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:We Must Get Humility 
The reading for this Shabbat is from Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8, and from the prophets we will be reading this very important chapter of Isaiah 60:1-22. From the New Testament we will be reading from Matthew 4:13-24.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for my brothers and sisters around the world to read these readings every week together with Israel. I will share with you how I see this simple and very beneficial act It is so simple and so important both for you and your family and for the big picture.
By reading together with the Jewish people the same texts from the Torah and the prophets on the same Shabbat – you are joining the Israel team on the same side of the stadium and cheering the same team, God’s team, and wearing the same color t-shirt with God’s people.
Yes, it is only symbolic and only a token, but it is a token that will bless you and give you information from reading the word of God that you are not going to get by going to church, any Christian church, because the sermons and the teaching, although can be wonderful, are not organic but canned fruit, good, but not personally yours. Reading the word of God for yourself it makes it yours, fresh and systematic.
Deuteronomy chapter 26 gives us something that is so very special and unique. It shares with us what a worshipper said to the priest on the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) when he brought his basket of first fruits to the temple on the 50th day after Passover, after the spring harvest started.
I find it fascinating to read, and to hear, the words that the person says bringing his gifts to the house of the Lord. Here is a short but important analysis of the following text:
“And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish [a lost Aramian], and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.” – Deuteronomy 26:3-11 [NKJV]
Here are some of the very special things that we can learn from these words that the worshiper says to the priest, when he brings the best and the first fruits as dedication and gratitude to the Lord for His provision and blessings!
First, the place where I live was given to me by God! No matter where on God’s good earth you are living, it could be a mansion or a small room in a slum or in the woods.
You are living and walking and moving on God’s Earth, on His real-estate. You and I and all that walk on this Earth don’t own anything not even the six-foot grave in which our bones are going to be buried.
When you realize this, that all that we own, and all our possessions, are just given to us to be used for a season and all that we have and all that we are, is from God – that will make us much more modest and humbler.
“My father was a nomad, a wondering lost Aramean (Syrian)” – He is speaking of Abraham our father. The worshiper coming now with the basket for the Lord is saying I am really “nothing” and my pedigree means nothing. This too is of great importance.
I have been around God’s Earth a few times in my life, and I have been with some very rich people and most of them were humble and simple and generous brothers and sisters. However, every so often I have met people who are very wealthy, and they are generous, but they are mentally and emotionally “slaves who have become kings.”
They are so full of themselves, and they want you to know that they are full of themselves. These people want to receive the credit for their generosity here and now, from you before they hand you the check.
These words of a man who has just gathered his grain and filled his storehouses with wealth, and his vats are full of new wine, knows what King David knew well when in his last prayer he said:
“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You, as were all our fathers…” – 1 Chronicles 29:14,15 [NKJV]
Notice David’s words after the long list of his donation for the building of the house of the Lord, and the preparation of the gold and other materials for the Temple in Jerusalem that his son Solomon will build. His words in this last prayer are so similar to the words of our text from Deuteronomy 26.
All of us need to know and confess and act humbly because, like King David, all that we are and all that we can give God is already from His own that we give. This is true for physical and spiritual gifts.
Humility is one of the most needed ingredients that leaders, rabbis, pastors, politicians, and rich people need and ought to be seeking to buy in the marketplace of things of high value that are desperately needed.
We all need to spend much more of all that we are and we must buy humility and simplicity, because at the end of the day, all that we have and all that we give will be useless if we don’t give it with simplicity and humility and generosity – and secretly. Yes, secrecy is also a very-needed and God-required ingredient for our spiritual wellbeing, and for the judgement day.
Joseph Shulam: Israel’s Humble Narrative 
The reading this Shabbat is approaching the end of Deuteronomy which means that the High Holidays are quickly approaching. From the Torah we are reading from Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8 (9). The name of this Parasha is Ki Tavo (“when you enter the land”). The reading from the prophets is from Isaiah 60:1-22 and from the New Testament we will read from Acts 7:30-36.
In Parashat Ki Tavo there are some very important pearls that we all need to learn and take seriously. The first part of this reading is dealing with the procedures for each family when bringing their first fruits to the Tabernacle (Temple) and when presenting these first fruits to the priest.
This happened one time a year during the feast of Pentecost (Shavuot). The importance of this text is that we have for the first and last time the words that the worshiper says to the priests during the presentation of the first fruits.
