes of red heifer didn’t exist anymore. That means that Israel, until this very day, could be considered impure; ceremonially impure. We don’t have a temple. So, it’s not practically important.
We just finished the Passover, a day ago. And now we are after the Passover. But, if we touched a dead person, or a dead animal, or had leprosy, or had some kind of other thing that makes us impure, there’s no way for us to be purified from the point of view of the Law of Moses; there is no way for us to be purified. We don’t have the ashes of the red heifer. We don’t have a kosher priesthood. We don’t have a kosher temple. We don’t have any of the institutions, and instrument for us to be purified after 70 AD.
Now, there is a very interesting first century AD (after Christ, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD) document, that I think is very, very important for us to understand in relationship to this red heifer. I am reading to you now from a rabbinical source. A major rabbinical source, it’s called, “Midrash Rabbah”. This is the main Midrashic body of literature. And here is the story of what happened, soon after the destruction of the temple at 70 AD.
The rabbi that is being discussed here is a great grandson of Gamaliel, that was mentioned in the New Testament. His name was Rabbi Johanan, John, the son of Zacchaeus, in English, or in Hebrew, Johanan Ben Zakkai. He’s a rabbi that escaped the siege of Jerusalem, and saved his disciples by playing dead. And only the dead were allowed to get out of Jerusalem, for burial during the Roman siege of Jerusalem at 70 AD.
So, his disciples all gathered and took him out as dead. Then they went to Titus, the Roman general, that later became a Caesar in Rome, and he let them go. They said to him, we give you Jerusalem, and we want Jamnia, Yavneh, (that is not far from, between Ashkelon, and Ashdod, by the sea coast of the Mediterranean Sea, some distance from Jerusalem) about an hour and a half distance driving from Jerusalem.
So, Titus agreed, and gave them Jamnia, and Jamnia became a major center for rabbinical studies, and for the composition of rabbinical literature. So, Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, a gentile, came to him, and asked, “These rituals you do, they seem like witch craft”. You bring in a heifer’,( that means a calf or cow)‘burn it, crush it up, and take its ashes. If one of you is impure by the dead, or has a very strong impurity, two or three drops sprinkled on him, and you declare him pure’”. He asked him, “Has a restless spirit ever entered you?” He said to him, “No”. “Have you ever seen a man where a restless spirit entered him”? He said to him, “Yes.” Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai said to him, “And what did you do for him”? For a person that has been defiled by a restless spirit, by a demon? He said to him, “He brought roots and made them smoke beneath him, and pour water, and that spirit flees”. “The spirit flees”, the gentile said. If we mix, you know, water, and sprinkle on this guy, then the spirit runs away. The gentile asked this question is right.
The same substance that can purify, somebody that is impure, if a pure person touches the same substance, he becomes impure. So, the same stuff that can make you pure, and the same substance if you’re pure, can heal you. And if you’re pure, and you touch it, you become impure. So, it’s the gentile with the question, who is right. It looks like witchcraft. If an Israelite didn’t have the ashes of the sacrifice of the red heifer, he could not get purified. If he is leprous, he cannot get purified.
Even if he’s healed, like Yeshua healed the 10 lepers on their way going through Samaria. And he met them, and they begged him to heal them. And he healed all 10 of them. And what did he do? He didn’t say go home. He said, go show yourself to the priest to get declared, purified. How? By the ashes of the red heifer.
There is another very useful use of the ashes of this red heifer. And that is if a husband suspects that his wife was unfaithful. And, of course that puts a strain on their relationship. They go to the priest, and the priest mixes the ashes of the red heifer with water, pure water, and lets the woman drink it. If she gets a strong stomach ache from this, it means that the husband is right, and she’s been unfaithful. If she gets nothing out of it, it means that the husband is wrong, and she has been faithful and there’s no reason for him to suspect her. This is in Numbers, chapter five. The usefulness of these ashes, was extremely important.
This gentile was also right. He asked the right question from Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai gave him the answer “don’t worry about it.” Neither, the touching of a dead person makes you impure, nor does the ashes of the red heifer makes you pure. Very strange question. Very strange answer. Why is it strange? Because what did Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai do? He essentially said, that the whole thing of the ashes of the red heifer, is psychological, not real.
It’s a way to ensure that the person who is purified experienced something that gave him like, a diploma, that he is now pure; gave him a priestly edict that is pure. But in reality, Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, told that gentile, no, these things in the Torah are not really real. They are psychological, they are spiritual, but they don’t have a real value, as far as the person being pure, or impure. His disciples came to him, and said, Rabbi, you gave a sorry excuse to this gentile. In other words, you diminished the power, the literal understanding, of the text of the Torah.
How could you do that? How Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai, how could you do that? How could you say that if you touch a dead person, you don’t really become impure? You have the water of the red heifer, with the ashes of the red heifer, and that doesn’t really purify you. Give us the real story behind it! This is what the Rabbi said, “By your lives” you know, they swore; “a dead person doesn’t make things impure, and the water doesn’t make him pure”. “Rather God said, I have engraved the rule. I have decreed a decree, and you have no permission to transgress what I decreed. As it says, this is the law, of the Torah”.
That’s an interesting text, which reveals to us, some of the dynamics of religions. In the end, you have the rules, and you have reality. You have the laws, and you have reality. You have the doctrines, and you have reality. And what Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai told his disciples, listen, we are obligated to what God commanded. We’re not obligated to understand everything, and to agree with everything. But these are the rules that God gave us. And if we can’t practice them, it’s not our problem.
If God took away the temple from us, destroyed it by the Romans, the rules are there, but we have to do the best we can with what we have. An interesting thing.
Now, this text of the red heifer, is revealed to us as a very important, very, very important, relationship to Yeshua himself. I’m reading now from Hebrews, the letter to the Hebrews 13:10-13:
“We have an altar from which, those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat”.
As you should know, from reading the Torah, till now, priests offered the sacrifices that people brought, and they all had a part of the animal, as their portion, as their tithe. And they could eat it. People came to sacrifice, they got a portion of their sacrifice, for most of the sacrifices that they offered. And they participated in the sacrifice by eating that portion that belongs to them.
The priest also got a portion. But there’s only one sacrifice, in all the laws of sacrifice, that nobody got to eat from it; not the priest, and not the people who offered it, nobody. And that is the sacrifice of the red heifer.
I’m reading from Hebrews 13:10-13
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, and burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also, that we might sanctify the people with His own blood. He suffered outside the camp, outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”
What is the writer of the book of Hebrews saying? That the model, the pattern, the paradigm of the way that, Jesus, Yeshua, his sacrifice atones for us, is like that of the, red heifer; is like that of a sacrifice that was outside the gate of the city, outside the camp, outside the temple.
The place of crucifixion in Jerusalem was outside the city, not inside the city, and the writer of the book of Hebrews connects, Yeshua, as the ultimate red heifer. The ultimate purification of our souls, and our lives. The ultimate sacrifice that is totally consumed, with hyssop, with cedarwood, and, all of it happened outside the camp.
Yes, dear brothers, and sisters, the Torah is relevant for us to understand. Also things in the new Testament like Hebrews 13:10-13, that connects us with the red heifer, connects us with the sacrifice that was offered outside the camp. Connects us by inviting us, as disciples, not to be tied to the establishment of the city or to the establishment of the church. But to be willing to step out, socially, intellectually, spiritually, to be where Jesus is, outside the camp. Outside the consensus, of human, experiences.
