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.

Yehuda Bachana: Wisdom and Mercy -Mishpatim [2023]

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

“These are the laws you are to set before them.”

This sentence sounds as if is continuing from the previous portion – the giving of the Torah and the ten commandments. However, we are always asking, for centuries, if the Mishpatim Portion preceded the giving of the Torah.

In last week reading, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, came to visit Moses, he witnessed a leadership crisis - Moses was acting as the solo representative of the government, and every decision had to go through him. When Jethro saw it, he understood that this structure was domed to collapse. Neither Moses nor the people would be able to continue in such a way.

“Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.”
(Exodus 18:17-18)

Even if Moses was the strongest human being ever, such a load would eventually break him. It would be bad for him and the people would not get their justice in a timely manner.

People need and want justice, and if the judge, Moses in our case, is not available or the waiting for the actual hearing date is too long, people will find different ways. They will find other advisors or other judges that will eventually destroy the actual government. When Jethro saw it, he understood the consequences and advised Moses to put the leadership system in place.

For an example, King David’s lack of justice allowed Absalom’s rebellion to happen. We read that Absalom “stole the hearts of the people.” How did he do it? We read in 2 Samuel that every morning Absalom got up early and went down to the city gate where he told the people who came to see the judge:

“You know that our judicial system is slow and inefficient and is looking for compromise, for a plea-bargain, and not for justice.”

Absalom told people, that if you are looking for a quick, efficient, available, and fare justice system, I, the king’s son, will make sure you receive it. And that is exactly what happened.

“Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the people of Israel.”
(2 Samuel 15: 2-6)

The lack of justice, or a corrupt justice system, bothers us, makes us angry. It is hard for us to deal with a system that is unjust, overcomplicated or inefficient.

The next king after David, was Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived.
We remember, that when God offered to fulfill his one wish, any wish, in what was a very good decision, Solomon chose wisdom. With it, he got both honor and wealth.
But Solomon didn’t ask for just any wisdom. He asked for a very special kind of wisdom – to judge righteously, to judge wisely:

“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great (heavy) people of yours?”
(1 Kings 3:9)

In the previous Torah Portion, Moses listened to Jethro. He chose men of valor and built a justice system. Then Moses took the elders of Israel, and taught them the laws that are before us today:
the difference between a thief caught in action and a thief caught few days later. The difference between an ox that gored for the first time, and the one that has attacked before.

So, after Moses taught Israel’s elders these rules and statues, at the end of our portion, God’s glory descended on Mt. Sinai and Moses went up the mountain for 40 days. And it is written in a way that leaves the answer unclear; if this Torah portion comes before or after the event of Mt. Sinai and the giving of the stone tablets.

Yeshua quotes from our Torah portion:

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, this statement, is meant to limit the degree of punishment and to restrain the degree of revenge. This commandment - “an eye for an eye”

Puts boundaries to our vindictiveness. We are not allowed to hurt the offender unlimitedly, because then, the other side will also respond with vengeance, aggravating the situation even more, and the cycle of violence would continue.
This simple commandment of God, limits the cycle of violence to “a draw”, and that’s it.

The New Testament reveals to us yet another possibility. Yeshua says, that yes, you deserve justice, but you do not have to demand the maximum penalty.
You can choose to forgive, choose to let go, or choose the merely symbolic punishment.

Yeshua is not teaching us to refrain from protecting our family or our property. On the contrary, we have to do all we can to protect our families, our property or our society! Yeshua does not ask us to forgive the thief or the rapist and to refuse pressing charges against him; quite the opposite! Otherwise, the criminal would go free and will continue hurting others.

Yeshua is talking about personal issues; someone attacked you personally because of who you are, because of your faith, your identity or your race. On personal issues such as these, we can decide to act graciously.

"Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

This verse is well known and appears in different versions all through the Scriptures. We are called to be companionate to foreigners, because we also were foreigners and as such, have suffered not only in Egypt, but all over the world.

But what about the criminal, who can hurt others as well?
We are familiar with the saying in Judaism:

“He, who has mercy on the cruel, will end up being cruel to merciful”.

This saying appeared first in the context of King Saul, who showed mercy to the Amalekites, and disobeyed the commandment to execute them. But later, he got mad at the inhabitants of Nov, and killed them in an exact way; that he was supposed to kill the Amalekites.

That’s where this expression came from, but it is a very deep concept and it is important for our lives and the way we operate.
It is relevant because being people of faith, we tend to hush problems and scandals of all sorts; theft, abuse, sexual harassment. It is not only “us”, but also large churches.

Many other organizations often silence up scandals, keep such offences quiet; offences against children, women, and innocent people.

Partially, we hush scandals to keep the dirty laundry from being aired outside. Especially, in case it can stain the entire community, or the church or congregation.
Another reason, is to minimize damage to others. Especially if we are talking about the group leader, a famous pastor or a rabbi. There is fear, that if such a story will be known outside, others will get hurt, and the credibility of the entire organization can be damaged.

And sometimes, people have the tendency to forgive, to give another chance, not to report to the police, not to embarrass publicly, understanding that we all sin and we all deserve a second chance. We sometimes think we all tend to fall, here and there. But this is exactly where the phrase comes from:

“He who has mercy on the cruel, will end up being cruel to merciful.”

If we do not report a sexual assault, or if we allow a person, who make those of opposite sex uncomfortable, to stay in our community, in our congregation, then who are we helping and who are we hurting?

If we know that a certain person is using others for financial or material gain, but we turn the blind eye to it, then who are we helping and who are we hurting?
We have to do the utmost to protect family and the members of our community.

Moving on, in this Torah Portion, we find a demand for a fair trial. Being sensitive is good and important. Being merciful is good and important, but the demand of our Torah Portion, the demand of God, is to disregard the person’s so-called misery, and to examine the findings in a real and objective way and to deliver justice.
We are not allowed to pity the perpetrator, even if he is poor and unfortunate. It is natural to have pity on him, as It is written:

“And do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit…Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits”
(Exodus 23:3+6).

These verses approach the issue from both directions. Not to give preference to the rich and the powerful on one hand, and not to pity the poor and unfortunate on the other, but to deliver true justice.

Sometimes the rich and powerful are let off the crime. They hire expensive lawyers who clear them from all guilt. They, the rich and powerful, receive unbelievable tax reductions, when we – the average folk, suffocate under taxes and tolls. The small businesses suffer, when large ones make a profit on our behalf.

It’s interestingly that when a wealthy and influential person will come to pray with us, we invite him to sit upfront, at the place of honor; we show him respect.
James warned us of such behavior, saying:

“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”
(James 2:1)

The New Testament teaches that in the eyes of God all people are equal; men and women, Jews and non-Jews. All are equal in the eyes of God, and no man is worth more than the other.

The desire to have mercy is built into our character. We want to justify the poor and it is easy to side with the ‘underdog’. We often identify the unfortunate as the one who is right. It happens in civil and family courts, we see the poor and weak as the ones who are right, regardless to the truth.

As the world looks at Israel and the Palestinians, they see that Israel is strong
and perhaps that is why we are seen us as the aggressors. That is why the world supports them – the ‘underdog’, regardless of the truth.

The law must be true and just. And yes, we are required to be companionate, but at the same time to look at the cold facts objectively, in order to come to the true and just decision. We can’t be blinded by the wealth, power and influence of the strong, nor let pity justify the guilty.

I would like to conclude with the idea of domestic peace. Luckily, in our congregations, we are rarely dealing with sex-offenders and thieves.

Most of our problems are limited to disagreements and family peace keeping and problems with our neighbors; small problems, that can’t always be solved in court.
In these situations, Yeshua asks from us:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."
(Mathew 5:44, NKJV)

In our Torah Portion we find the of same idea:

“If you see the donkey of someone who hates you, fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.”
(Exodus 23:5, NIV)

Our Rabbis tell us a story of two guys, who hated each other, and the donkey of the one, fell under its load, and his rival saw the donkey of his enemy falling under a heavy load. But he chose to keep the commandment and to help his rival.