This is of great importance for us today. We read so much about the sacrifices in the book of Leviticus, and also in the New Testament in the book of Hebrews, but we don’t have much of the dialogue that went on between the worshiper and the priest that received these first fruits.
Here is the dialogue between the worshiper and the Priest:
“Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 26:4–10 [NKJV]
These words are short, but they contain the essence of the story of Israel then and now! Let me analyze the words of the worshiper to the priests.
First, confession of and revelation of our ancestors’ weakness: we did not come from a proud and aggressive family. We are not a people that takes pride in their origin. We didn’t come from a powerful and great nation. The origins of the Israelite nation are humble and totally dependent on the Lord’s grace.
Second, we became a nation in Egypt. This is no small detail, and it is of great importance. What does it mean that Israel became a nation in Egypt and on the way out of Egypt during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. This point is important to me as a 21st-Century disciple of Yeshua.
What made a bunch of hostile and contrary cousins into a nation is the persecution and suffering that they had to pass through during the years of slavery in Egypt: “the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us.” For the church of today this message ought to serve as medicine.
The race to make Christians more comfortable and to not offend the people who are sitting on the padded benches (pews) and to make the church services more user politically correct has not and will not produce stronger Christians and more unity, and more healthy growth.
The pattern of history for the growth of strong, convicted, fighting the enemy, disciples of the Messiah, has been and cannot be the more comfortable and more politically correct church.
Strength comes from pain, and dedication to the cause and exercising the muscles in resistance to the difficulties. A church without challenges, demanding sacrifice and the exercise of self-discipline, will become a despondent church and will become selfish and one that is seeking internal conflicts.
Each year that an Israelite came to the priest with his joy and pride, the first fruit, the best fruit, the products of his labor. He came with every reason to be proud and self-content with his great success.
The Torah tells us that the Israelite worshiper has to verbalize a humbling narrative that puts him back on the right track – I come from a poor background of suffering and degradation that forced me and my fellow Israelites to unite and become a nation, and it is all with gratitude and through the goodness of our Lord.
Only after these words are spoken does the priest accept the basket of first fruits and dedicates them to the Lord and blesses the worshipper with another year of prosperity.
I believe that we can all get so much from this narrative and can implement some of these principles in our lives: of humility, the confession of who we really are, of taking off our masks of being a successful and proud people, and of returning to the reality of our total dependence on the goodness and mercy of our Lord.
Then it will be the time to bring our first and last fruits to the Lord as an offering of our lives as a living sacrifice which is our reasonable service (see Romans 12:1).
Joseph Shulam: The Words Spoken Upon Bringing Firstfruits 
The Torah portion that is read in the synagogues in Israel this next Shabbat is Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8). The haftarah (reading from the prophets) is Isaiah 60:1-22. From the New Testament, we read from the Gospel of John 13:1 – 15:27.
The Ki Tavo portion has the only words that a worshipper spoke upon coming to the Temple, while presenting a sacrifice and the firstfruits of his field and his flock. This is what the worshipper said on the day of Pentecost (Shavuot), when he came to the Temple to bring his firstfruits:
“And you shall go to the one who is priest in those days, and say to him, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.’ Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.”- Deuteronomy 26:3-11 [NKJV]
This same text is repeated on Passover eve in the Seder meal. Since these are the only words that we know were spoken by the worshipper when he came to Jerusalem to bring his firstfruits and his sacrifice, it is important for us to understand them.
- The first thing that the worshipper confesses is that he has come to the country that the Lord did swear to Abraham our Father. This confession is an affirmation that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world and in this land. Confessing that we have this land of Israel as a gift promised by the Lord to Abraham is of great importance. This land and this world are not our permanent home. We are tourists, guests, in this land and in this world.
- “My father was a lost (wandering) Aramean (Syrian) and he went down to Egypt (Egypt was like the United States – a big empire that was rich and powerful).” The worshipper confesses that the father of the nation, Jacob (Israel), was a small family that went down to Egypt, and there became a nation great and mighty.
- The function of such a confession, every year when the worshipper comes to Jerusalem to bring his firstfruits and his tithes, is of great psychological value. In this moment of worship and of dedication of his gifts to the Lord, the worshipper confesses and humbles himself and his origin.