Yes, may God bless us all, and give us the courage, and the willingness to be different. Different than the world that we live in. Different than the world that calls itself Jewish, or Christian, and follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Being willing to be different from our culture, from our society, and sometimes also, from our religious establishments, that created institutions, that don’t exist in the Bible.
And may God bless us all, and guide us from the word, and from Holy Spirit. God bless you. Amen.
Joseph Shulam: Balaam's Dilemma [2021 - Balak]
These last few months we have been living through the events and developments that we read of in the Torah from the portion of Balak. The appearance is not the same but the substance is very close to what we read this Shabbat in the Torah.
The reading this Shabbat is from the book of Numbers 22:2 - 25:9. From the prophets we read from the book of Micah 5:6 - 6:8. From the New Testament we read from Romans 11:25-32.
If you read these three texts at home and read them out loud you will hear yourself reading the word of God from the Torah, the prophets and from the New Testament. You will suddenly understand why tradition has chosen to read these three particular texts on this Shabbat. You will understand the logic of the tradition of reading the Torah on Shabbat.
What do we have in Parashat Balak?
We have a king of a very powerful nation east of the land of Israel whose goal in life is to destroy the Jewish people. He wants to delete the nation of Israel from the face of God’s earth.
The Torah doesn’t say why he wants to do this harm to Israel. Balak is a king of a powerful nation, a rich nation. Israel has no intention to harm that nation or to wage war or conquer that nation east of the God-given borders of our land.
However, Balak has set in his mind that Israel has to be eliminated. Balak can’t do it alone because he understands that Israel has been able to enter the land west of the Jordan River and settle it and make it into a garden and drive their enemies away. Balak understands that there is a much greater force on Israel’s side than the vast military force that stands on his side.
He thinks that with magic, sorcery, and powerful help from outside, Israel can be subdued. So, Balak, King of Moab, goes to the United Nation’s most powerful master of witchcraft, Dr. Balaam, the son of Beor. This Balaam son of Beor is a talented, wise, greedy, and a crafty politician with an international reputation of success in derailing nations.
Balak goes to this Balaam and invites him to come and destroy Israel by witchcraft and sorcery. Balaam wants to come and get the mountains of gold and riches that Balak is offering him.
Balaam also knows the reputation of the God of Israel as the most powerful God that reigns both in Heaven and on Earth. This puts Balaam in a dilemma. On the one hand, he wants to get the riches offered to him for his services against Israel. On the other hand, Balaam knows the power of God and the blessings with which God has blessed Israel. Balaam also knows how to communicate with the God of Israel.
What a dilemma Dr. Balaam has to resolve. How to get the riches that Balak is offering him and still stay on God’s good side. We have nations like these today. We have nations to the North and East of us that for no rational reason want to destroy us.
They can’t do it alone, so they seek powerful allies to support them and enrich them and provide witchcraft and weapons of destruction to destroy this small but blessed nation of Israel. The power of Israel has never come from our army, or the number of our soldiers, or the power of our weapons.
It has always been little boy David against the giant Goliath. It has always been a battle by the defense of the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our victories and survival have always been dependent on the mercy and promises of God Himself.
Our enemies hate us, not because we have a desire to destroy them, because we don’t have such a desire. The only desire that Israel has, is simply to live in peace in this small God-given corner of the Levant. Our borders have not been shaped by our desire to expand, but by the promises of God to Abraham our father.
This irrational hate against us doesn’t come because of what we do. What we have done since the birth of this nation when Abraham heard God’s voice speaking:
“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:2,3 [NKJV]
The clear and blessed fact of history is that Israel has been a blessing to the whole world. The words of Balaam the sorcerer that open every worship service at every Jewish Synagogue in the world are true:
“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!” – Numbers 24:5 [NKJV]
These words of evil Balaam are historically true. The Jewish nation has been a blessing to the whole world from day one of our history. Here is a very short list of the blessings that the Jewish nation has been to the whole world:
- Joseph saved Egypt from hunger.
- We preserved and held the Word of God for the whole world.
- The number of modern contributions to the world are so numerous that several large volumes would not be sufficient to enumerate them. Just think that this small nation of less than 10,000,000 people (less than seven million of whom are Jewish), has more Nobel Prize winners than nations that have billions of inhabitants.
- Israel settled the small land of Canaan that was divided between seven nations that had come here from various parts of the ancient world, Jebusites, Girgashites, Amorites, Philistines, Prizites, Canaanites, and more… These nations were in constant war with each other. Israel, after the conquest of the land of Canaan (that was an Egyptian province at the time), brought stability to the region.
Who stopped Balaam from using his witchcraft against Israel? His donkey did! Because that big-time Dr. Balaam with the big-time international Re-Putin-nation, was stopped by his donkey. The donkey could see the angel of the Lord, with a sword in his hand, trying to stop Balaam, but Balaam could not see or hear the angel of the Lord.
The story is long and here are some things from the New Testament that show us that among the early disciples, and in the days of the early church, and I believe even today, the spirit of Balaam still existed:
“They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…” – 2 Peter 2:15 [NKJV]
“Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” – Jude 1:11
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” – Revelation 2:14 [NKJV]
I am stopping here because the end of the reading portion of Balak is connected with next week’s portion of the Torah, Pinchas (Phinehas). There is only one other thing that is of great importance to me, and that is the reading from the New Testament from Romans chapter 11:25-32.
Please read it. You will know and understand that in the end, this small nation of Israel which settled and is nested in this small piece of land, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, will be saved, blessed, and a light to all the nations of the world.
Stay on the faithful side and with God’s people, and don’t trust all the fake world politicians that want to destroy and uproot the Jewish nation of Israel from God’s promises. The goals of the greedy and power mongering world famous politicians are the same as the goals of Balak, King of Moab, and Balaam, the son of Beor.
Joseph Shulam: Yeshua is No Longer on the Cross [2021 - Chukat]
The events in Israeli politics and the continued aggression from Gaza and the coronavirus in the background of all this inside and outside total mess in our region is a good background for dealing with the Torah portion of this coming Sabbath.
This week’s reading is on the first Sabbath of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (the name is Babylonian and it is the name of one of the worst idols in the ancient Middle East). The modern Hebrew calendar is imported from the Babylonian Exile after 586 B.C.E.
The reading is Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1–22:1. From the prophets, the Haftarah is from Judges 11:1-33. From the New Testament, we are reading John 3:1-21.
I am tempted to teach from the Torah because there are a few very important teachings in this Torah portion that have important significance for the New Testament. I am tempted to teach from the Haftarah of Judges 11 because it has the story of one of the most fascinating judges, Jephthah, the Gileadite. Gileadite means that he comes from the Gilead. The rich agricultural east side of the Jordan River.
I remember well a song that we used to sing in church when I was in South Georgia in 1962-64:
“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead. To heal the sin-sick soul. Sometimes I feel discouraged. And deep I feel the pain. In prayers the holy spirit. Revives my soul again. There is a balm in Gilead. To make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead. To heal the sin-sick soul.”
The lyrics of this hymn immediately remind me of the judge, Jephthah, who took an oath that he would sacrifice the first thing that comes out to greet him when he returned home, if he wins the battle. He never imagined that the first “thing” that would come to greet him would be his daughter.
Nothing could make Jephthah not keep his oath to the Lord. There was no balm in Gilead to heal Jephthah’s grief after his great victory over the enemy.
The Torah portion has two great stories that have great implications for me personally and I hope for you too. The first narrative that I would like to discuss from the Torah portion is the interesting practice with the Red Heifer. You might not realize that one of the models that the writer of the book of Hebrews applies to Yeshua our Messiah is the Red Heifer.