The two enemies had to work together, had to help each other in getting the heavy load off from the donkey. They had to split the load, and put half on the donkey of the first guy, and another half on the donkey of the second guy.

Now, working together made them into friends instead of enemies, caused them to like each other instead of hating.
This is exactly what Yeshua is asking us to do, to see the troubles or hardships of others on our way, and to stretch out a helping hand.

Joseph Shulam: The Perfect Law of the Lord - Mishpatim Torah portion [2023]

The Torah Portion this next Shabbat is Mishpatim, and this Shabbat is also one of the special Shabbats of the year. It is called Shabbat Shekalim. You probably already know that the Israeli money is called shekel in the singular and shekalim in the plural. Shekel is actually a unit of measurement, and it is also the name of the Israeli modern coinage.

The reading is from Exodus 21:1-24:18. From the prophets, the reading is from 2 Kings 12:1-17. There is an additional text that is read especially because it is Shabbat Shekalim. The special reading for Shabbat Shekalim is from 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17.

We must remember that a week ago on Shabbat, in the reading of the Torah portion was Yitro, who was the father-in-law of Moses, the priest of Median. There was also the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the Ten-Commandments. Immediately after the giving of the Torah, there come the practical out working of the laws of the Torah.

It is interesting that the first thing after the giving of the Torah God addresses that status and the rights of the weakest link of the Israeli society – the Hebrew Slaves. A law that discusses the effect of the law on the weakest link of Society, the rights of the Slaves is truly God’s Law.

God regulates the relationship and rights of the Hebrew Slaves and the relationship of the owner of the Slaves towards his slave with the practical and almost modern human-rights of the 21st century.”

(Exodus 2) The other ancient laws from Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Um-Namu laws, from around 2100 – 2400 B.C.E., and other laws that are even earlier laws than the Um Namu laws, all have a totally different attitude toward their house slaves, that actually actively puts the slave as property with very limited human rights.

It is clear that the Torah is doing two things:

1) accommodating the slaves with privileges and limits what the slave owner can exercises over his Hebrew human slave, and not treat him like property. The law of Moses that gives limited rights of the Hebrew slaves, is miles above the other ancient laws that are speaking clearly for the Aramaic, and Assyrian regulation.

2) We have the Torah of God speaking about an accidental damage to people that are not involved in a fight or a quarrel. The Torah law takes into account that it doesn’t matter who you are and what is your status in society. If you cause damage to an innocent by stander, you are responsible to pay for that damage.Human trafficking and enslaving a person for any reason is taken very seriously and such a case the Torah says:

“He who kidnaps a person (male or female) and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16 NKJV).

In all the great empires during that period and even much later like in the 18th and 19th centuries in England, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and the “good old” United States of America, from children to adults, from male to female people were kidnapped in Africa and in some south East Asian countries.

Thousands upon thousands of people were kidnapped and loaded on ships and shipped to good old CHRISTIAN families to be slaves. Some of these slaves contributed to American culture and intellect even from their slavery.

Here are just two examples of some of those who were born in slavery and achieved greatness in their contribution to humanity: William Wells Brown, (born 1814?, near Lexington, Ky., U.S.—died Nov. 6, 1884, Chelsea, Mass.),is an American writer who is considered to be the first African-American to publish a novel. He was also the first to have a play and a travel book published.

George Washington Carver, (born 1861? near Diamond Grove, Missouri, U.S.—died January 5, 1943, Tuskegee, Alabama), was an American agricultural chemist, agronomist, and experimenter whose development of new products derived from peanuts (groundnuts), sweet potatoes, and soybeans, helped revolutionize the agricultural economy of the South.

For most of his career he taught and conducted research at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama. Carver was born into slavery, the son of an enslaved woman named Mary, owned by Moses Carver. During the American Civil War, the Carver farm was raided, and infant George and his mother were kidnapped…

The reason that I am brining this information to you and sharing it with you is so that the “self-righteous” that condemn Israel today would understand how great the Torah was and still is, in comparison to the great empires of the ancient world and even great in comparison to the not so ancient world.

In antiquity around in the Middle East those ancient laws, like the laws of Um-Namu and the Code of Hammurabi, are being praised as great achievements of humanity, and they are great for even having such a thing as a code of laws. But even today in the countries around us now, if you are an important person and you have an accident with your car and wound or kill a poor person, you can get away with murder and just pay some small sum and walk away.

The Torah states in this week’s portion, that is read around the whole world,

““He who kidnaps a person (male of female) and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16 NKJV)

May be dear brothers and sisters if the world would believe and keep the Torah, human-trafficking would not be so popular; sexual enslavement of human beings might not be considered such attractive business.

Our Torah was and is the most enlightened code of laws existing in the history of humanity. Yes, there are laws, that to the antisemitic critics of the Torah ,might look horrible because of their ignorance or because of the modern self-righteous values that have brought western civilization to the state of affairs of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Please, when you examine the following laws in their context and remember that these laws were preexisted and not in self-imposed situations, but only when a proper examination and a court of law decreed the such punishment and remember, it was always executed by payment not actually going to take a person’s eye or tooth…

This prayer list is way too short to enter into greater detail and more examples, but my central point in this Jerusalem Prayer List is to defend and stand with God’s laws and rules, as the Psalmist states so clearly, what the truths and the blessings of having a divine law given to us and to all of humanity on Mount Sinai by God’s own hand:

“The law of the LORD is perfect,
converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.”
(Psalm 19:7–11 NKJV)

Please notice the following phrases from this Psalm 19:

“The judgments of the Lord are true and are righteous altogether.”

This verse is of the greatest importance for understanding the Torah and understanding God. These words of God state clearly that only when you take the whole Torah and in context of the whole picture of God’s revelation, can you see the righteousness of God and His great love for His creation in general.

The second important thing to notice is verse 11 of this Psalm: “Moreover by them (I.e., The Torah commandments.)” “Your servant is warned” and “in keeping them there is great reward.”

We learn from this Psalm that the Torah was given as a prophylactic to prevent sin and wrong-doing and not essentially as list of punishments for wrongdoers.

Here is a quotation from the Mishnah dated no later than 210 A.D:

"The Mishna continues: The commandment to establish a Sanhedrin with the authority to administer capital punishments is in effect both in the land of Israel and outside the land of Israel. A Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor once in seven years is characterized as a destructive tribunal. Since the Sanhedrin would subject the testimony to exacting scrutiny, it was extremely rare for a defendant to be executed. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: This categorization applies to a Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: If we had been members of the Sanhedrin, we would have conducted trials in a manner whereby no person would have ever been executed. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says: In adopting that approach, they too would increase the number of murderers among the Jewish people. The death penalty would lose its deterrent value, as all potential murderers would know that no one is ever executed.”
(Mishnah Tractate Makkot 1:10).

This text from the Mishnah is a proof that execution of a criminal was a very rare thing. This also explains why the Apostle Paul was feeling so guilty for participating in the court case of Steven as the prosecuting attorney that twisted the trial in order to achieve an execution of an innocent convert to Judaism like Steven. Paul says the following about himself:

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

What is interesting for us to note is that the family of Gamaliel is involved in this discussion. Please remember that Gamaliel was the Apostle Paul’s teacher and here in this Mishnah, the son of Rabbi Gamaliel is involved.

The saddest thing about all this is, in our own Jewish camp, we have twisted and wrapped the good laws of God and took them so far from the Torah that God gave us and so strange to the Spirit of the Torah or even the Spirit of the Sanhedrin of the Second Temple, that today’s Judaism is like some Medieval parody of the Torah and the intent of the Lord in the Torah. Authorities of Judaism today in the land of Israel have made the Torah that they stretched and expanded and twisted for political gain, into a Quasimodo.