- The words of the worshipper are humbling. In the moment of euphoria and generosity, bringing his gifts and sacrifices dedicated to the Lord in the Temple, this self-humbling is a very powerful psychological medication. There is no room for pride when you worship the Lord, even if you bring rich and extraordinary gifts.
- “But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression.” Yes, when we became a nation, rich and powerful in Egypt, the reaction was that the Egyptians mistreated us and afflicted us.
- This is the history of Israel, and the history of every nation or group of people who rise up, and grow and become powerful in a land that is not their own. When we know this principle. We can keep a humble attitude and see the hand of the Lord in our history, and be encouraged in the difficult times, knowing that they come when we are successful and blessed by God. The pagan empires will persecute us, but the Lord will deliver us in His good time.
- When we are in trouble and persecuted and we cry to the Lord, He hears us and sends a deliverer to deliver us from the hand of our enemies. It is so important for us to know that our cries and our prayers are not falling on deaf ears. God hears us, and you, and every sincere soul that calls upon the name of the Lord. The Lord saved us and delivered us from our enemies.
- Now I am bringing to the Lord my firstfruits, I am worshipping the Lord with the good things that He has given us. Just like King David prayed in his last prayer: “Lord from your own we have given you.” This attitude is a key, a very important key, for sincere and true worship that brings glory to the Lord, and also puts the worshipper in the right place and frame of mind.
I find these words to be so very inspiring and encouraging. It shows the attitude of a true worshipper, and a generous giver of what the Lord has blessed him with. An attitude of humility and submission, giving all the credit to the Lord. There is no “self-made man” here. All that you have is those who worship the Lord and confess and know that it is the Lord that has made us a nation, and made us mighty and powerful, and has blessed us to make us great and humble servants.
How wonderful it would be to keep a humble attitude, and give the Lord the credit for all that we are, and all that we have, and all that we can give to Him. The honor and glory for the goodness and deliverance that He has done for us. Yes, even when it is hard, and even when the enemy is persecuting us, and affliction is our daily bread, even then, giving the Lord the honor and gratitude is always the right thing to do.
Joseph Shulam: The Act of Thanking God for the Good in Our Lives 
The Torah reading this upcoming Shabbat is Ki Tavo. It means “when you come into the land”. These chapters of Deuteronomy are programmatic chapters. They are now giving instruction to the children of Israel about the program that the Lord has for them in relationship to dwelling in the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession.
Deuteronomy chapter 26 is of great importance, because it is the only chapter that reveals to the reader what the worshipper who comes to Jerusalem to worship the Lord must say in front of the priest (the Cohen) who serves the Lord in his day. The circumstance is the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), the occasion is the bringing of the firstfruits that have grown and ripened for the season, the spring season.
This text is of great importance because it gives us a glimpse of what was going on in the Temple behind the doors. The worshipper comes with his gifts to God through the auspices of the priest. The priest receives the gift (sacrifice), and the worshipper says the following strange things:
“Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a lost [wandering] Syrian [Aramean], about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and dwelt there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labor and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.’ Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.” – Deuteronomy 26:4–11 [NKJV]
Here in this grand occasion, when the Israelite worshipper comes to Jerusalem, in his hands are the firstfruits of his labor, the best of the best of his fields and orchards. He hands the basket of the firstfruits to the priest, and this is what he says: “My father was a lost [wandering] Syrian [Aramean].” This worshipper is speaking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the fathers of the nation of Israel, and he calls Abraham a lost [wandering] Syrian [Aramean].
Is this Israelite worshipper minimizing the importance of of Abraham by calling him a lost Syrian? Yes, and No! Let us look at another document from a period close to the appearance of the book of Deuteronomy on the scene:
“Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless You are our Father, Though Abraham was ignorant of us, And Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” – Isaiah 63:15,16 [NKJV]
Here in Isaiah, the worshipper claims the Lord God as the father of Israel, not Abraham. With all of Abraham’s greatness, both in this passage in Isaiah and in Deuteronomy 26, Abraham is not the father of the nation, or the savior of the nation of Israel, or the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian slavery. God Himself is the Savior and the Redeemer of Israel, “…from Everlasting is Your [God’s] name!”
Here are some of the implications of this short text that allows to look into the words that were spoken by the worshipper during the highest moment of his yearly encounter with the Lord, through the priest and the gift of firstfruits to the Lord.