The writer of the book of Hebrews takes the Red Heifer and the practices that the Torah applies to it and applies it to Yeshua and takes this, and applies it to the disciples of Yeshua in the First Century, and I believe that it also applies to us. Here is the text from Hebrew 13: 9-15:
“Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace, not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” – Hebrews 13:9-15 [NKJV]
Notice that the only sacrifice that is offered, that no one eats from, is the Red Heifer. The only sacrifice that is offered outside the camp is the Red Heifer. The only sacrifice that can declare the leper clean was burned outside the camp, outside the gate of the city.
The point of the writer of Hebrews is that Yeshua was sacrificed outside the gate of the city and outside the camp (socially and politically) and His disciples also must understand that there is no purification and forgiveness of sins left in the city (Hebrews was written just at the eve of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.).
Yeshua’s place and His crucifixion was outside the camp outside of the city gate of Jerusalem like the Red Heifer. An interesting text is found in the Talmud about the Red Heifer dated to just after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem.
“A gentile asked Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, ‘These rituals that you do, they seem like witchcraft! You bring a heifer, burn it, crush it up, and take its ashes. [If] one of you is impure from exposure to a dead body[the highest type impurity], 2 or 3 drops are sprinkled on him, and you declare him pure?!’ He [Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai] said to him, ‘Has a restless spirit ever entered you?’ He said to him, ‘No!’ ‘Have you ever seen a man where a restless spirit entered him?’ He said to him, ‘Yes!’ Then he [Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai] said to him, ‘And what did you do for him?’ He said to him, ‘We brought roots and made them smoke beneath him, and pour water and it flees.’ He said to him, ‘Your ears should hear what leaves from your mouth! The same thing is true for this spirit, the spirit of impurity, as it is written, (Zachariah 13:2 [NKJV]) “I will also cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to depart from the land.” They sprinkle upon him purifying waters, and it [the spirit of impurity] flees.’ After he left, our rabbi's students said, ‘You pushed him off with a reed. What will you say to us?’ He said to them, ‘By your lives, a dead person doesn't make things impure, and the water doesn't make things pure. Rather, God said, “I have engraved a rule, I have decreed a decree (chukah chakakti, gezeira gazarti), and you have no permission to transgress what I decreed, as it says ‘This is a chok (rule) of the Torah.’”’” – Midrash Rabbah Numbers 19:8
This text from the rabbinical material is interesting because it is an event that took place very close to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai actually is doing the same thing that Paul did – spiritualized the commandment and made it practicable anywhere in the world, even without the Temple.
The major change of attitude of Rabbi Yochanan is forced by the reality that the Temple is no longer, and now the “touching a dead person doesn’t make you impure, and the water of the ashes of the Red Heifer does not make things pure. The Torah that is engraved in your heart is what matters more than all the rituals.”
The third point from the Torah portion is also connected with Yeshua our Lord. It is the cure for the unfaithfulness of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai and the stopping of the plague of the snakes in the wilderness. The cure was a brass snake that was lifted up and those who looked on that brass snake were cured from the snake bites and lived.
This story is the model of the idea that Isaiah states and connects to the Messiah:
“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high. Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; So shall He ]sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.” – Isaiah 52:13-15 [NKJV]
The cross reference to this text is in the New Testament in John 3:14-15:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:14,15 [NKJV]
These days of so much hate and so much disorder and false accusations between our politicians, all of Israel needs to remember the plague of the snakes in the wilderness and God’s cure of that plague with such a crazy instrument, the snake made from brass, and lifted up high on a tall rod, so that people could see it and be cured.
What we must realize is that a snake wrapped around a cup or a rod is the symbol of Asclepius, the Greek and Egyptian God of healing and medicine. God used something that these liberated slaves were familiar with to impress them enough so as to believe in this strange cure because He said so! Yeshua becomes the fulfillment of that brass snake that in the days of King Hezekiah becomes an idol that Hezekiah has to take out of the Temple and destroy.
We have a good thing from God that people took and made an idol of it. I fear that sometimes Christians have done the same thing with the Living Son of God, Yeshua our Messiah. They lifted Yeshua on the cross and many Christians believe in Yeshua on the cross and they don’t cherish this Galilean Jew, our Savior, to come off the cross because they know that if He is off the cross He is going to use His foot and apply it to many of the Christian leaders on their behind with formidable force.
You can see, my dear brothers and sisters, how important it is to relate to the Torah and the prophets and the New Testament and how interconnected they are because they are all a revelation of God’s Holy Spirit for our instruction and correction and inspiration to do what is good and holy and right and beneficial for our lives.
Joseph Shulam: Purification of the Hebrew Community [2020 - Chukat]
This week’s Torah reading is full of very interesting and very important teachings. The reading is from a portion called Chukat – Numbers 19:1-22:1. It is not a very long reading, but it has some very important issues.
From the Prophets the reading is from Judges 11:1-33. From the New Testament the normal reading in many congregations of Jewish disciples of Yeshua comes from The Gospel of John 3:10-22. I will comment in this prayer list from both John 3, and also bring in a more appropriate reading from Hebrews chapter 13.
Numbers 19 starts with one of the most mysterious ceremonies and strangest sacrifices. God commands Moses:
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.”’” – Numbers 19:1–2 [NKJV]
Right from the beginning of this text there are some different and unique commands. First off, Moses and Aaron are commanded to ask the children of Israel to bring a red heifer without blemish, a new one that has not been used for work.
The text does not make things easy. The children of Israel are to bring a red heifer, a red cow. The text indicates that the whole cow ought to be red and not one brown or black or white spot can be on this cow. The whole beast is to be completely red.
Then who from the children of Israel is responsible to find and to bring such a rare cow that is totally red and has never been used for work, a totally new but mature cow that is red?
It would be hard to produce such a cow of red color without a blemish, a perfect red cow.
“You shall give it to Eleazar the priest, that he may take it outside the camp, and it shall be slaughtered before him; and Eleazar the priest shall take some of its blood with his finger, and sprinkle some of its blood seven times directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned.” – Numbers 12:3-5 [NKJV]
The red cow will be given to Eleazar the priest and he will take it outside the camp of Israel, and someone else will slaughter this red cow, and the priest will take some of the blood of this red cow and return back to the camp and sprinkle seven time with his finger directly in front of the tabernacle of meeting.
The red cow shall be burned fully with the hide, and flesh, blood, and offal (excrement).
“Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening.” – Numbers 12:7-8 [NKJV]
The men who touch the red cow or deal with her will become unclean. They will have to wash themselves and their clothing and remain unclean until the next morning.
You understand that this red cow and the ashes of this cow are essential for the purification of the children of Israel and of the non-Israelites that are a part of the camp of Israel. This very red cow that is actually for purification, will make a pure person defiled. The same ashes of the same cow will make a pure person impure.
I would like to share with you an interesting rabbinical text from the Talmud related to this issue from just after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
“A certain stranger questioned Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai, ‘These things which you do seem like a kind of sorcery. 93Numb. R. 19:8; PRK 4:7; PR 14:14. You bring a heifer, burn it, pound it, and take its ashes. Then [when] one of you is defiled by a corpse, they sprinkle two or three drops on him, and you say to him, “You are clean.”’ He said to him, ‘Have you ever had a bad spirit of madness enter you?’ He told him, ‘No.’ He said to him, ‘Perhaps you have seen someone into whom a bad spirit has entered?’