I say Quasimodo because he was a good person with good intent and with the ability to love and sacrifice for others, but he looked twisted and unseemly on the outside. I see the present form of Israeli Orthodoxy at least as a reflection of Quasimodo, as the deaf, pitiably ugly protagonist of Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Please don’t judge me for using this description of what is being done in today’s Orthodox Judaism with the image of Quasimodo. It is the best that I can do!

The most important thing is that the Torah is still today, exactly the way that the Psalmist described God’s Torah: The law of the LORD is perfect!

Christians don’t gloat over what I said about todays’ Judaism and the Torah. Most of so-called Christianity, has gone far beyond where Jews are today. There are only four branches of Judaism and more than thousands of Christian denominations. Jews never built concentration camps or had decades of wars against other Jews or even not for our enemies. We are all sinners and we have all made mistakes and keep making them.
However, we have the following instructions from the book of Hebrews 10:19 – 25:

“Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:19 – 25.

Joseph Shulam: What It Means to Be Fishers of Men [2022]

Last week we read the portion of the Torah that described the giving of the Torah to the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. God proclaimed from the top of the Mountain the ten commandments and Moses brought the two stone tablets with the commandments of God etched on the stone tablets. It was a dramatic moment in the history of Israel, and I might say, of the whole world and civilization.

But, in case someone thinks that these 10 commandments are sufficient in order to administer and govern a nation that numbered probably around one million people, not just simple people. The Israelites and the Mixed Multitude that joined them on the way out of Egypt need more than 10 commandments to be properly governed.

The Torah portion that is going to be read in the synagogues on January 29th, 2022, is Mishpatim (“judgements, precepts”) from Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. From the prophets the reading will be from Jeremiah 33:25-26 and 34:8-22.

The Ten Commandments are short and cover much ground, they were given to the whole nation on the same occasion, and although they are the most concise code of law, they cover most of the main diverse and moral challenges of a human being. However, to administer a nation, a people, it takes a much more detailed and elaborate code of law that addresses such issues as dealing with slaves that you employ in your household, or with a neighbor’s ox that fell into a pit, or with two men fighting in a public place and one of them puts out the eye of the other, or hits a pregnant woman and she loses her baby, or someone has taken land and appropriated this land for himself and was preparing to build a house on that land.

In other words, Moses is adding to the skeleton of the Ten Commandments, flesh and sinew. Mishpatim is an extremely important Torah Portion, and there are several issues that are addressed in this reading that also occupy the mind of Yeshua and His teaching. When one studies the New Testament writings one of the most interesting and important things that he must do is look from where the New Testament writers took their ideas.

If the student of the Bible does not look for the sources and the cross references it would be hard to understand the texts of the New Testament. In our modern world many of the English Bible translations have the Old Testament references included in the central columns or in a foot note. This makes it easy. Let me give you a few examples of how we can understand the teaching of Yeshua that we must turn the other cheek when someone strikes us in the face. And why we should do it?

If you hear famous pastors of the present and the past preach on this text you will get a Greek salad with Bulgarian cheese. However, if you know that Yeshua is actually quoting from the book of Lamentations and the context of the Lamentations of Jeremiah paints the situation, you will have a much better opportunity to know the what and where and how and why Yeshua is commanding the disciples to turn their face in front of their assailant and not cower and allow him to strike you a second time.

Here is the quotation from the book of Jeremiah’s Lamentations:

“It is good that one should hope and wait quietly. For the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear The yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and keep silent, Because God has laid it on him; Let him put his mouth in the dust—There may yet be hope. Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, And be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, Yet He will show compassion According to the multitude of His mercies.” – Lamentations 3:26-31 [NKJV]

When you see the general context of this statement and you transpose the situation in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah and look at the situation of the nation of Israel under Roman occupation, and knowing the Roman law called “Angaria”, you will understand much better what was the circumstance in which Yeshua was giving this instruction to His disciples.

The same thing is true with the statement of Yeshua: “I will make you fishers of men!”

Here too Yeshua is actually quoting and teaching a very important lesson to his disciples, and the lesson, to put it in short is, you have to be like our forefathers, Abraham, and Isaac… who were the greatest evangelists in the Bible! You might say where do you get this from, dear Joseph? Here it is!

I will share with you where I get this from. You notice from Lamentations that turning the other cheek is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary it was a sign of defiance and strength. This is a kind of action that would happen in a public place, maybe the marketplace, and the one who strikes your face in such a context actually puts himself and whomever he represents, to shame and reproach.

The other example that I wanted to use as a demonstration is the statement of Yeshua in Matthew 4:19 and in Mark 1:17,

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’”

Yeshua didn’t invent this statement and if we leave this statement at face value as many Christians have it is a terrible statement encouraging a terrible practice that implies entrapment and hunting and tricking and batting people into the community of faith.

In Israel we have had many missionaries that have done exactly this kind of “mission work” and have forever blackened the name “missionaries” in the Jewish community worldwide. Where did Yeshua get this idea and what is the meaning of this idea throughout the Bible? Yes, this idea does not originate from Yeshua. It originates in the book of Genesis from the statement of Jacob to Joseph and his sons.

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:16 [NKJV]

What is Jacob talking about? In English, Jacob says to Joseph that his fathers, i.e., Abraham and Isaac, shall grow into a multitude in the midst of the Earth, and that he, Jacob is blessing that Ephraim and Menashe, will also be like Abraham and Isaac, and grow into a multitude.

The translators understood the general meaning of Jacob’s statement. The boys, Ephraim and Menashe would grow like Abraham and Isaac!

This is the literal translation from the Hebrew to English:

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all harm – Bless the boys! In them may my name be recalled, and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac, and may they be fishing much upon the Earth.”

The Greek Septuagint translated the Hebrew, “ve-yidgu”, a unique verb apparently formed from “dag”, “fish,” as a symbol of proliferation and multiplicity (see Numbers 11:22) as “teeming multitudes.”

Now where did Jacob get this idea that Abraham and Isaac were such great evangelists and multiplied upon the Earth? Jacob got if from the text of Genesis 12:5,

“And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan…” – Genesis 12:5

The Hebrew word for “the people they had acquired” or “acquiring people” (in Hebrew “acquiring people”, “la’asot nefashot”, is a synonym for evangelizing) – what do we know about the people who are described here as “people acquired in Haran?”

“When Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, he led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.” – Genesis 14:14

These 318 soldier-age men who were a part of Abraham’s camp, where the people (souls) Abraham acquired in Haran. They came with him from Haran to the land of Canaan.

They were like Abraham, Gentiles, who must have received Abraham’s faith in one God only. A personal God that directed and consulted and heard Abraham’s opinion with respect enough to listen to Abraham and even agree with him.

The English NKJV translated the Hebrew word “hanichav” as “his trained men”, but the word means “disciples.” So, dear brothers, Abraham was an evangelist and he didn’t only believe in one God for his family and household, but he converted at least 318 men, who must have also had wives and probably children. Men who followed Abraham out of the big city of Haran to the boondocks of the land of Canaan, and went to fight against the five kings of the North and recover Lot and his family and the plunder that was taken by these kings.

Yeshua read the Torah in Hebrew and not in Greek! He understood that Abraham and Isaac had converted many people to the knowledge of the One God who created the Heavens and the Earth and all that is in them. He wanted His disciples even from the beginning to be “fishers of men” like Abraham and Isaac!

