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

Joseph Shulam: My Tattooed Reminder [2021]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is from the portion “Emor”, from Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23. The reading from the prophets is from Ezekiel 44:15-31. From the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:4-10.

Like every week the readings from God’s word are all interesting and full of important things that we today need to understand and remember to put what we can to practice.

From the Torah I want to discuss with you Leviticus 21:5:

“They shall not make any bald place on their heads, nor shall they shave the edges of their beards nor make any cuttings in their flesh.” – Leviticus 21:5 [NKJV]

From last week’s reading Leviticus 19:28,

“You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.” – Leviticus 19:28 [NKJV]

The text from Leviticus 21:5 is specifically speaking to the priests who serve the Lord in the Tabernacle. The text from Leviticus 19:28 is speaking for all the people of Israel: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”

These texts from God’s Word are so very relevant for today’s Western culture. Do you think that God has changed His mind from the time that He gave the Torah to the children of Israel? Do you think that now in the 21st Century God loves it when His children tattoo and even the pastors cover their bodies with tattoos?

The tattoos themselves are equated in these words from God’s word like cuttings in the flesh. The Word of God teaches that our bodies are the temple of the Lord. We believe that the Holy Spirit of God dwells inside of us, this is a teaching from the Old Testament and from the New Testament.

Tattoos are a hallmark of pagan culture. Humans are known to have had tattoos for the last 12,000 years. The practice of cutting and tattooing bodies was spread around the world before 5000 BCE, in cultures as diverse as East Asia and the Americas.

The God of Israel who gave us the Torah, the prophets, the writings, and the New Testament has forbidden His children, the children of Israel, to participate and disfigure their bodies with cuttings and tattoos. I have one tattoo of a Star of David that I did together with all the boys and girls in my neighborhood in Jerusalem when I was 13 years old.

The reason that all the kids in our neighborhood did the same tattoos of a Star of David was because most of the parents of our friends had numbers tattooed on their arms by the Nazis when they entered the labor and death camps in Poland, Germany, Austria, Holland, Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania.

We all did something stupid because we didn’t know the Torah and most of us didn’t know God. I would remove the small tattoo from my arm, but I am keeping it to remind me of how stupid I was as a young teen. The Torah teaches us to honor our bodies and keep our selves pure from any pagan signs and practices.

Okay, so, if you, like me, already have tattoos on your body, there is not much that you can do other than to regret putting tattoos on your body. You can teach others of the youth not to do it. You can teach that it is expressly against the will of our Creator and it is something ugly and unnecessary, nor does it add anything profitable to our lives.

OK, if you are a traditional Christian that knows only the New Testament and you don’t have respect for the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation – you still ought to consider that God said to Israel to not cut or tattoo your body. If it was something positive God wouldn’t have forbidden His children, the children of Israel, from doing cuts on their bodies or tattoos.

Now let me speak to families with young children and teenagers. It is wise to share and explain without anger or condemnation that as disciples of the Messiah we are chosen people. We have a special mission to be the light of the world. We are to be examples of a good and holy life and of good and holy behavior.

Please consider the following texts from the New Testament:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12:2 [NKJV]

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight…” – Colossians 1:21,22 [NKJV]

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” – 1 Corinthians 6:19 [NKJV]

I realize that we have freedom in Christ, but freedom is not unlimited, and it has God given boundaries that we ought to honor and keep. All that God has given us, is for our good, and for our life of purity and faith. Ignoring God’s advice and commandments is a mistake that might turn out into sin!

Joseph Shulam: Peter, More Than a Fisherman [2020]

Shabbat Emor: from Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23 from the prophets, the Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15 – 44:31. And from the New Testament: 1 Peter 2:1-17.

The most significant issue in these chapters of the Emor portion of the Torah is the rules for those Priests who serve God in the Tabernacle. There are rules that forbid a Cohen (priest) to even attend a funeral of family members who are not father, or mother or brother or sister.

The clothing of the priests is specified, the way they wear their hair is specified, what they eat is specified. It is very serious work to serve God in the holy precinct of God’s Temple.

These rules for the priests and their service is something that we don’t really understand because we serve our communities in a very secular world, with a very secular paradigm.

In fact the Protestants and especially the Pentecostal movement that bandies the “Holy Spirit” and being full of the Spirit of God, has not to consider the serious consequences of being a servant of God.

The principle that Yeshua gave in the Gospel of Luke is something that ought to put the fear of God into every one of us who wants to serve God. This is the rule that Yeshua gives us:

“But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” – Luke 12:48 [NKJV]

We all know that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, but we all ought to take this principle much more seriously. This principle includes financial issues and family, and time schedules, and our relationship to the national authorities and the taxes and every aspect of our lives.