He told him, ‘Yes.’ He said to him, ‘So what did you do for him?’ He said to him, ‘They bring roots and burn them beneath him. Then they sprinkle water on [the spirit], and it flees.’ He said to him, ‘Let your ears hear what you are uttering with your mouth. Similarly is this spirit an unclean spirit.
Thus it is stated (in Zechariah 13:2), “and I will also remove the prophets and the unclean spirit from the land.” They sprinkle the purifying water upon him, and he flees.’ After the gentile had left, [R. Johanan's] disciples said to him, ‘Our master, you repelled this one with a [mere] reed [of an answer]. What have you to say to us?’ He said to them, ‘By your lives, a corpse does not defile, nor does a heifer purify, nor does water purify. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, has said, “I have enacted a statute for you. I have issued a decree, [and] you are not allowed to transgress against my decree.”
Thus it is written (in Numbers 19:2), “This is the statute of the Torah.” And for what reason are all the sacrifices male and female, while that one is [only] female? 94PRK 4:8. R. Ayyevu said, ‘It is comparable to the son of a female slave who defiled a king's palace. 95Lat.: praetorium Gk.: praitoriom. The king said, “Let his mother come and clean up the excrement.” Similarly has the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “Let a heifer come and atone for the incident of the [golden] calf.”’” – Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 8
This text is an extremely important witness of several principles of great importance to those of us who believe in Yeshua as the messiah.
Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai is one of the most important rabbis in the first century AD. He is one of the three that predicted the destruction of the temple in the year 30 AD. The same time that Yeshua predicted the fall of Jerusalem before the crucifixion. Now that the temple is destroyed and the whole old system of sacrifice is obsolete he has to give a rational answer. His answer is amazing. It is the same position that the writer of the book of Hebrews presents in chapters 9-10. However the more amazing is that the book of Hebrews presents Yeshua as the red heifer that can only purify our sins and impurities outside the camp. Here is the text from Hebrews chapter 13:
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. ” – Hebrews 13:10–15 [NKJV]
This is a text of extreme importance that I fear has been neglected because it has not been connected with the text of Numbers chapter 19. The only sacrifice to God commanded to be burned outside the camp is the red heifer.
The writer connects Yeshua as the ultimate red heifer that can purify our sins and impunity. Hallelujah!
Joseph Shulam: The Conman's Legitimate Blessing [2020 - Balak]
The Torah portion read in all synagogues around the world this week is called Balak, (Numbers 22:2-25:9, the portion from the Prophets is from Micah 5:6-6:8, and from the New Testament we read 1 Corinthians 1:20-31.
Balak is the name of the King of Moab during the period of the Exodus from Egypt. Moab is the neighbor of Israel across from the Dead Sea and the southern part of the Jordan River.
It is a harsh country and their main business was the King’s Highway, that passed through their territory. We have biblical evidence that the people who settled in this part of the world during the Exodus from Egypt were not a monolithic ethnic group.
The situation was very unique because the land of Canaan formed a kind of a bottleneck on the bridge between three continents, Asia, Europe, and Africa. There were two highways, the “Via Marris” (The Way of the Sea) that came from the northern Sinai desert through Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Jaffa, and on to cross the Jezreel Valley possibly near Megiddo, and on to Damascus, and beyond.
The second highway and crossing point was on the east side of the Jordan River and it was called “The King’s Highway.” Balak’s land was the control point of the King’s Highway, which was the path that the children of Israel took with Moses leading them.
Both highways were land bridges available for trade and communication between the three continents, and were near the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Balak the King of Moab noticed the following (Numbers 22):
- He saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites.
- Moab was in great dread of the people because they were many.
- Moab was overcome with fear of the people of Israel. And Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” – Numbers 22 [NKJV]
These three fears from Israel caused Balak to seek some “supernatural” help from one of the well-known international wizards, Balaam. Looking at the Middle East in the past, and in the present and I hope not in the future. We can appreciate Balak’s point of view.
He wants Balaam to come and get help from witchcraft and pagan divination to help him cope and stop Israel from crossing through his land. So, Balak sends the elders of Moab with money and gifts to invite Balaam to speak divinations (against Israel) in order to stop Israel from entering the land of Canaan that was promised by God to Abraham and his seed as an everlasting inheritance. (See Genesis 12:1-6, 13:15.)
This promise of the land that starts for the first time in Genesis 12 is repeated more times than any other promise that God has made to anyone else. (Please see the following references in the Bible: Genesis 12:3-5; 13:15; 15:18; 17:7-8; 18:18; 24:7; 26:3, 4; 28:4, 13; 35:12; 48:4; Exodus 33:1; Numbers 34:2, 12–29; Deuteronomy 26:2–4; 34:4; 2 Chronicles 20:7; Nehemiah 9:7, 8; Psalm 37:22, 29; 105:9–12; 112:1, 2; Isaiah 63:18; Acts 7:5)
The most interesting thing for me is the story of Balaam’s donkey. We know from the text in Numbers that Balaam was able to communicate with the Lord, and that the Lord communicated with Balaam. This alone is a point that we must learn to accept. We don’t control with whom the creator of the World will communicate.
The Lord does not ask us, or Moses or Yeshua himself permission to do anything that He chooses to do. If He wants to call a pagan, idol worshiping King “My Messiah?” The Lord can do it and in fact did do it at least once, as in the case of Cyrus, the King of Persia.
“Thus says the Lord to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—To subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut:” – Isaiah 45:1 [NKJV]
I realize that it is not easy for theologians to accept that God does not have to ask them permission to do anything He pleases. In the case of Balaam we see that there is communication between this pagan wizard and the creator of the Universe.
We also see that Balaam tries to hear God’s commands, but on the other hand he is used to dealing with idols and therefore he only takes from God what pleases him and serves his own purpose. (I know others even today who are very famous and internationally known “apostles” and “prophets” and “pastors” and “teachers” who share in some of Balaam’s character.)
It is clear that during the first century we find disciples of Balaam in the churches of Asia Minor:
“They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” – 2 Peter 2:15 [NKJV]
“Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” – Jude 11[NKJV]
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” – Revelation 2:14 [NKJV]
As you can see, these texts from the New Testament are a witness that the error of Balaam was persistent and I suggest to you that today there are disciples of Balaam that continue on the same note and dance to the same tune as Balaam did.
The only problem today is that they are not riding on a donkey that can better see the visions from God and His angels as Balaam’s donkey did. For that I am sorry and I wish they had a smart donkey that could see prophetic things. However, I would even settle for Ed the talking horse!
I suggest that you read the Torah portion and the prophets and the text from 1 Corinthians. I believe that you would gain from it and enjoy learning straight from God’s word, unfiltered.
What are the characteristics of Balaam that have made him so offensive throughout the ages:
- He has the reputation of a very spiritual person who is close to God and has supernatural powers to bless and to curse.
- He gives the appearance of being a fair person and a person of integrity. God told Balaam not to go with the messengers of Balak King of Moab and he tells the messengers of Balak that he is not joining them. God tells Balaam not to curse the people of Israel because they are a blessed people, and he refuses to curse them. Balaam looks good at first, and in fact he blesses Israel in his poetry. Every synagogue service around the world starts with the words of Balaam: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” – Numbers 24:5 [NKJV] In our synagogue in Jerusalem we start every service with the same words, words of truth from the mouth of our enemy, Balaam.
- Balaam is a man of greed. He does not want to be disobedient to the Lord, but he does want the gold and the financial gifts that Balak the Son of Zippor is offering him. So, he looks for every possible way to get the gold and the rewards that Balak promised him.