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Mishpatim [2022]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam, and together with Brad TV, we are doing the weekly portions of the Torah that are read in every synagogue. Last week’s portion ended with the giving of the Law of Moses, the Torah, in Hebrew, at Mount Sinai, a very dramatic event, an amazing event that has not repeated itself in history since then, where hundreds of thousands of people, on one occasion, nestled around Mount Sinai in the Sinai Desert, heard the voice of God speak audibly from the mountain, and God spoke out what we call the 10 Commandments, and the 10 Commandments are actually not the whole law.

Ten Commandments Are Foundational

They are the essence of the Law of Moses. They are the most important foundational issues that should govern every enlightened society on the face of the earth. I have to tell you this story. In 2008, I was invited for the first time by the Chinese government of the Hubei province in China to visit their government and their province. And they were interested in me. I found out why on the first day that I arrived there.

I arrived, the Vice-President of Hubei province invited me, and I asked her why did she invite me, and she asked me a question in return. She said, “Do you teach the Bible with politics?” I said, “No, I only teach the Bible.” She said, “We invited you because we heard some of your teaching, and somebody recommended you, and said, ‘Joseph does not delve in politics.’”

Mixing Politics With the Bible

She said, “We are tired of Western teachers and missionaries that come to China, and then speak against China and against our government system. Do you speak against our government system?” “No.” She said, “We want you to teach in our seminaries.” So I asked her, “Have you read the Bible?” She said, “Yes, I have.” I asked her, “What do you think about the Bible?” She said, “I love the Bible, because the Bible is the first Communist book in the history of mankind.” I said, “Yeah? I’d never heard that before.

She said, “Yes, it is, because the Bible is the first place that says if you don’t work you don’t eat.” And she said like this, “If it wasn’t for the Bible, there would be no Magna Carta and no Communism.” So I was surprised that she read the Bible and that she liked it, and that she felt that the Bible is very important, even for the Communist government of China, and that she even knew about the Magna Carta.

New Testament Has Many Laws

So, yes, the laws of the Bible, not only the Old Testament, not only the Law of Moses, but all the laws of the Bible, and Christian would be surprised how many laws we have given to us by Our Lord, by Yeshua himself, and by the apostles themselves. The New Testament does not abhor law, it is not a book of lawlessness. It is a book of law, and every good and righteous law has been built into it, also, grace, because without grace, there cannot be a righteous law.

So we read, we talked about the giving of the Law in Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus, and just one bit of information that I might have forgotten, I don’t remember if I spoke it last week or not, is taken from Chapter 20, verse 18, and that is the basis of what happens on Mount Zion. In Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they went out in the streets of Jerusalem on the feast day and spoke the good news, the gospel.

This is the basis of what we read about in Acts 2. “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, and lightning flashes, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking. When the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off.” Okay, the translation of the New King James is a little bit weak, I don’t know why, but here is a translation of the Hebrew, literally. “And all the people saw the voices,” not thunderings, the voices, “and the torches, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain was smoking, and the people were trembling and stood afar off. And they told to Moses, ‘You talk to us, and we will hear you, and let not God talk to us, lest we die.’”

Acts 2 Is Fulfillment of Isaiah’s Promise

Now, they were filled with fear. When you read Acts 2, what happens on the Day of Pentecost is actually the fulfillment of Isaiah 2 that talks about, “out of Zion shall come forth the Torah and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” And what is happening in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise, and it is based on the paradigm of what happened when God gave the Law, the 10 Commandments, from Mount Sinai, in front of all the people, and all of them heard.

Pentecost Is Repeat of Mt. Sinai

And you see, God spoke, the one God spoke, and they heard many voices. That’s the Hebrew. And they had torches of fire, and they heard the trumpet, and the mountain smoked and shook, and the people were afraid. That’s exactly a repeat of what happened. What happened on Pentecost is a repeat of what happened on Mount Sinai.

And now I’m entering into Chapter 21 of Exodus, into the portion that is called, in Hebrew, Mishpatim, which is translated in English as “judgments,” or it could be judgments, or laws, that God now is going to elaborate, give the details of how to keep the 10 Commandments.

There Were Much Older Law Codes

Now, there’s a little bit of background. This happens around the 12th, 13th century B.C. We have codes of law that are at least 1,000 years older than the Law of Moses, the Law of God given to us by Moses, and we have some that are more than 2,800 years older than this event in the 12th to 13th century B.C. Ur-Nammu is one of the oldest ones, and it is from the third millennium, or close to the third millennium B.C., and Hammurabi is from the beginning of, like, 1800, 1900 B.C., a few hundred years before Moses. All these laws deal with the reality of their times.

One of the reality of their times was the fact that there was slavery. But if you compare this portion, the portion of Mishpatim, of Judgments, that starts in Chapter 21, verse 1, with these ancient laws that come from Mesopotamia and from Babylon, or even Egyptian laws, that are older than the Law of Moses, you will see the huge difference.

Early Laws Deal With Slavery

Yes, the Torah deals with slavery, and slavery was common in the world, and I am sorry to say, those people who are dreaming today, in the 21st century, that there is no slavery in the world, there is all kinds of slavery in the world, and still slavery in Africa, of Africans enslaving other Africans. Yes, that exists, even until this very day. And there is the white slavery of human trafficking for prostitution and for sex workers from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, from Africa to Europe, from Africa to South Africa, and it’s still going on around the world.

But the administration and the laws that govern slavery in the ancient world are so far above in the Torah than in all our neighborhoods of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and even further out than Mesopotamia and Egypt on the map of the world. I’m not going to get into it, because of time, maybe in another forum, I would get into it and elaborate on it much more, but one of the things that you find out is that there is a difference between a local slave, I would say a Hebrew slave, and a non-Hebrew slave, but the difference is, both the Hebrew slave and the non-Hebrew slave have it so much better than in the laws of Hammurabi, and in the laws of Ur-Nammu, and in the other codexes of laws from the Middle East, and from Egypt, and from the ancient world.

Believers Are Not Slaves

Yes, we all don’t want slavery of any kind, and as disciples of Yeshua, we are not slaves, not even slaves of God. We are servants, out of our free will, out of our choosing God, and we have laws that govern our relationship with the Almighty God. We are not a lawless faith.

We Have Grace

Yes, we’re saved by grace, by God’s grace, and out of God’s love for us as human beings, but if you read the New Testament, both the gospels and the letters, and all the way to the Book of Revelation, you’ll find out that our faith has rules and regulations, laws that govern our lives, from how we deal with our families, and how we deal with God Himself, our obligations to our society, our need to take care of our widows, and orphans, and old people. We are governed by God’s rules, and if we’re not governed by God’s rules, we are a lawless faith and a lawless society, and that doesn’t stand the test of the scriptures. It doesn’t stand the test in the letters of Jacob, of James, it doesn’t stand the test with the words of Yeshua Himself.

The wise man is not the one who hears the gospel and believes it, the wise man, who built his house on the rock, is the man who hears the gospel and does it, and keeps the commandments of the gospels, and of Yeshua, and of the letter of the HaShavuas, and, of course, that reflect the laws, the 10 Commandments that Yeshua repeats several times, the New Testament repeats several times, and Yeshua repeats them when a young lawyer comes to Him and says, “What must I do to be saved?” Yeshua says, “Keep the Commandments.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t keep the Commandments, go to church, give money, shut up, and rely on grace.”

That’s not what Yeshua says. He says, “Keep the commandments,” and he says, “I keep the commandments,” but He shows us it’s not enough. You have to go beyond the Commandments. And if you’re wealthy, you have to sell, if that’s what’s keeping you out of heaven, you have to sell your property, give it to the poor, and inherent heaven. One of the things in this codex of laws that is in our portion of the week has to do with the laws of tort, damages, and in these laws of damages, we have the case in which two people are fighting, and a pregnant woman just passes by, and accidentally, they hit her, and she loses the baby, and now they have to compensate her.

