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.
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.