I recommend for you to read the book of Leviticus and see what a serious thing it is to serve the Almighty God.

The second thing that we have in this Shabbat’s reading, the catalog of the feasts of the Lord, the biblical holidays that Yeshua and His apostles celebrated and encouraged others to celebrate, including the congregation in Corinth that was not strictly Jewish and had non-Jewish members like Erastus the Treasurer of the City of Corinth.

In Corinth there is a very big (more than 5 foot long and two foot wide) marble plaque with the name of this Erastus the City Treasurer. He had donated a building for the city of Corinth.

The first time that I visited Corinth in 1965, the plaque was recently discovered and was beautiful. Last year I was there in Corinth again and the plaque of Erastus was just lying outside exposed to the elements and the letters were almost unreadable.

Criminal negligence on the part of the authorities who are in charge of the priceless archaeological treasures.

The New Testament reading this next Shabbat is from 1 Peter 2:1-7. It is a very important reading that contains a very famous “Midrash” (a rabbinical homily) based on several passages in the O.T. that deal with stones.

This very old, famous and important Midrash is based on the following text:

“The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:22–24 [NKJV]

In this Midrash that Peter is using is a chain of scriptures that have stones in them. In Ephesians 2:21,22, the conclusion of the same Midrash is used to describe the body of the Messiah as a building (of course made of stones).

The oldest source of this Midrash is from Qumran, from the Essene community that set out to live in the desert of Judea to prepare for the coming of the Messiah and the salvation of Israel. Peter brings here, from the same Midrash, also the words of Isaiah.

“Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.” – Isaiah 28:16 [NKJV]

The apostle Paul uses the same Midrash in Romans 9:33. This is important because it shows that the apostles, were familiar with the Qumran community’s teachings, as was Josephus Flavius.

Peter also uses, like in the Qumran source, a third text which is from Isaiah 8:14,

“He will be as a sanctuary, But a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense To both the houses of Israel, As a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 8:14 [NKJV]

What we have here is a classical rabbinic method of making a chain of texts from the word of God that deal with the same topic and drawing from a prophetic conclusion in a context different from the original settings of each of the originating texts.

I personally love the method and love to see that Peter was not in any way an ignorant Galilean fisherman, but a scholar of the Torah and of the prophets and I would add, the inter-testament Jewish, Greek and Hebrew literature.

Another point that just fascinates me is that when Peter is quoting from Isaiah 8:14, he omits the last part of the verse that is speaking of Jerusalem. The reason is clear he is sending this letter: “To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”

The message that Peter wants do convey is not to the Jerusalemites, but to people who live outside of Israel. Maybe Jewish brothers who have traveled outside of Israel because of persecution, maybe non-Jews who have been recently converted.

Of course this Midrash is messianic because the bases of the Midrash is from Psalm 118:21-27. This is clearly a messianic text that starts with the rejection of the cornerstone that holds the whole building together and ends with “Hossana and Hatzlichana”, “Please save us and Please give us success!”

This is what the people of Jerusalem were singing when Yeshua came to the city riding on a donkey and the crowd recognized him as the Messiah and son of David, the King!

Joseph Shulam: “Let Us Therefore Keep the Feast” [2019]

The Torah portion that will be read on Shabbat is Emor, Leviticus 21:1 – 24:21, and from the prophets, Ezekiel 44:15-31. From the New Testament our reading will be from Luke 5:9-6:49.

The Emor portion of the Torah has some very interesting concepts that I would like to mention, especially for my brothers and sisters in the world today, and of course it includes ourselves and our brothers in Israel.

The first part of the Torah reading gives us instructions for the priests of Israel that are serving in the Temple.

  1. Service in God’s House will take away your freedom of choice.
    1. You have to separate yourself (be holy – sanctified) from the rest of the people of God.
    2. You cannot come as you are into the holy sanctuary. You have to prepare for it and wear the right clothing. You cannot follow the fashion of your generation and get any kind of haircut that you wish or that others might have.
    3. When a good friend dies, you can’t go to the cemetery and participate in his burial, because you are a priest of God, and going to the cemetery might make you ceremonially unclean for that day. You have to always be ready to perform your duty in the Temple of the Lord.
    4. You can’t desecrate your body with tattoos or with cutting marks on your body. You have to keep your body pure as a servant of God.
    5. You can’t take just anyone whom you choose to be your wife. You have to take a wife who is a virgin and from your own people. (For today this means a fellow disciple of the Messiah.)
    6. How many men will be willing to become “preachers” today if there were these limitations on their freedom of choice? Today many want to have the honor of being servants of God, but not many would be willing to make the choice of being set apart, sanctified, as servants of God.
  2. The second big topic in this Shabbat’s reading is the feasts of the Lord. This is a real big issue in the Bible, but it is even a bigger issue in Christianity. The issue is big in the church, not because what is written in the New Testament, but because what has happened in Christian history (the Catholic churches) between the 4th and the 6th century A.D. (or the way that it is called universally, C.E. – Christian Era) During that time, and even starting a little earlier, the paganized Christian churches were alienating themselves from Israel and the Jewish Nation, and even from the Jewish disciples of Yeshua. They were alienating from Israel for clear political internal Roman issues. It is all well documented, and there is no question about it. (If you are interested to see some of the most striking documents of this systematic anti-Jewish and anti-Torah and anti-Old Testament campaign that the Catholic church set in motion, please read the following: John Chrysostom, Against the Jews. Homily 3