Legal Law of Torts in Bible

And it is in this context that the phrase appears the first time in the Law of Moses, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. And Christians seem to condemn the law without understanding what is written here. The law never said that if there is an accident, or even on purpose, you take somebody’s eye out, that you have a right, the father, the mother, the relatives of the person whose eye has been damaged, have a right to go and take the eye of the person who damaged you. There’s no such thing, there’s no such teaching in the Law of Moses, not here, and not in Leviticus, in the two places that it appears. It has to do with the law, the legal law of torts, of damages. And what the Torah says, here in our portion, is that you have to pay the value of the eye with money, with what the eye is worth.

Torah Teaches What Is Right to Do

You have no right to go and pluck out the guy’s eye that hit you, even if he hit you on purpose, but he has to pay the value of the eye. In other words, if somebody put out your eye, you don’t have a right to go and shoot him in the head. It’s not proportional. The Torah is dealing with justice, with what is right to do, and is instructing us what is right to do.

Let me read to you the text from Chapter 21 of Exodus, verse 22. “If men fight and hurt the woman with a child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for a life, and eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” It sounds like an eye for an eye means that you go and take out the eye, a burn for a burn, it means that if you got burned, you go and burn the other guy.

That’s what it sounds like if you don’t pay attention and read continuously. If a man strikes the eye of a male or a female servant and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye, and if he knocks out the tooth of a male or a female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of a tooth.

The Torah Is Righteous

Here is a very interesting situation. If you have a servant, say a slave, okay, and you damage the slave on a small thing, like you knock out his tooth, you didn’t take care of your servant properly, you didn’t protect him properly, you endangered his health, you knocked out one of his teeth, then that buys that servant freedom. Because he’s a servant, he gets more, proportionally, than a free person, because he was under your care. The Torah is righteous, God is righteous, and He didn’t give unrighteous laws to His children, and this attitude needs to be stressed more and more, for Christians, because they are brothers.

The negative attitude that the church has inherited from the church fathers in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th century, is not biblical. The Bible that Yeshua and the apostles had is this Bible, what we call the Old Testament. They didn’t have another testament, they didn’t have another set of rules. They had this Bible with these rules, and it is obligatory for us, as disciples of Jesus, who believed the Bible not from Matthew to Revelation, but from Genesis to Revelation, to study these things, to analyze them, to teach them, to encourage our brothers and sisters to follow them as they are interpreted in light of our world, our culture, our 21st-century technology.

These are laws which God has a right to change, and He did change them. God realized that there are problems of time and place. While they were still in the wilderness, with the seven daughters of Zelophehad. Poor Mr. Zelophehad, he only had daughters, seven of them, he didn’t have any boys, and so there was the issue of inheritance that came into the picture, and the daughters came to Moses, complained, and Moses said, “Let me consult with the Boss, with God.” And God said to Moses, “You know what? These girls are right. Let’s change the law and allow women to inherit, girls to inherit from their father. Hallelujah.” Wow, that was very early, in, like, in the 12th, 13th century B.C. folks.

God Was Innovative With Israel

Nowhere in the world was there such a thing. The Torah is given by God, the principles are given by God, and the rules are given by God, but they’re not given to us like dummies, they’re given to us to read them, to study them, to interpret them, and to apply them in light of our modern world, in light of our technological world, in light of the iPhones, and iPads, and computers, and AI that our generation has introduced to the world, to humanity. So yes, our portion deals with these laws.

I suggest that you read it, keep reading it, ‘cause there are very important rules in here that have to do with our life, that Yeshua refers to, and encourages us not to ignore the Word of God. So may God bless you. Please read these portions of the Torah, starting in Chapter 21, verse 1, and continue to Chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus. May God bless all of you, and keep reading. Shalom from Jerusalem.

Joseph Shulam: Great Promises of Blessings [2021]

The reading this next Shabbat is from the Torah portion (Parashat) Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 - 24:18, from the prophets: Isaiah 66:1-24, the Gospels: Matthew 26:20-30. Reading the biblical text in a systematic way every week is the only way to infuse our life with God’s word and get to know and understand God better.

The Torah Portion follows the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the presentation of the Ten Commandments that were heard by all the people gathered under the mountain, and each nation or tribe that had joined together with Israel in this Exodus from Egypt heard God speak in their own language. These tribes and people are the so-called mixed multitude mentioned in Exodus 12:38:

“A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock.” – Exodus 12:38 [NKJV]

The Torah portion Mishpatim (“judgments”), is an explanation of the Ten Commandments. The laws that deal with social justice, how to behave toward and treat Hebrew slaves, and non-Hebrew slaves, along with laws regarding damages (torts), laws with regard to a child that is disobedient to a father or his mother, and laws of bodily injury to a third party that is not a part of a conflict.

All these laws that are so important even today, were already given by God to the children of Israel around the 13th century BCE. There are some very important and interesting laws here that need to be understood and explained, but this Shabbat we will focus on the reading from the prophets, the Haftarah. (That is, the Hebrew name for the reading from the prophets after the reading from the Torah. Haftarah is an Aramaic word meaning “after,” dessert if you wish.)

The reading this week is from the last chapter of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 66:1-24. Before I get into the highlights of this portion of the reading from Isaiah 66, I would like to go back to Isaiah chapter 60 and follow the developments that build up to chapter 66.

The prophet Isaiah is making a case starting in chapter 60. It starts with predictions and promises that God, through history will bring Israel to the fulfillment of the promises that He made to Abraham our father.

During the time of Isaiah, Israel is a small country contending with big problems from inside and the exile of the elite class to the nation of Babylon, and the return from exile, and is surrounded by enemies on all sides. Suddenly Isaiah prophecies:

“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And deep darkness the people; But the Lord will arise over you, And His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3 [NKJV]

There is a change in the promises of God toward this nation that cover far more than half of the book of Isaiah in which they are condemned and criticized for failing to fulfill the destiny that God had designed for them.

Then here, suddenly appear great promises of blessings, the nations (the Gentiles) will come and help Israel return home. These wonderful promises are part of what we are actually living right now.

Evangelical Christians are standing up for Israel, supporting Israel both politically and financially, and supporting many projects that involve Aaliyah (the return of the Jewish people from exile back to the land given by God to Abraham and his seed as an everlasting inheritance).

Isaiah Chapter 61 is the chapter that Yeshua is reading from in the synagogue in Nazareth, probably on His birthday. Isaiah chapter 61 proclaiming freedom and release from the burden and a proclamation of the jubilee year:

“To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” – Isaiah 61:2,3 [NKJV]

The last chapters of Isaiah have cosmic implications that have a direct connection with what is happening in Israel and with regard to Israel as it relates to the End Time, and future world developments that will change not only Israel, but also the nations and their relationship to the almighty God and creator of our galaxy.

Here is just one of the examples of the cosmic changes to our solar system:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended. Also, your people shall all be righteous; They shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.” – Isaiah 60:19-21 [NKJV]

Isaiah chapter 62 is an invitation for the nations of the world who know the Lord to participate and partner with Israel and the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel and Jerusalem in the process of rebuilding and comforting and consoling and preparing for the vindication of Jerusalem and Israel for the years of neglect and unrepented sins:

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns. The Gentiles shall see your righteousness, and all kings your glory. You shall be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord will name.” – Isaiah 62:1,2 [NKJV]

The Apostle Paul in Romans 11:25,26, promises that with the fullness of the time of the Gentiles, all Israel will be saved.

Isaiah chapter 66 is the final road map of the last days of history: Jerusalem is the mother of the nations and becomes the comfort of all the nations.