- The worshipper approaches worship with great humility. He is not the benefactor of the Lord. He is the recipient of God’s goodness and mercy. He confesses both his own and his father’s total dependence on God. King David did the same in his last prayer: “Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.’” – 1 Chronicles 29:10–14
- The worshipper brings to the Lord the firstfruits, the best fruit, and not the leftover fruit of the field and from the fruit trees.
- After giving God the best of the best, the worshipper is invited to thank God for the good things that God has given him. This phrase is worded in a special way. The worshipper is not invited to thank God for everything that has happened in his life during the past year, but the good things that happened in his life. The not-so-good-things that happen in our lives have many sources and causes. The good things that happen to us and to our households are all from God and His goodness.
There is a question that I am sure many will ask, “What are the other sources in our lives that cause us some hardships and grief?” I will answer this question in a short way because this is not a theological thesis:
- Our own stupidity and mistakes. This is probably one of the main sources of grief and sometimes suffering in our own lives. There is no one else that we can blame other than our mistakes and stupidity. If we drive too fast around a curve, and the physics of the centrifugal forces throw us off the road, and we have a bad accident, it is not the devil, it is not a demon, it is our own stupidity and lack of foresight and wisdom that has caused the accident.
- Sin in our lives can have painful consequences that can cause pain and grief, and even illness.
- Nature, the very nature of all flesh is to age and decay.
- God at times wants to educate us and equip us for a higher challenge, and like a boot camp, he takes us through a series of obstacles courses in order to build our abilities and train our minds and prepare us, through suffering, for a greater task and success in life.
This last one is one of the most difficult for us to understand, and at times we think that our whole world is collapsing and we can’t take it even one more day. The sun comes up the next day, and we understand that, despite the great hardships and difficulties, in the end, like the apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 8, “all thing work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”
Paul is basing this statement on several passages in the Psalms and in the prophets. The main passage is from Psalms 145:14-20:
“The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy.” – Psalms 145:14–20 [NKJV]
The Key phrase is in Psalms 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” In other words, if you separate one of God’s actions (in the bible or in history or in your own life) you might think that He is unrighteous, but if you look at the big picture you will see that He is righteous and all His ways are righteous.
Joseph Shulam: A Physical Reminder of Israel’s Obedience 
This week’s Torah portion is called Ki Tavo (when you enter in). The reading is from Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:9. The first part of the reading is very interesting, because this is the only text in the Torah that tells us what people said when they came to the temple to worship and offer sacrifices.
The occasion that this is speaking of is the feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). I have already written about this before.
The next part of the reading (Deuteronomy 27:1-8) is God’s command to Moses to build an altar on the top of Mount Ebal. This altar was a special altar, because of the size of and the architectural features that were commanded by God.
There are several specific features that this altar was to have. The stones were specified by God. The stones that had to be used had to be whole, and not broken. The stones were not to be cut with iron tools. On the stones, there had to be the inscription of God’s laws.
We have the record of Joshua and the children of Israel building this altar on top of Mount Ebal:
“Now Joshua built an altar to the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the children of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses: ‘an altar of whole stones over which no man has wielded an iron tool.’ And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the children of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. Then all Israel, with their elders and officers and judges, stood on either side of the ark before the priests, the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the stranger as well as he who was born among them. Half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded before, that they should bless the people of Israel.” – Joshua 8:30–33 [NKJV]
As you can see in the pictures that were taken about 30 years ago, the altar that Joshua built, in obedience to the command that the Lord gave Moses, was still standing. It was standing right on the top of Mount Ebal. The size, the type of stones, and the location all fit the description.
Mount Ebal was the mountain from which the curses were being pronounced. This high mountain, right above the city of Nablus today, is right across the valley from Mount Gerizim. This is the place where the blessings were pronounced on the children of Israel.
Mount Ebal has been basically barren, dry and on the East side overlooking the Jordan Valley. Mount Gerizim is on the West side. Looking West, you can see the Mediterranean Sea. It is a fertile mountain, very green almost year around. Even today, the Samaritans celebrate Passover and offer many lambs as Passover sacrifices on top of Mount Gerizim.
I remember well going up to Mount Ebal, only one time. In order to get up there we had to have a heavily armed military escort. We had two military armored jeeps in front and a military armored jeep in the back.