- Balaam is dishonest and in the end he wants to have his cake and to eat it too. In the end Balaam gives this terrible advice to Balak and that is to send the beautiful girls of Moab to entice the men of Israel and the following stories in the reading of next week will deal with this horrible advice that Balaam gives Balak. It ends with the story of Pineas who killed Zimmri and Cozbi by spearing them through and through all the way into the ground.
I would like to bless each and every one of you our readers and prayer partners with the following blessing:
May the Lord God of Israel and the father of our messiah and king Yeshua the son of God, bless you all with the gift of discernment and of judging the spirits of men so that you never fall into the hands of a spiritual conman who will damage your souls and your pockets. In Yeshua’s name Amen!
Joseph Shulam: The Willingness to be Outside the Camp [2019 - Chukat]
This week the Torah reading is from Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1-22:1, the reading from the prophets is from Judges 11:1-23, and from the New Testament from John 3:10-22. These recommendations to read from the Torah on Shabbat are not my invention. They are the recommendations of the apostles in Acts 15:21:
“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]
I can’t stress enough the importance of every disciple of Yeshua to read regularly, and repeat every year, the reading of God’s word from the beginning to the end. The Word of God is the road map for our lives. It is guiding us on how to live, what to do, and where history is dragging us. The balanced reading from the Torah, from the prophets, and from the New Testament is a type of personal revelation that is progressive from week to week.
The reading from Numbers in Chukat starts with a very strange and interesting command:
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.”’” – Numbers 19:1–2 [NKJV]
The strange thing about this command is that Aaron and the priests had to have a red heifer, not white, nor spotted, nor brown, but red. There are such cows but they are rare.
In the Golan Heights there is a special farm that raises these red heifers. The whole cow has to be reddish/brown color. There are Orthodox Jews who are paying good money to this farmer on top of the Golan Heights to carefully breed these cows to produce the perfect red heifer.
I don’t really know why God commands the children of Israel to have such a red heifer, but the most interesting part for me is how the New Testament uses this command. In the Torah, the ashes of the red heifer were very important, because without these ashes people with leprosy could not be declared clean from the illness, and people who have touched a dead person or an animal could not be purified.
People who were not purified could not go up to the Temple to worship and offer sacrifices. It was a major thing to have the ashes of the red heifer available for all the purity laws of the Torah. However, for me the most important thing for today is how the New Testament deals with this issue and the significance of the red heifer for our relationship to God and to Yeshua Himself.
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” – Hebrews 13:10–16 [NKJV]
Please read the above text carefully. What is the writer of the book of Hebrews talking about?
- An altar from which the priests who offered the sacrifice and the person who offered it are not allowed to eat. The red heifer!
- The body of those animals was burned outside the camp.
- The high priest brought the blood of these animals that were sacrificed into the sanctuary for sin.
There is only one such a sacrifice in the Torah, the red heifer!
Now notice what the text says:
“Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”
The place of the cross and the crucifixion was outside the gates of the city of Jerusalem. There is now an invitation for us, the disciples of Yeshua our Messiah and Savior, to also go outside the gate, outside the camp, in order to bear His reproach.
This teaching, my dear brothers, is so contrary to almost everything that is going on in the Christian evangelical camp. Most of the Christian camp is not seeking to bear Yeshua’s reproach or to pay the price of following Yeshua.
What most of the Christian evangelical camp is seeking is to be more like the world, to have no reproach or consequences of being a follower of Yeshua. The music, the teaching, the mental preparation is to have more of the world, more from the world, be more like the world, to be big, flashy, rich, and financially prosperous, like the best that the world has to offer, to enjoy now and instantly.
The book of Hebrews was written probably just before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Jews that received this book were on the edge of giving up hope and faith, and the writer of the book of Hebrews is writing this book to encourage them not to give up and not to drop their faith in Yeshua.
The writer’s encouragement is the opposite of what we would do today. Today the average church leader would say, “don’t worry, all will be just fine, you will regain what the locust has eaten double, shaken down, pressed down, 100% +…” The writer of the book of Hebrews says to us, “like Yeshua had to be sacrificed outside the gates of the city, so let us go out and join Him outside the gates of the city, because inside the gates there is nothing that can save us, and nothing that can forgive our sins, and no real future.”
The conclusion is:
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Yes, today we are living in the aftermath of what happened in the year 70 AD – the fall of Jerusalem. Physical Jerusalem is built and being constantly rebuilt and growing. There are orthodox Jewish synagogues in Jerusalem, next to which the temple of Herod the Great would pale and look small. The luxury and wealth and opulence in a few of these synagogues is beyond description.
What I am praying for is that the younger rabbis will bring about a renewal and revival of the old paths and spirit of the Torah and the prophets. A spirit that will put to practice the social values of equality before the law, and care for the stranger and the foreigner.
As for Yeshua’s disciples in the land of Israel – we all need to on the one hand be willing to be outside the camp, where our salvation and forgiveness of sins is found, i.e. in Yeshua and with Yeshua. On the other hand we need to be in the middle of the camp promoting peace, equality, and charity toward all. We need to pursue peace and unity in the camp of the disciples of Yeshua in the land, and practice charity and kindness toward all, both Jews and Arabs, both secular and orthodox, and especially toward widows and orphans.
Joseph Shulam: Answers to Questions About Balaam and the Donkey [2019 - Balak]
The reading of the Torah this week (in Israel) is from Numbers 22:2-25:9. It is called Balak, because Balak the king of Moab could not have a victory over Israel, and he wanted to destroy Israel before they arrived in the land of Canaan. So, he saw that he could not have victory over Israel, and he wanted to enlist the help of the divine powers to be able to have victory.
In the history of biblical narrative and Jewish folklore, Balaam became the arch villain of all ages. From the book of Numbers all the way to the book of Revelation and rabbinical literature, Balaam is a recurring bad guy of biblical history.
However, the hero in the Balaam story is the donkey. Balaam, the international pagan prophet with a great reputation, invited by kings to put an evil spell on Israel, is a lesser prophet than his donkey. The donkey sees the angel of the Lord and hears him, but Balaam does not. The donkey speaks to Balaam, who does not hear from God. So, in this week’s Jerusalem prayer list we are going to learn from a donkey.
The story of Balak and Balaam is spread over 95 verses in our parasha. The story of the donkey is only 14 verses of the 95, and yet the most remembered part of the Balak-Balaam story is in this fraction of the story. This biblical story is a challenge to every Bible commentator for a number of reasons. I will answer each of the following questions:
Q: Does God speak to pagan prophets?
A: Yes, He does! We see that God is speaking to Balaam in this story, and gives him instruction what to do and what to say. We must remember that the God of Israel is the God of all the nations. He has chosen Israel to represent Him to all the nations, because He cares about them, and is working to restore them back to Himself.
Q: Do these pagan prophets, like Balaam, recognize the voice of the Lord, Creator of the Universe?
A: Apparently yes! But, their agenda is such that they, most of the time, ignore God’s instruction and have the wrong motives. The story of Jonah is a demonstration of this principle.
Q: Do these pagan prophets have a relationship with God that demands obedience?
A: Yes, like every human being, pagans have an obligation to the Almighty, and they too are obligated to hear and obey.
Q: Why is God angry with Balaam, and sends His angel to stop him from going to put an evil spell on Israel?
A: The anger of the Lord against Balaam is because God knows what Balaam is thinking in his heart. God knows that Balaam has every intention to receive the gold that Balak promised him for damning Israel.