Yeshua and the apostles kept all the biblical feasts of the Lord, and this is clear from the New Testament itself. In fact, Paul commands the church in Corinth to keep the Passover with a clear command.

Read 1 Corinthians 5:7-8. You will find the command: “Let us therefore keep the feast.” The reason is also given “Christ is our Passover.” The how-to is also given:

“For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Yehuda Bachana: We Must Care for Others at Our Own Expense [2018]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

In Parashat Emor, we read and learn about the laws of the priests and God’s requirement for the priests to preserve holiness. After the portion discusses the priestly requirements, we move on to learn about the biblical cycle of the feasts of Israel. We begin with the Sabbath and continue onto the high holidays of Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

The Jewish Understanding of Time

The Jewish perception of time is not viewed as a straight line on a graph that goes from point A in history and moves in a horizontal line to point B. The Jewish understanding of time is more like a circle or cycle of life, which revolves around the week and the Sabbath, over and over.

Our cycle focuses on the holidays and feasts of God that occur annually. Every year we return to the weekly Torah portions. This cycle of life is a spiral that never closes, rather it continues to progress and develop.

The main emphasis of thinking about time as cyclical in nature is the passing of information to children, the continuation of a culture, faith, and the way of living to the next generation, so that they may continue on the path leading to life and God.

In all of these feasts, which we observe every week or every year, our children are supposed to be at the center of the event. The goal is for them to carry on the path that our ancestors started, so that they can continue to grow and improve our walk of faith.

They will learn from us, add on to it, and improve it, and future generations will continue to build on this ideology.

When faith in Yeshua the Messiah and God’s Word are at the center of the family, we personally can grow and develop as well as our society. On the other hand, disbelief and distance from God’s Word can break the family unit and destroy our society.

Our Obligation to Care for Others

God’s Word requires that we build and improve our community. We are obligated to care for those around us, especially the poor and those that are different from us. God’s Word requires from us to build a just and supportive society.

Let us examine the following interesting commandment, which appears in our weekly Torah portion:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 23:22 [NIV]

Right away we might think to ourselves: If the poor want bread, let them go to work, let them pray – what does it have to do with me? I am a decent person who works hard to make a living. Why should I give off the sweat of my brow to others, to people I don’t even know?

Although our time is precious and it belongs to us, we do not live in a bubble. Rather, we live in society amongst other people, and we need to contribute some of our precious time to improving our community.

The Torah says that people must help one another – even at our own expense.


What is True Religion?

God commands us not to reap all the way to the edges of the field, but rather to leave grain and fruit for the poor to come and pick. He unequally divided money and assets amongst us, and likewise commands us to let the needy come into our fields and pick our fruit.

Let’s read this important teaching of Yeshua the Messiah:

“…When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” – Luke 14:12-14 [NIV]

There are very similar words in the epistle of James:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:27 [NIV]

What is the true religion that God desires for us? I believe it is to take care of the poor and needy.

The Price of Loss of Self-Control

In the story of the stoning of the blasphemer, who is to blame? The blasphemer or the community?

Towards the end of our parasha we encounter a peculiar story that is difficult to understand. However, I see it as very important and relevant for us today:

“Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses. (His mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri the Danite.) They put him in custody until the will of the Lord should be made clear to them.” – Leviticus 24:10-12 [NIV]

The unfortunate ending:

“Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp. All those who heard him are to lay their hands on his head, and the entire assembly is to stone him.’” – Leviticus 24:13,14 [NIV]

There are many commentaries on this matter, and I find it to be of importance as this story raises many questions. The Torah bothered to tell us of this account, but we do not understand the context of the story, the lesson, nor the reasons that led to this difficult incident.

One commentator noted the use of the phrase “went out” – from where did he go out? Perhaps he went out of his mind.

It seems to me that this man went out of his framework and lost any sense of his conduct. A person who is in the midst of a bitter quarrel often loses his temper and any control he has over himself.