“‘Rejoice with Jerusalem, and rejoice with her, all you who love her; Rejoice for joy with her, all you who mourn for her; That you may feed and be satisfied with the consolation of her bosom, That you may drink deeply and be delighted With the abundance of her glory.’ For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried and be dandled on her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.’ When you see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like grass; The hand of the Lord shall be known to His servants, And His indignation to His enemies. For behold, the Lord will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire.” – Isaiah 66:10-15 [NKJV]

In general, most Christians have ignored these texts from the end of Isaiah. However, these words of God are for us and with us, and so much good and encouragement is found and treasured in these words of God.

It is not by accident that Yeshua reads from Isaiah 61:1-3 at the synagogue in Nazareth, the same text that applies to Yeshua as the fulfillment of these very words of Isaiah. The wonderful thing about the end of Isaiah is the full equality between the Israelites and the Gentiles in that promised New Jerusalem.

I would like to encourage you to read these verses at the end of Isaiah and to think about them and imagine that these promises of God are our future, the future of the whole world. I don’t know how, and don’t know when, but I know for sure that every detail promised by God will become a true and historical reality.

I am encouraged by these words of God at the end of Isaiah. I hope that after you read them all for yourselves, from Chapter 60 to 66, you too will be filled with both hope and encouragement and also with many questions that will motivate you to increase your faith and dedication toward our Lord!

Joseph Shulam: God's Laws Are for Us Today [2020]

Mishpatim is the reading from the Torah this Shabbat. It is from Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. The reading from the prophets is from Jeremiah 33:25,26, 34:8-22. The reading from the New Testament is from Mark 1:1 – 2:28.

Right after the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, Moses elaborates in practical details the meaning of the commandments. Mishpatim is translated as “judgments”, literally it means laws, or precepts. I find it very interesting that after the lofty Ten Commandments that were heard by all the people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, the first judgment starts with the lowest class of people in the camp of Israel:

“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them: If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing. If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.” - Exodus 21:1-3 [NKJV]

God gives Moses these laws, and He starts with the Hebrew slave. He arranges the status of this Hebrew slave (servant) and the status of this man’s family. This is the most basic right of a human being – the preservation of his family. However, at the same time God protects the financial interest of the slave owner.

Netivyah | Parashat Mishpatim | Moses on Mount Sinai | Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)
Moses on Mount Sinai | Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)

Today this must look really odd in the eyes of Western civilization. Slavery is considered totally wrong under any circumstances, although slavery still exists in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, South Arabia, and the Emirates.

There are also other kinds of slavery that exist all around the world. The worst of all slavery today is what is called “white slaves”, meaning women who are enslaved as sex slaves and trafficked mainly from former Soviet countries to the West. They are used and sold between those criminal traders in human flesh as “things”, not as fellow human beings.

There are financial slaves in many of the Gulf States in the Persian Gulf. They are imported from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other countries. Their passports are taken, and their living conditions are usually appalling. Their salaries are manipulated with terms that were not revealed to them before they agreed to work in these states. With all the sorrow of slavery, God is administrating the situation in the camp of Israel and being fair to both the slave and his family, and the owner.

The next judgement (law) that God gives Moses for the children of Israel is actually dealing with a Hebrew female slave. Her master must betroth her (marry her). If he does not like her, the husband must allow her to be redeemed. He can not sell her to someone else as a slave.

“And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her. And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.” - Exodus 21:7-11 [NKJV]

Note that if the owner does not marry her, he can marry her to his son, and the son has to deal with her like all the daughters of Israel. In other words, she will not be as a slave, but like a free woman married normally. If he does not treat her right, and provide her with all her rights, she goes out free without any financial obligations.

We must understand that these laws are miles ahead of every law of every other nation. Egyptian laws, Assyrian laws, Babylonian, Persian, and even much later laws like Roman and Greek laws. I want to bring you examples from two of the most ancient codified laws:

Ur-Nammu is the oldest known law code surviving today. In the Sumerian language c. 2100–2050 BC.

About slaves: “If a slave marries a native (i.e. free) person, he/she is to hand the firstborn son over to his owner. If a man’s slave-woman, comparing herself to her mistress, speaks insolently to her, her mouth shall be scoured with 1 quart of salt.”

The Code of Hammurabi was trying to achieve equality. Biases still existed against those the lower end of the social spectrum, and some of the punishments and justice could be gruesome. The magnitude of criminal penalties often was based on the identity and gender of both the person committing the crime and the victim. The Code issues justice following the three classes of Babylonian society: property owners, freed men, and slaves.

For example, if a doctor killed a rich patient, he would have his hands cut off, but if he killed a slave, only financial restitution was required. Women could also receive punishments that their male counterparts would not, as men were permitted to have affairs with their servants and slaves, whereas married women would be harshly punished for committing adultery.

Ex. Law #196: “If a man destroy the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one break a man's bone, they shall break his bone. If one destroy the eye of a freeman or break the bone of a freeman he shall pay one gold mina. If one damages the eye of a man's slave or break a bone of a man's slave he shall pay one-half his price.”

The Torah that God gave Moses for Israel to live by is a concession to the culture and times, but it is far above any of the other laws that existed in the world during that period.

Just look at this law from the Torah in comparison to the code of Hammurabi:

“If a man strikes the eye of his male or female servant, and destroys it, he shall let him go free for the sake of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his male or female servant, he shall let him go free for the sake of his tooth.” - Ex. 21:26,27 [NKJV]

In both in the Ur-Nammu laws and in the code of Hammurabi, if a man strikes the eye or the tooth of a slave, all he has to pay is two shekels of silver.

In this Torah portion, not only laws concerning man and woman are legislated, but also the treatment of farm animals is regulated. The Word of God presents a holistic attitude, and regulates relationship between men and women, free or slaves, and also relationship towards animals, public safety, and regulations between children and their parents. The Torah addresses a wide spectrum of legal matters that would make life in a community fair and just for all.

The teaching of the apostle Paul is often misunderstood and misappropriated to serve a lawless society, based on a false understanding of the essence of law and order for a human society and community. If you start looking in the teaching of Yeshua (Jesus) in the Gospels, you immediately see parables like the wise man and the foolish man, where the wise man is the one who hears and does (keeps the commandments) and the foolish man is the one who hears the commandments and ignores them.

Obedience to God’s laws is commanded by all the writers of the New Testament, including the apostle Paul and John and Peter, and for sure James. Here are some examples from the letters:

“…but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath…” - Romans 2:8 [NKJV]

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” - Romans 6:12 [NKJV]

“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” - Romans 6:16 [NKJV]

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” - Galatians 3:1 [NKJV]

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” - Ephesians 6:1 [NKJV]

“Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.” - Colossians 3:20 [NKJV]

“Bondservants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God.” - Colossians 3:22 [NKJV]

“And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” - 2 Thessalonians 3:14 [NKJV]

“Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work…” - Titus 3:1 [NKJV]

“And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him…” - Hebrews 5:9 [NKJV]

“Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives…” - 1 Peter 3:1 [NKJV]

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” - 1 Peter 4:17 [NKJV]

“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” - 1 John 2:3 [NKJV]

“And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” - 1 John 3:22 [NKJV]

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” - 1 John 5:2,3 [NKJV]

So, please don’t be allergic to keeping the commandments, at least the commandments that Yeshua (Jesus) and His apostles have given us. If you start counting the commandments that Yeshua and the apostles have given us, you would be surprised how many and how broad the spectrum of these commandments is.

In the New Testament alone, we have commandments that deal with how we should raise our children and how we should treat our wives, and how the wives should treat their husbands, and what is allowed to eat and what is not allowed to eat. We have commandments about money and charity, and worship, and leadership in the church, and relationship with the government, the taxes, worship, giving, justice and social issues… I propose to you that most churches don’t even teach that a disciple of Yeshua the Messiah should keep even the most basic commandments and requirements of our Lord and His apostles.