Q: Why doesn’t the Lord stop Balaam in a different way, like sending a bolt of lightning to stop him dead in his tracks?
A: Because Balaam is being used by God, and has not yet finished his task.
Q: Why does the donkey see and hear the angel of the Lord? And the Balaam the false prophet not hear or see the angel?
A: Because Balaam was so set on his desire and greed, that his mind was blinded by his own agenda, that he could not see anything except to reach his own goal and satisfaction of his greed.
Q: If God gave Balaam permission to go bless Israel, instead of curse Israel, why is God still angry with Balaam? (“And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the Lord stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.” – Numbers 22:21–22 NKJV)
A: The permission that God gave Balaam was also a test to see if he would obey God or not. The Lord is always interested in converting people, including world leaders. The Lord knows what is in our hearts. He saw Balaam’s heart and knew that he has no intention to bless Israel. For this reason He sent his angel.
Q: Why does the angel of the Lord not bring to Balaam and to his donkey any new instruction? (He actually repeats what the Lord has already spoken to Balaam, “And the angel of the Lord said unto Balaam, Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak. So Balaam went with the princes of Balak.” – Numbers 22:35 KJV)
A: The Lord is patient with all of humanity, even with His enemies, and the enemies of Israel. Even with Israel, His chosen nation. He warns, more than one time, but in the end, when the cup of iniquity is full, the gavel strikes, and the Lord’s verdict is passed, and history is the judge of God’s righteousness.
Q: What is the difference between a greedy pagan false prophet, and a simple donkey to whom the Lord God is giving a revelation through one of His angels?
A: This question is very important to me. Because we see today, in the spiritual sphere of evangelical christianity, like in the time of John’s revelation, some of the same phenomena. Leaders who report friendship with Israel for satisfaction of their own greed. There are not many, but they stand out. Sometimes an anonymous “donkey” can see what the famous VIP leaders don’t see, and it is these simple men of God that save the day.
Q: What can we learn from this story that will help us hear from the Lord, understand the Lord better, and be obedient to the Lord? Even if the revelation of the Lord is not exactly to our liking?
A: Everyone can be used by God, even a donkey! If you hear from God, don’t say to yourself, “I am simple and God can’t be speaking to a simple man like me,” say to yourself, “I am a simple person without high degrees from university, God has spoken to me, and I will do what He tells me to do! I will speak the Lord’s truth with love, even if it seems strange that the Lord of all has spoken to me!”
Joseph Shulam: Why Do the Nations Fear Israel? [2018 - Balak]
The reading of Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9) is the portion that teaches us that if the Lord wants, He can make a jackass into a prophet. This portion of the Torah starts with a statement of Balak King of Moab that interests me greatly. Balak King of Moab says:
“Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.” - Numbers 22:2,3 [NKJV]
The big question is why should Balak the King of Moab be afraid of Israel. There are a few reasons that we could glean from the word of God.
- Here in this text, Balak is afraid of Israel, because they are many. Yes, Israel was a formidable force coming out of the Sinai Desert and sweeping the land. However, Israel was a not a militant force. The people of Israel were not a real threat to the nations living in the Land of Canaan.
- In Numbers 20:20: “Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. ‘Thus says your brother Israel…’” Moses promised the king of Edom to follow the international highway, the King’s Highway. Moses promised to pay for anything that the people would use while passing through the land of Moab. The response the King of Moab was, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.”
- The Children of Israel promised to pay for the water that they drink and for the water that their animals drink while crossing the land of Moab. However, the response of Moab was harsh and selfish, and it came with a threat of war and annihilation: “You shall not pass through.” “So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.” (Numbers 20:20,21)
- Later the same situation came about with the king of Amon. In response to the favor (and actually the international right) to pass through the highway, they all refused, and did not act neighborly and started to war against Israel. Here is what the Word of God says: “Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let me pass through your land.’ But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land into our place.’ But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.” - Judges 11:17–20
What can we learn from these historical events:
- Much of the anti-Jewish sentiments that the nations have evolve from two factors:
- Fear of the success and ability of the Jewish people to survive and to come out victorious even from the most difficult circumstances. Like World War II and the Nazi Holocaust. Not only did the Nazi plan fail, but the remnant of the Jews arose from the ashes of the death camps in Europe and built a country that is a rose blossoming in the wilderness, both in reality and also internationally.
- Jealousy of many nations of Israel’s success, Israel’s agriculture, and Israel’s hi-tech breakthroughs. In the last 12 months Israel hi-tech Companies have had exits and were purchased by the giants of the industry, Google and Intel, for more than 19 billion dollars. This jealousy can be seen in the Torah portion of Balak, and so can the fear of Israel be understood by reading the first verses of the parasha: “Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel.” - Numbers 22:2,3 [NKJV]
- The wise thing for King Balak of Moab would have been to learn from the mistakes of the Amorites and the Edomites and allow Israel to pass peacefully and pay for the water that they used, and for the passing through. This would have made Balak a friend, and would have given him the privilege of enjoying the blessing that God gave to Abraham: “I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” - Genesis 12:2,3 [NKJV]
- In all this there is a lesson for the nations that oppress Israel and terrorize Israel today. The Psalmist asks the following questions: “Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure…” - Psalms 2:1–5
I pray for the leaders of the Arab nations to wake up and learn from history, and for Israel to do the same. The formula is simple.
If we do the Lord’s will and keep His commandments (not those that were made up by man and oppress the people, not the commandments that are kept by tradition, but those that ought to be kept with the heart), the Lord will bless Israel and all who have attached themselves to Israel by faith in Yeshua the King of the Jews.
The Arab nations will see the grace of God, and repent of their iniquity and hate against Israel. This hate is as old as the Bible, it has to end sometime, and it will end.
Joseph Shulam: The Unholy Trinity of Money, Power, and Sex [2017 - Balak]
This week’s portion of the Torah is Balak (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9). Balak was king of Moab. Moab was born by Lot’s daughter who, after the fall of Sodom, raped her father together with her sister, under the false belief that the whole world was destroyed, and humanity will disappear if there is no one to continue it.
Lot’s two daughters acted under the impression that they and their father are the last human beings left on earth. The offspring of Lot and his daughters became Israel’s most bitter enemies, and that enmity continued all the way to the time of “Herod the Great”, who ruled in the time that Yeshua was born.
The history of Israel has been, and is now, like a wheel within a wheel, and a cycle within a cycle. Over 400 years have passed and Moab is not a powerful nation. Israel is an emerging nation, coming out of the Sinai desert after hundreds of years of slavery. It would seem right that this relative of Abraham’s family would welcome its distant cousins, and allow them to pass through the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River, and reach Canaan, the promised land. But no, Balak invites the secret weapon – Balaam the most famous of magicians and false prophets in the world - to come and curse Israel, even before they enter the land of promise.
Why would a powerful, rich, king like Balak invite Balaam to curse Israel? Israel was a distant relative of Moab, and we read that even years later, during the period of the judges, there were problems with Moab. In Judges chapter 3, we are told that Moab actually conquered Israel and enslaved them for 18 years during the reign of Eglon, king of Moab. God allowed Eglon, king of Moab, to conquer Israel because of Israel’s sins. From this story in the book of Judges we learn that Israel’s security is in the hands of God, and not only in the hands of our wonderful soldiers and military might.
Back to Balak, and his idea that if Balak would put a curse on Israel, the “voodoo” would work, and God will do something to stop Israel from passing through Moab and entering the land promised by God to Abraham and his seed forever. Balak is a witch doctor/prophet, and to some degree a politician of international acclaim. But, Balak knows to hear from God, and actually wants to appear to be obedient to God’s instructions.