I wanted to see this altar that was still in place. It is a rare thing to be able to read a document that is at least 2600 years old, and describes exactly what God required from Joshua and the children of Israel, then in the book of Joshua describes what Joshua and the children of Israel did, and now 2600 years later man can go and see and measure and photograph the very place and altar that you read about in the Torah, in the Word of God.
I believed that this was true and real before I went up to Mount Ebal with a military escort, but it was extremely exciting and wonderful to go up there and climb on top of the altar, and walk around it and touch it. As Yeshua said, “blessed are those who did not see and believe” (John 20:29).
However, I am blessed also because I have seen the place, and have been in the place, and have climbed on top of the very place that the Word of God states that Joshua built the altar. For me, this was a real faith-building experience.
Not far from this altar, an Israeli fighter jet was shot down. A monument was erected on top of Mount Ebal for the young Israel pilot who died there during the war. For me, there were two altars of sacrifice on top of the barren mountain of where the curses of God were read aloud, and the people in the valley shouted in unison, “Amen”, in agreement.
What is up there these days? Not much! The Palestinian mobs took apart that ancient monument that was built by Joshua the son of Nun, and the children of Israel, after crossing the Jordan River.
This altar was standing there for over 2600 years, a silent witness of biblical truth. A witness to the obedience of faith, that these men and women, who survived the wilderness of Sinai, with murmuring, rebellion, and complaining, when it came to the “doing”, they lived up to the command and built this altar. I confess that I was very sad when the news came that vandalism and hate had a part in destroying this ancient witness and monument.
We can live without the stone witnesses, we can’t live without the human witnesses. The witnesses who, from generation to generation, stand up and speak and witness with their lives the power, the love, the grace, and the truth of God’s Word.
The enemies of truth and love and grace and hope will never win. There will always be men and women who will read the Word of God and believe it. And as often we are frail and weak, out of our weakness and sin we stand up to do the will of our Father who is in Heaven, but also down here on Earth.
Yehuda Bachana: We are Required to Rejoice 
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
Shabbat Shalom. Our parasha opens with the commandment of the firstfruits. This commandment of bringing the firstfruits expresses, perhaps more than any other commandment, the connection of the Jewish people to their land, to the Land of Israel.
The Importance of Firstfruits
At the beginning of our parasha we are commanded to offer the firstfruits, the commandment consists of four main components:
- Bringing the firstfruits – the act of bringing your firstfruits to God.
- The speech that the giver of firstfruits must make.
- Bowing to God after the end of the speech, and after giving the firstfruits.
- A special addition to the commandment: “Then you… shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you…” (Deuteronomy 26:11)
That same Israeli worker who works hard all year, prays every day for optimal conditions of rain at the right time, or sun when necessary, is finally enjoying a wonderful sense of satisfaction and great achievement when the firstfruits of the labor appear. As it says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
And here in this act of giving to God the first and the newest, after man works hard throughout the year, the first produce, the first fruit is the most intriguing part.
Here we see how the crop turned out after much work. The first fruit has the greatest significance.
It is precisely this part, the most precious thing, that man has to give up and give to God, the main meaning of which is to strengthen generosity and to lessen the desire for food and money.
We are commanded to control our desires, and give up the best for God’s sake.
The Commandment to Rejoice
The last element in the commandment of the firstfruits is the joy that accompanies the fulfillment of the commandment:
“Then you… shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you…” – Deuteronomy 26:11 [NIV]
Thanking God is not only a matter of courtesy, but of fulfilling a duty. The person should feel great joy that he can give thanks for the good things.
Both as individuals and as a state we have things to be thankful to God for, we have a reason to rejoice, we live in all the goodness and blessing of God, we are free in our country to worship God and work the land.
Israel is a world leader in agricultural innovations.
Joy Helps Us Not to Forget God
Joy appears once again in our parasha, as a warning:
“All these curses will come on you. They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you. They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever. Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity…” – Deuteronomy 28:45-47 [NIV]
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully.
This passage has several meanings, the first is found at the end, with the addition of “in the time of prosperity”. When things are going well, we forget God.
When we are hungry or suffering, we remember God. We remember to ask from God. This isn’t always the case when we are not hungry or not in trouble.
I learn from our parasha that it is my duty to serve God with joy. It is not enough to fulfill the commandment, it is not enough to be a believer – joy needs to seep into our inner being.