Yes, we are not under the law, and we ought not to be under the law! However, we must still be obedient to the commandments of God. To be under the law means to be burdened so much that we forget the grace of God, and everything becomes an unpleasant task. In this kind of situation, we are not happy, and God is even less happy about us. Look at what Paul said about the law of God:

“For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.” - Romans 7:22 [NKJV]

Here are some examples of the Old Testament:

“I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart.” - Psalms 40:8 [NKJV]

“Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; For Your law is my delight.” - Psalms 119:77 [NKJV]

“Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.” - Psalms 119:92 [NKJV]

“I long for Your salvation, O LORD,  And Your law is my delight.” - Psalms 119:174 [NKJV]

We depend on the grace of God because of our weakness, but we enjoy the love of God because of Yeshua our Messiah, and we must do our best to follow Him and serve Him and obey His commands. The Gospels are so clear with this message, but there are teachers who twist and lead astray God’s flock in order to aggrandize themselves.

Let us stay humble and do our best to be not only hearers of the Word of God but doers also. Read the Torah portion and the prophets too.

Joseph Shulam: The Biblical Concept of Equality [2019]

This upcoming Shabbat the reading in the synagogues will be Parashat Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 – 24:18. The Haftarah (reading from the prophets) is Jeremiah 34:8-22, 33:25,26. The reading from the New Testament is Matthew 26:20–30.

This text from the book of Exodus is of key importance nowadays. The Word of God is under attack, not by Muslims, and not by Jews, but by Christian pastors and professors in some Christian institutions. With the authority and integrity of the Word of God, from Genesis to Revelation, being questioned and destroyed – the very base of our knowledge of God and faith in Yeshua as the Messiah.

Our faith in God and in Yeshua is not a faith in lawlessness! Law and order are the basis of any cultured society. There has to be law and order, because the Lord God is not a God of confusion, and a society has to have regulations on every issue from property laws, to regulations on trade and finances, and every marriage includes promises and vows from each of the partners in the marriage to the other. There cannot be a rental of an apartment without a contract that regulates the period of the rental and the price of the rent.

Parashat Mishpatim starts in Exodus 21:1 with the issue of slavery, Hebrew slaves have different laws and rules than non-Hebrew slaves. For us in the 21st Century this sounds wrong, but in fact the Torah is super-just and righteous to all, including to the local people, the Hebrews, and the stranger that is either passing through or staying for a season in the camp of Israel.

First, even the apostle Paul says:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” - Galatians 6:10 [ESV]

Humanism of the 21st Century, based on the French Revolution cry for equality, has taken this very important and valuable social order to the absurd. The value of equality has been out of proportions and from a very positive and important social principle for correcting unrighteousness and prejudice, it has become an excuse for unrighteous destruction of the very human nature.

Men and women are equal before the Almighty Creator of all, who will judge all mankind equality, but they are not equal in their physiology. They deserve the same pay for the same work, but men cannot give birth and suffer in the process of giving birth. Same-sex marriages can’t reproduce and replenish the earth. In order to have children they have to hire a surrogate mother in India or Nepal or somewhere else in the world. In most countries children are equal to their parents but they cannot be sent to work and bring money home before they are at least 16 years old.

There has to be law to run any organization, corporation, business, family or country. The new teaching, that is actually an old teaching from the second half of the 2nd Century after Christ, is that teaching that the church (or the Christians) don’t need anything from the so-called “Old Testament”.

Please read the laws in Exodus 21:1 – 24:18 and see the great wisdom and importance, and grace in what God gave to the Hebrews from Mount Sinai, and how important it is for today’s church to take the principles from there and apply them to our lives and synagogues and churches. Here are a few examples from Parashat Mishpatim:

“When men quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and the man does not die but takes to his bed, then if the man rises again and walks outdoors with his staff, he who struck him shall be clear; only he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall have him thoroughly healed.” - Exodus 21:18,19 [ESV]

“When a man opens a pit, or when a man digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall make restoration. He shall give money to its owner, and the dead beast shall be his.” - Exodus 21:33,34 [ESV]

“If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution.” - Exodus 22:6 [ESV]

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.” - Exodus 22:16,17 [ESV]

“If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” - Exodus 22:25-27 [ESV]

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.” - Exodus 23:1-3 [ESV]

Can a society live righteously without laws like these? In the earliest codes of law of humanity some identical or very similar laws like these were already legislated. People in Mesopotamia and north of the Euphrates River in the 3rd Millennium before Christ already realized that such laws are necessary for having a just and orderly society.

The Torah is actually the greatest demonstration of God’s grace for humanity, and a true revelation of His nature. Remember that when Yeshua returns, He is coming to judge the world and many, many people mercilessly will be sent to hell for ever and ever.

God’s grace is there from the beginning, and the Torah and relationship of the Lord to Israel is the most forgiving and the most gracious and loving revelation of God’s character, full of grace and truth, lovingkindness, and mercy. Just read Exodus 34:5,6 and see the very revelation of God’s nature and relationship to humanity.

Joseph Shulam: Caring for Everyone in Your Society [2018]

This week’s Torah reading is called Mishpatim (“ordinances”, “judgments”, or “statutes”). It starts in Exodus chapter 21:1 and ends in chapter 24:18. There are some very important principles in this portion of the Torah reading this Shabbat.

The Torah teaches that if you commit premeditated (planned) murder, you will pay with your own life. However, if you kill a person by accident, God has provided for you a city of refuge, and when the high priest dies you and all the other people who are in the city of refuge will go free, and no one can harm you.

Here we find a very interesting principle that is used in dealing with the question of death that atones for sins committed by mistake or without malicious intent. The death of the high priest in Israel during biblical times when, we had a temple and priests, atoned for those sins committed without malicious intent. And the men and women who were in the cities of refuge were released. This is an important principle of the Torah that demonstrates that the death of a third party can atone and release a person of guilt for such a serious crime as killing a person out of things like negligence or accident.

Another principle that is introduced in chapter 23 is the issue of “an eye for an eye”. The real issue is not that of retribution for damage inflicted on an other person, but the compensation that the guilty person has to give in order to compensate for an accidentally-committed bodily damage to a person.

The compensation is the value of an eye for an eye. The value of a tooth for a tooth. The value of a hand for a hand. The value of a foot for a foot. The value of a burn for a burn. The value of a wound for a wound. The value of a bruise for a bruise. The fact that the Torah elaborates the principle with so many examples is a clear indication that the Torah is dealing with financial compensation that is normally appointed by the rules of the court.

We see this principle well-demonstrated in our reading this Shabbat, when the discussion is in a chase of a slave that is damaged in his eye or in tooth – because is a Hebrew slave – if you as his master don’t take care to provide him with the proper protection, and an eye of your slave is damaged, the price of his eye is total freedom from slavery.

Even if the slave loses a tooth he is set free as compensation for his loss. In other words, the value of a slave’s eye or tooth is much greater than the value of an eye of a stranger that happened to pass by and have his eye damaged.

I like this principle very much because it puts the responsibility on the master to take double care and protection that the slave that he owns (temporarily) is secured and guaranteed.

We see here that even though the Torah was written during a period when slavery was common in the whole Middle East, and actually in the world, the Torah takes special precautions to give the slave extra privileges.

How do I interpret these principles today? Those people who are under our care as employees or guests, or those who are less fortunate in our society, deserve not only the same protection and privileges as anyone else, but more care because of their dependence on you and on the society and community.

This practice of the Torah would have solved so much suffering and so much pain and so much injustice even in our world today. If our communities, churches, and synagogues, would learn this principle I can imagine major success in evangelism and in real “church growth”. Yes, it would be not only a real and good “church growth”, but also a healthy growth that will produce a just and righteous community in a world that is so full of unrighteousness.