In Numbers 22, we find out that God is talking to Balaam, and Balaam responds to God:
“Then God came to Balaam and said, ‘Who are these men with you?’ So Balaam said to God, ‘Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying…’ And God said to Balaam, ‘You shall not go with them; you shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.’ So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, ‘Go back to your land, for the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you.’” - Numbers 22:9-13 [NKJV]
This conversation between the Lord and Balaam is one that interests me. At first sight, it seems like Balaam hears from God and is interested in being obedient. He tells Balak’s men that he is not coming to Moab, because God refused to give him permission to go and curse the children of Israel.
He sends Balak’s messengers back empty handed. It is not easy to discern if at first Balaam was sincerely wanting to do God’s will, but in the continuation of the story we learn that, in his heart, Balaam wanted to go and get all the gain that Balak promised him for cursing Israel.
This phenomena is common among religious leaders in the history of all religions. At times the relationship with the divine is not strong enough to curb the passion for wealth and power and “faith/religion” becomes an instrument for gain, rather than an expression of devotion and sincerity in the service of God.
On the one hand, the person wants to hear from God and wants to have the power of God/the Holy Spirit in his service, but on the other hand, he also wants the wealth and the power to work in his personal favor. Balaam becomes the quintessential protagonist enemy of God’s people, all the way to the end of the Bible.
In the book of Revelation we still find out that Balaam has disciples who are deceived by him and his false charm, and continue to beset the brothers and sisters in Asia Minor (Turkey of today). In three places in the New Testament Balaam is mentioned:
“They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness…” - 2 Peter 2:15
“Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah.” - Jude 1:11
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” - Revelation 2:14
In all of these three places we learn the same things:
- Balaam’s disciples have forsaken the right way. This implies that at one time they, like Balaam their master, did know the right way. You can’t forsake something that you don’t have. So, Peter implies that the disciples of Balaam at one time did have a relationship with the Lord, like the one who they followed.
- The sin of Balaam according to Peter was the wages of unrighteousness, what the letter of June calls “greed” and “profit”.
- The book of Revelation describes that the doctrine of Balaam also included the use of immorality and putting a stumbling block before the innocent in order to pervert them to idolatry and immorality.
What we see in Balaam is actually the unholy trinity of money, power, and sex. In the case of Balaam and his desire for wealth from Balak the king of Moab, there was a periodic success. Balaam got his wealth from Balak. Israel did fall into sexual sin, and Balak enhanced his power.
However, the success of unrighteousness continues only until some person like Phinehas raises and takes action while the older leaders, as great as they are, stand helpless not knowing what to do and how to handle the complicated diplomatic situation.
The issue of integrity enters into this picture. A person can be world-renown for his religion, like Balaam. He can have the reputation of a holy man, but when greed takes over, even if he heard from God directly and even if his donkey talks to him with a revelation from God, the minute that he allows that greed to capture his heart, he has become a disciple of Balaam. This same heresy, with minor modifications, was what brought Ananias and Sapphira his wife to lose their lives at the hand of the Lord.
There are many more important lessons that can be learned from this parasha of Balak, but I chose to share this one because the heresy that beset the seven churches of Revelation is not some virus that with time will disappear, it is an endemic problem, and Balaam is the prime example of it.
Yehuda Bachana: Yeshua Comes Before Tradition [2018 - Chukat]
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Chukat. This portion focuses on the red heifer and its ashes, which are mainly intended for the purification of those who have been made unclean by the dead, the most severe of impurities.
The Israelites’ Many Complaints and the Healing Serpent
After 40 years in the desert, we see the Israelites starting to draw near into entering the Land of Israel, and at the same time departing from the desert and from a life of wandering. They were even separated from some of their dear leaders, Miriam the prophetess and Aaron the priest.
In this parasha, there is a severe shortage of water, the people complained, and God told Moses and Aaron to speak to a rock as a solution. In actuality, Moses was very angry with the people, so instead, he hit the rock. As a result of this dismal affair, Moses was punished and was not allowed entrance into the Promised Land.
The people of Israel were already very close to the borders of Canaan and the Promised Land, and because of that the battles, wars, and conquests were starting to begin.
The people complained once again to God, and due to their bitter complaints, He sent snakes to bite the people. After their repentance and the prayer of Moses, God presented an interesting form of healing, a statue - a serpent made of bronze, that whoever looked at it would healed.
The New Testament used the concept of the serpent to explain Yeshua the Messiah, his salvation and redemption:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” - John 3:14-16 [NIV]
The Serpent Exemplifies Salvation
These verses are the essence of the New Testament as well as the essence of Yeshua the Messiah. The entire idea of redemption is presented with wonderful simplicity.
The Messiah, like the serpent in the desert, must be lifted high, for everyone to see. For everyone who sees it will be saved. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, to give us eternal life.
It is important for me to emphasize Yeshua and his importance. Here at Netivyah, we receive many letters from believers, mainly of which are from outside of Israel. Often times, these individuals have read the Bible anew and want to draw near and try to keep the Sabbath.
They see the importance of the commandments of the Torah, and these believers complain about their churches, that they do not desire to draw near to the word of God during the feasts or during the Sabbath. So these believers usually leave the group and stop going to church. However, I think this is sad and unhealthy.
Even in Israel, the situation is not that much better. Many young Israelis are coming less and less frequently to their local congregations. Our answer must be, first and foremost, Yeshua. It is imperative to preserve our fellowship, for in doing so we keep one another accountable.
The Story of the Pastor and the Coal
I would like to tell a brief story. It is about a family that participated in the congregation regularly, until eventually they gradually stopped coming. One day the pastor went to visit them on a particularly cold day. The father of the family let the pastor in, prepared a drink for him, and they sat down to speak in front of the burning fireplace.
In the middle of the conversation, the pastor rose to the fireplace, picked out the hottest coal, took it out, and put it aside, and went back to listen to the father of the family.
The father complained that the congregation didn’t do enough, the lessons are this way and that, there are problems with other families in the community, they do not like their bad influence, and so on and so forth. The family decided to have a time of fellowship at their home, where they study and pray alone according to their own standards.
At the end of the conversation, the pastor got up to go home, the once hot coal was already cool enough for him to hold it in his hand, he threw it into the fire - and immediately it lit up again. At that moment the father of the family suddenly learned the lesson from the pastor.
The lesson is this: we are the coals and we heat up one another. If one of the coals is taken out of the fire, however, it grows cold. The congregation is designed to support, build, and help each other grow and be strengthened in Yeshua the Messiah.
Yeshua is in the first place, far beyond other things, even if they are important.
So I see fellowship among believers as the highest priority.
The Israelites’ Glorification of the Bronze Statue
Let's go back to the bronze snake. In so many things we do, there is a fine line between good and evil, between a mitzvah and a sin.
Of course God knew that sick people would come, look at the serpent, and be healed. They may even want to thank the serpent by burning incense or giving it some gift, but nonetheless God asked Moses to create the serpent and also to encourage the people to look upon it.
Moses’ bronze serpent survived the entrance into Israel. Think about how great would it be if we still had this statue in our possession. On the other hand, it would probably turn into a real idol.
King Hezekiah understood that nothing remained in the bronze serpent remained the work of God, but rather it had become idolatry. Therefore, King Hezekiah decided to destroyed it.
“...He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)” - 2 Kings 18:4b [NIV]
We forgot that the statue was just a piece of plain bronze, and for some reason it was given power, influence and authority.