Today, temporary insanity is a claim that can be made in court, and sometimes it is even deemed as an acceptable excuse by the judge.

Have You Lost Control in Anger?

The Torah commands that a blasphemer be stoned to death. Loss of temper or temporary insanity are unacceptable.

This is because the Torah requires man to restrain his urges, he must take care that he does not reach a state of loss of all reason, and therefore receiving the punishment of death.

The lesson from such a commentary is simple, we must maintain patience and coolheadedness in every situation.

When a person drinks alcohol excessively, he loses control of himself. Further, by law he is forbidden to drive because he does not know what he is doing and can cause great damage and even death when he tries to operate a vehicle, this law is both logical and understandable.

We, as intelligent people, know when a person reaches a particularly high anger threshold. He loses control over both his words and his actions. In addition, he is capable of causing damage to a person or property.

The lesson here is that we have the responsibility and obligation not to reach that point of anger where we lose control.

If we are not careful to watch ourselves, and if we end up hurting others, our punishment is well-deserved. For instance, if you drove under the influence of alcohol and hit a pedestrian – you should be punished.

Have you lost control in anger, physically hurt your neighbor, and took the Lord’s name in vain? Then you also deserve punishment.

Responsibility Goes Beyond the Individual, to the Community

In my opinion, there’s another message in this story, about the degree of responsibility the individual has towards himself and those around him, and the degree of responsibility of society towards the individual.

There is room to examine the circumstances that led a person to commit a grave act. It is worthwhile for us to observe and see the factors and constraints that occured before the incident, and not only to see the person who sinned.

The text in our portion did not explain all the details of this particular act. We were not told when this happened and for what reason the son of the Israelite and Egyptian came out of his tent and walked around the camp. What’s more, we do not know what the quarrel was about.

In contrast, the Torah bothers to note that the blasphemer was the son of an Egyptian man. This detail is apparently marginal; why was the family attribution of the blasphemer mentioned?

There are those who will point out the attribution of the blasphemer, who is an Egyptian son, who perhaps was contemptuous of the Torah and of God; therefore, he blasphemed in public.

However, I disagree with this statement. When a person from a particular group of people commits a grave act, according to our example, blaspheming the name of God, the reaction is to shun him, to say that the Torah and the people of Israel renounce the son of an Egyptian who cursed God. He’s not one of us, he’s the son of an Egyptian.

In addition, they will add that the sin began with a mother who married an Egyptian, and the result was a disaster.

An Irresponsible Interpretation

In such a response there is a fair amount of irresponsibility and I do not think that’s the message. This was probably a case of discrimination. There are many ways in which for individuals to discriminate: ethnicity, race (as in the case before us), gender, political or religious outlook.

This account shows a hint of discrimination. The mentioning of the origin of the blasphemer comes to convey to us the severity of the act, and at the same time this matter places a great deal of responsibility on the environment and society.

The son of an Egyptian man felt alienation and total helplessness. He denied his identity, he felt that he had no place and no inheritance, no rights, and so therefore he reacted as he did.

From this story, we can learn a few things. First, we must be careful and take note to accept others with fair treatment and sensitivity. I learned from this week’s parasha that I have tremendous power in my hands; I can break, ruin, and lose my neighbor.

If I have the power to break and destroy, do I also possess the power to build and strengthen? The answer must be yes, but which is easier?

Of course it takes less effort to destroy than to build up. Destroying does not take a lot of thought, but building, and doing so correctly, takes a little wisdom and a lot of exertion.

This incident teaches us an important lesson. Often there will be a minority which will be hurt by the law or by racism from the majority. However, the minority must find ways to change the law and regulate justice.

This is also the reason for the Torah’s repeated emphasis on the need for proper and even special treatment for the stranger, because our natural tendency is to behave the opposite.

Precisely because of this predilection, the Torah repeatedly emphasizes that we must overcome the evil impulse (yetzer hara) and behave properly towards the stranger and those that are different from us, since they fall under the category of the defenseless.

They belong to the status of the weak in society, the different, the stranger, and they are usually mentioned in the Torah alongside widows and orphans.

In Conclusion

If we fail to accept the weak or the poor, we will find ourselves as a people, movement, and as a community, discriminating against people and pushing them out. Those people, out of their unhappiness and helplessness, are liable to leave the ways of the Torah in anger.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize the degree of responsibility on the individual towards himself, to control his emotions and his impulses.

In addition, I would like to accentuate the degree of responsibility of society towards the individual, and towards the poor and needy.

We ought to strive towards being fair, understanding, helpful, and even though it is at our expense, we should leave the edges of our field, as God commanded, for others to take from.

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