Joy Holds Us to a Higher Standard
If we compare this commandment to serve God with joy, with the Sermon on the Mount, I think we can learn something new. Jesus declares in Matthew 5:
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:20 [NIV]
What is Yeshua saying here?
Do we need to strive to observe the commandments and to be more strict than the Pharisees and the scribes? Do we have to be even more devout?
No! I believe that Yeshua is speaking here of fulfilling the Word of God with joy and love. Yeshua is speaking here about our relationships, with our neighbors, and between us and God.
Yeshua teaches us that it is not enough to fulfill the commandment. There is no such thing as, “Hey, I finished, I’m done!” No! God is interested in the heart’s intent. We are required to serve God with joy.
We give importance to the faith – the Body of Messiah speaks endlessly about what we should believe. The real question is not what’s in our head, the question how much love, how much joy, do we have in our hearts.
From this parasha, and from the words of Yeshua, I learn that if I am a believer and I’m living in bitterness, if I’m a bitter person who does not live according to how God wants, my faith is not enough. Period.
The Curse of the Law
As we continue to read the parasha, we encounter many curses. The word “cursed” appears 16 times in our parasha:
“You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country.” – Deuteronomy 28:16 [NIV]
“The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land…” – Deuteronomy 28:18 [NIV]
“You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out.” – Deuteronomy 28:19 [NIV]
“‘Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.’ Then all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’” – Deuteronomy 27:26 [NIV]
From here the Apostle Paul gets the concept of the curse of the law. And what does Paul mean when he says that Yeshua redeemed us from the curse of the law?
Some go further in their interpretation of the expression “curse of the law”. They propose that the Torah itself is a curse to all those who uphold it.
But that is not Paul’s intention at all when he says that the Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law.
The Curse Allows Redemption to Come
Paul understands that the entire nation is in a shameful legal situation, where there is no one who does not sin, and so we are all under the curse and we are all condemned, we, the work of our hands, our families, are all under the curse.
Paul takes this very seriously and he asks himself and us, how can one escape from this situation? And he replies, thanks to Messiah, who bought us with his blood, who took the curse upon Himself and nailed it to the cross.
Here we have a concept of redemption, in the Bible, the work of he who is called the redeemer, and the classic act of redemption, are equal.
A redeemer is someone who pays the debt of someone else, and thereby extricates him from the situation he is in. The redeemer does not forcibly break the prisoner out of prison in order to release him. He pays the debt of the redeemed until the last cent.
Can We Just Forget About the Law?
So what now? What is my relationship to the Torah of Moses?
There are those who claim, “because we can not keep the whole Torah, we are therefore exempt from it.” Or: “If we want to keep the Torah, then we will have to observe the entire Torah, and disobedience to even one commandment will bring a curse to those who are under the Torah.
As it is written in our parasha: ‘“Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”’ (Deuteronomy 27:26 [NIV]) So the Messiah exempts us from the burden of Torah.”
I agree that the whole Torah can not be kept, even if we very much wanted to, but then even the “commandments of Yeshua” in the New Testament will not be kept, and no person is capable of keeping them. So is it possible to “give up” on them, because it is impossible to keep all of the instructions in the New Testament?
Yeshua’s Standard is Higher
In Matthew 5:21,22, Yeshua said:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” – Matthew 5:21,22 [NIV]
And whom amongst us has never cursed his or her brother or sister? Whom amongst us has never gotten angry at his or her brother or sister?
In Matthew 5:27-30, Yeshua said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – Matthew 5:27-30 [NIV]
This goes for women as well. Whom amongst us is not guilty of this sin? Who has gouged out his or her eye, and has never sinned by looking?
In Matthew 19:16-26, Yeshua was asked by a man who kept the Ten Commandments how one’s name can be written in the Book of Life:
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” – Matthew 19:21 [NIV]
Even Yeshua’s disciples were shocked by His answer. They asked, “Who then can be saved?” Whom amongst us has sold all of their possessions?
Fulfill the Law – With Joy
I believe that the whole Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, is sacred, good, and true. And we must learn and observe the Word of God as much as is possible in today’s modern life.
I will conclude in saying that this parasha and Yeshua the Messiah teach us the importance of the fulfillment of the word of God with joy and love. This is the lesson and the main point.
I will not stand here and demand strict observance of the law – but I will demand that what we do will be done with a radiant face. With a smile.