In the end we had to destroy that statue, which in its time God used to cure death and give life. Where am I going with this?
Yeshua Must Remain our First Priority
Our vision is to change the present situation and prove that we can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and at the same time remain loyal to the Jewish people and be a part of Israel.
However, we must not fall into the trap of the bronze serpent, and give power to the tradition, to the prayer book, and even to the commandments and the Torah itself. We must make sure that nothing comes at the expense of Yeshua the Messiah.
We must remind ourselves again and again, as a community and as individuals: God and Yeshua the Messiah, they are the center of the community. They, and no other means or idea.
Some go so far as to say that Yeshua is the main thing and in fact the only thing. There is nothing else except for Yeshua.
On the one hand they are 100% right. True, there is no other way by which we can be saved. Indeed, Yeshua is the only way to the Kingdom of Heaven. Likewise, it is not by our power, or by our actions, but only from above.
Living Out Faith is More than Just an Obligation
As believers we are required to be righteous. To show that faith works in our lives.
Now how do I connect the two parts, Yeshua and the Torah?
I will give an example from the Bible:
According to the Torah, a husband is obligated to give his wife three things, “...food, clothing and marital rights.” (Exodus 21:10) Food, clothing (including a roof over her head), and marital rights (intimate relations).
Those are the three obligations. My question is: If a husband does only these three things, is he a good husband or even a good person? The correct answer is: No, far from it! A husband or wife, father or mother, is much more than that.
Emotion, support, love, listening, kind words, caring, appreciation. And that's not all, there is also a touch - a loving caress, a hug. Quality time together, and a nice gift from time to time.
Food on the table and a roof over your head is perhaps the minimum, but certainly it doesn't come close to what is desired. The same goes for us as believers. Yes, that's my point. Now we must strive to live out our faith in Yeshua.
The Delicate Balance Between Yeshua and the Torah
We must be careful that He does not come at the expense of the Torah, but it is important to be even more careful that the Torah or more accurately, Judaism, will not come at the expense of Yeshua.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that the apostle Paul wrote at the end of Romans 8:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 8:38,39 [NIV]
Please leave a verse in the comments below, that you think sums up, or adds to the discussion today.
Yehuda Bachana: Prophecy is Worthless Without Love [2018 - Balak]
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Balak. Balak saw the progress of the people of Israel. He witnessed that the people of Israel enjoyed the blessing of God and therefore he feared them greatly. Balak understood that the blessing over the children of Israel was from above, a spiritual blessing of strength that cannot be measured physically.
Due to this, Balak, employed Balaam’s services in order to curse the people of Israel, to harm their spiritual power as well as their military victories and progress.
Balak’s Infamous Blessing for the People of Israel
In the course of this parasha, we encounter a donkey that spoke to Balaam. Did it really happen or was it simply a dream? The truth is that the story of the donkey can be read in two ways: both as a true story as well as God's response to Balaam in a dream (or vision).
In any case, Balaam went with Balak to curse Israel, but God did not allow him to do so. Instead, he ended up blessing Israel several times, one of which is one of the most famous blessings that we pray to this day in every synagogue around the world, including in our congregation:
“How beautiful are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!” - Numbers 24:5 [NIV]
Only God Himself has the Right to Criticize His People
God expects us to be good children. Our behavior sometimes causes us to distance ourselves from Him, but even this is only between us and the Lord. When there is an external threat, such as Balaam, who sought the weak link among the people of Israel, God's love is revealed, and this love shows us that He has never abandoned us and never will.
Inwardly, God can be angry with us, at the people of Israel. However, no one else should criticize Israel - that is His exclusive right.
It's like this with us at home, we can quarrel and get angry at our family, but it's only inward. Once an outsider dares to say a bad word about a family member, we'll protect him.
A foreigner does not have the right to open his mouth because he does not understand nor does he belong. In the face of foreigners, the family, community, and nation unite, and those tensions disappear.
Who Exactly was Balaam the Prophet?
Towards the end of the parasha, as in all the recent weekly Torah portions, the people of Israel left their first love, God. They rebelled against Him and this led to a plague. At the very end of the parasha, in the last verses, we encounter a young, energetic priest who was zealous for God. One point that is fundamental about this young priest was that he not only spoke, but acted. As a matter of fact, next week’s Torah portion was named after him.
Balaam is a very interesting figure. If we read between the lines, we understand that he was one of the greatest prophets in the Torah. He was filled with the spirit of God. This parasha shows us that Balaam spoke with God on a regular basis. Here we stop and think to ourselves, who exactly was this great prophet?
The people of Israel saw him as the enemy or villain. Who was this wicked man who sought God and immediately received an answer? Who was this prophet who is written as being “…one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High…” (Numbers 24:16)
How You Utilize Knowledge is Important
The New Testament describes Balaam as a false prophet. That is to say that he was a true prophet, however, he was one who chose the path of evil, of greed, full of self-importance, and pride. One who sought to fulfill his own lustful desires. We find this description in 2 Peter 2:15.
In the epistle of Jude, it is written that he was a man without fruit.
This means, you can be a great and wise man and you can even know the secrets of heaven. At the same time, however, you can still be evil and greedy, seeking wisdom for your own personal benefit.
We can learn an important lesson from Balaam. It does not matter how much knowledge you possess - it's how you utilize that knowledge.
That's exactly what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 13:
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” - 1 Corinthians 13:2 [NIV]
Knowledge is Worthless without Love
All knowledge, secrets, and prophecy - all these are worthless without love. Love means caring for others; goodwill towards those around you and protecting individuals who can’t fend for themselves.
We are all believers who are familiar with the Bible, and we are all wise in one form or another. We tend to delve into our faith, into the correct theology, the proper understanding of the Bible, as well as the study and interpretation of the principles of our faith.
The question that arises from the story of Balaam is: what do we do with this knowledge? Is it only for personal benefit or personal salvation? Do we live out our knowledge for those around us including for our families? The Bible dwells mainly on the relationship between man and his fellow man, on helping others and on caring.
Can you Win God’s Favor with Money?
Let's return to the parasha, the Moabites saw the progress of Israel and her many victories, and they are afraid. In a moment of desperation, Balak, king of Moab, turned to Balaam. It was clear to all the nations surrounding Israel that her success was supernatural, therefore, the Moabites thought that the intervention of a prophet like Balaam could tip the scales.
Why did Balak offer Balaam large sums of money? After the first officials returned without Balaam, Balak thought that Balaam would want more money and honor, so he sent additional distinguished officials, and promised more money (Numbers 22:14).
This was because Balak thought that if a prophet performed certain actions he could cause God to comply with his request.
We can only chuckle at Balak's way of thinking, what did he expect? As if you could buy God with a little money or that somehow Balaam had the power to influence God and cause Him to curse Israel for a certain amount.
Many people are similar to Balak, Jews and Christians alike. These individuals see God as a rich and good grandfather filled with treats.
This approach is not so distant from us. Sometimes we too think that we can “buy” a blessing from God, we think we can make “give and take” deals with the Almighty. For instance, you say a prayer in order to gain health, or you do a mitzvah just to receive blessing. Another example is seen with visiting the house of God, just so that your life can now be blessed.
This approach hits home, because it is based on truth. It is possible to speak with God, and even influence Him. It is possible, through a true and sincere prayer, one that comes from the heart, to touch God. We can all lift our eyes to heaven, open our hearts, and see and feel that there is someone who listens and hears us.
Please leave a verse in the comments below, that you think sums up, or adds to the discussion today.