Yehuda Bachana: Is Our Compassion Making Us Cruel? [2018]

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

These are the laws you are to set before them... - Exodus 21:1 [NIV]

After the Ten Commandments are given, there is a long list of laws and orders related to the course of life, such as a person's property, responsibility for this property, laws of loss, and the relationship between the citizen and the government.

This Shabbat I want to talk a bit about the contrast between the exciting and the mundane, between the extraordinary and the ordinary. Then I want to talk a little about mercy, fair trial, and justice.

Many commentators tend to see Parashat Yitro and Parashat Mishpatim as complementary, one following after the other. The giving of the Torah begins with the Ten Commandments in Parashat Yitro, and then continues on in Parashat Mishpatim.

I would like to suggest otherwise, that there is a contrast between these two Torah portions, as opposed to a connection. The contrast is in the fact that these parashot present two contradicting mental and spiritual states.

The portion in which the Torah is given culminates in a one-time revelation. And Parashat Mishpatim is about the daily requirements of human society.

The difference between exciting and ordinary

Last week we read the portion of Yitro, the portion of the Ten Commandments. When we read the Ten Commandments, it is customary in Israel to stand. And in our congregation we stood, and we thought about the weight of the matter. In last week's Torah portion, God Himself came down from heaven in order to give us, to all humanity, the Tablets of the Law.

Last week's parasha was a climax, God's one-time revelation to all the people. The excitement was tremendous, the whole nation saw it. There was awe, a real fear in the hearts of the people. There was a full pyrotechnics display: smoke, fire, voices, noises, rumbling. And there was an emotional high.

The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is a foundational event for the Jewish people throughout the ages. But immediately afterwards comes the great fall of the Golden Calf.

There are more stories in which there are great, exciting, and tremendous events, followed by a big fall. In the story of the creation of the world, we read about the creation of nature, the animals, the garden. Everything is new, everything is fresh, everything is amazing. But immediately afterwards, we have a great fall and the disgraceful expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

The parting of the Red Sea is perhaps the greatest miracle in the Torah. The people of Israel are stuck between the desert and the sea. They see the Egyptian army closing in on them. The people cry to Moses, saying they would have preferred to be slaves in Egypt than to die "free" in the desert.

And at the height of pressure and fear, God parts the sea! Just thinking about it gets me excited. Think about it: an entire people, passing through the middle of the sea, with walls of water on each side. It’s an almost unimaginable image.

Then the sea closed over the entire Egyptian army. With a mighty miracle, God brought the people of Israel through the sea and destroyed the Egyptian army all in one blow. A mind-blowing miracle.

But what happens immediately after that? The people of Israel quarreled with Moses and God over water, and then about the food, then about the manna, and then again over the water.

People are all human beings. We need things to be regular, steady. We don't do well with one-time events, especially when they take us to the peak of all spiritual experience.

We see that after the peak, then comes the fall. And the higher we are, the more painful the fall. Falling out of your chair hurts far less than falling from a skyscraper...

The balance of everyday life

As believers, we need to find the balance of everyday life. I think that most of us live in some kind of dualism. A spiritual peak at the end of the week, in being with the congregation, when we fervently debate the meaning of a particular verse or theology. (Ironically, these debates are usually on theoretical issues, which are not at all relevant to our daily lives. We debate and get angry mainly about "theoretical ideas".)

On the other hand, during the week we live very secularly, very earthly, and very detached from the imaginary ideal that we demand of others in our debates over the weekend.

We must find the balance. To be less "spiritual" with false standards that are lofty and inaccessible, and to live our daily lives alongside Yeshua and our faith in Him, alongside our families, neighbors, and coworkers, and alongside those we interact with on a daily basis.

I think that Yeshua was against this natural human behavior, which exists today and existed even during the time of Yeshua. This hypocrisy, which demands much of the other, but is full of concessions when it comes to myself, which is hidden, because outwardly we like to look like righteous people.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see... - Matthew 23:2-5a [NIV]

Here is the place to ask: Do we demand much from others? Do we like to look more righteous than we really are?

Do our religious debates lead to unity or division? Anger? Or love? Are most of the issues we debate about relevant to everyday life? Or are they just theoretical?

In this matter, we must strive towards unity.

A Call for Justice

The second issue I want to talk about is justice.

Chapter 23 of our parasha opens with instructions for judgment in Israel - and the requirement for a fair trial. Meaning the forbiddance to take bribes, the forbiddance to listen to a false witness, etc.

In the course of proper judgment, we find two interesting verses, and I would like to examine them:

...and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. - Exodus 23:3 [NIV]

Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. - Exodus 23:6 [NIV]

I think there are two ways in which most people relate to the rich and the poor. Some of the people, amongst the officials and the judges, take the side of the rich and powerful. And often it annoys us.

For example, a large company gets tax breaks on an unimaginable scale, and the ordinary citizen, or the small business, gets choked by taxes left and right - that's not fair!

Or if we go into debt, the banks will incur all possible interest payments, including repossession, and take everything from us. When a large company goes into debt, banks often intervene and reduce the debt - again it's not fair!

Sometimes when a rich person comes to the congregation, we make the mistake of saying to him, "Come, sit up front, in the place of honor." And to the poor, or the helpless, we say, "Go to the back, do not stand out, and do not interfere."

On the other hand, the feeling of compassion inherent in most of us wants to feel sorry for the poor, and we take the side of the underdog. In many cases we consider the poor person to be in the right.

This happens many times in the framework of civil or family law. But it also happens in the context of Israel and our Palestinian neighbors, often Israel is seen us as the strong, the ruling, the aggressors, and the Palestinians as the underdog to be supported. The world sees them as the victims.

God warns our judges, and us, not to look with pity on the defendant with the ragged clothes and the holes in his shoes, and justify him when it comes at the expense of another person.

Is our compassion making us cruel?

God requires a warm and compassionate heart on the one hand, and on the other hand, He requires of us to take a look at the cold, hard, facts. And from there we have to make a decision that is true and just without being blinded by the wealth, influence, and power of the strong, but on the other hand not to let our emotions intervene to justify the poor and helpless - if they are guilty.

Chazal, the Jewish sages, teach us an interesting principle:

He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate. - Midrash Tanchuma, Metzora 1

parashat mishpatim

This sentence was first taught in connection with the King Saul:

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. - 1 Samuel 15:3 [NIV]

Saul did not fulfill the commandment:

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good... - 1 Samuel 15:9b [NIV]

And later, when Saul suspected that the priests of Nob had cooperated and helped David, Saul killed them mercilessly:

He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep. - 1 Samuel 22:19 [NIV]

Saul had compassion on the Amalekites and did not want to kill them as he was commanded, and then he was cruel to the people of Nob and killed them in exactly the same way he was supposed to kill the Amalekites.

From there comes the aforementioned talmudic expression. But this expression is deep and important to us and our conduct even today.

The world community tends to silence problems and scandals of all kinds: assault, sexual harassment, theft, fraud, exploitation, injury, and more.

We tend to forgive, to give another chance, not to report to the police, not to publicly defame someone, according to the understanding that we are all sinners and we all need a second chance, and we all need Yeshua.

But here's where this expression comes in: "He who is compassionate to the cruel will ultimately become cruel to the compassionate."

If we do not complain to the police about sexual assault, or allow a person who makes members of the opposite sex uncomfortable to remain in our society, who are we helping and who are we harming?

If we know that there is someone who exploits others in our society, financially or materially, and we turn a blind eye, who are we helping and who are we harming?

The requirement in this week's parasha is for true justice. Emotion is good and important, compassion is important, but the requirement of our weekly Torah portion, the requirement of God, is to ignore the wretchedness of man, to examine the cold, hard facts, and to truly judge.

We must make sure to keep the good people in the community safe and not allow them to become victims.

Shabbat Shalom.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.