In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the weekly Torah portions throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.
Note: This is a double Torah portion. To learn more about double Torah portions, read here.
Joseph Shulam: The Sin of Self-Reliance [2021 – Vayelech]
The reading on this Shabbat is from Deuteronomy 31:1-30, from the prophets the reading is also very special because this Shabbat, the one just before Yom Kippur is called “Shabbat Shuva”, The Sabbath of Repentance. The texts that we read from the prophets are Hosea 14:2-10 and Joel 2:15-27, and from the New Testament we read from the letter to the Hebrews 13:1-16.
All the readings of the Torah and the prophets and from the New Testament are always significant and important to read, but these Shabbat Shuva readings, in this time, and with the tribulations that our world is going through during the coronavirus plague, make these readings even more important.
We pray more than one time per day for the Lord to lift this plague of coronavirus off His world and deliver us humans from the horrid fears and results of this man-made plague. However, the much more dangerous and evil plague that has been plaguing the human race around the whole globe is the plague of pride and reliance on ourselves, leaving God out of the picture, and locked up in the four walls of the church buildings, synagogues, and even mosques, and pagan temples.
This sin of pride and self-reliance is throughout the history of Israel, the reason for much of our suffering by the hands of God. Here is the text from Hosea the prophet that demonstrates the sin and the cure of this sin:
“Take words with you, And return to the Lord. Say to Him, ‘Take away all iniquity; Receive us graciously, For we will offer the sacrifices of our lips. Assyria shall not save us, We will not ride on horses, Nor will we say anymore to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” For in You the fatherless finds mercy.’ I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, And lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, And his fragrance like Lebanon.” – Hosea 14:2-6 [NKJV]
We could easily replace “Assyria” in this text with empires like Russia, China, the USA, or any other of these big and powerful countries that we might rely upon and trust that they would come and save us. The most important part of this text is, “Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, ‘You are our gods.’” This sin is first and foremost a sin of pride, and self-reliance and an enthronement of our abilities, talents, and accomplishments in life, as our gods.
It is the sin of forgetting who is the boss, who runs this world, who makes the sun rise in the morning, and gives light and life to this planet called “Earth.” This is on the one hand, and on the other hand, one of Israel’s collective and sustained sin is to rely on the big empires, like Egypt or Assyria or Babylon, or Rome, and forgetting who is the real power and the true provider of life, food, and security to this nation.
This sin of self-reliance is not only an issue of communities and countries. It is more prevalent among individuals in the West, the concept of, “I am a self-made man!” “I made it in the marketplace!” “I don’t need anyone and no one helped me – all that I am and all that I have has come from my hard work, from these two hands.” I have heard people who are leaders, elders in churches, say these words in-front of their wives, and their fathers and mothers who raised them and fed them and educated them.
Notwithstanding that the Lord God who created the very planet and the dirt that we are standing and walking on, and who keeps our planet spinning around the sun every day and every second. We are even commanded in the New Testament not to make plans and not to endeavor into programs and journeys without saying for everything, “God willing!”
I hear Middle Eastern Jews (Jews from the Arab countries – Iraqi, Egyptian, Moroccan, in general Sephardic Jews) say several times a day “with God’s help” or in Arabic “Inshallah.” Very, very seldom, if ever, do I hear pastors, preachers, elders, or just normal Christians plan things and start things and say, “God willing!” I will go or do this or that.
This is a clear indication that they ignore the command given by Jacob the brother of Yeshua (Jesus) who wrote the letter of Jacob (James). Here are the words of Jacob and his instructions for us:
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.’ But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” – James 4:13-16 [NKJV]
We see that the apostle Paul did exactly what Jacob (James in English) commanded and recommended all disciples of Yeshua to do.
“…but took leave of them, saying: ‘I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem; but I will return again to you, God willing.’ And he sailed from Ephesus.” – Acts 18:21 [NKJV]
If we examine the words of Jacob (James) and his instructions we would see that the problem is divided into three parts:
- “We will go.” – “We will spend a year there!” – “We will buy and sell, and make profit…”
- We presume to know what will happen tomorrow or even if tomorrow will ever come for us, or even for the whole world.
- When you don’t make it clear that your life is as a God-fearing person, and understand and rely on the Creator of the world, who gives life, breath, health, and blessings, according to Jacob the brother of Yeshua, you are actually, “boasting in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”
Joseph Shulam: God’s Plan B [2021 – Nitzavim]
The reading for this Shabbat is the reading for the first Shabbat of the year 5782 according to the Jewish calendar. We will be reading Parashat Nitzavim (“we stand firm”) from Deuteronomy 29:10 – 20:30. As you can see, we are approaching the end of the Torah, just four more chapters and we will end the reading of the Torah and start over from the beginning.
From the prophets we will be reading Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9. From the New Testament we will read Romans 10:1-18.
In our Torah reading there is one verse that is of extreme important to all of us, Jews and Christians, and especially the Jewish disciples of Yeshua our Messiah. The verse is from Deuteronomy 29:29:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29 [NKJV]
There is a rush today of innocent Christians being led to delve into what in Judaism is called Kabbalah. Kabbalah is dangerous and manmade, it has nothing to do with God, and nothing to do with God’s revelation in the Bible.
Yes, Kabbalists use the Bible, but only for their purposes, and often outside of the historical and textual context. The first and the most dangerous aspect of “Jewish” Kabbalah is the feeling and illusion that it gives those that delve in it that they are special and that they have some information that is secret and special. In any context when people develop this false sense of negative pride, they are riding the skateboard that is going to take them right through the gates of Hell.
According to the code of Jewish Law (“Shulchan Aruch”), a Jewish man can start delving into the Kabbalah only from the age of 40. The basis of this statement is from around the 2nd Century A.D. In Pirkei Avot 5:21 we read of a teaching of Rabbi Yehuda ben Tama in which he discusses various ages and what one should be doing at that age. From him we learn that Bible study should begin at age five, study of the Mishnah at 10, and that at age 40 one should pursue “binah”, deep understanding.
This statement led to the idea that people should not study philosophy or Kabbalah until they reach 40 years of age, a sentiment codified by 17th century rabbi Shabbatai HaKohen in his commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, the code of Jewish law composed about 300 years ago by Rabbi Joseph Karo (Yoreh Deah 246:6). Kabbalah takes the person from the sphere of the rational and logical to esoteric “knowledge” based on numerology, mystical information that is not accessible, or testable, or examinable with normal logical and historical tools.
Why not just hear Moses from God’s word? Moses says to the children of Israel in a very clear and loud voice:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29 [NKJV]
Yes, God has secret things, things that He chose not to reveal to us. Why do we, as finite, limited, and weak humans want to enter into the “secrets” when we don’t even understand the revealed things of God that are explicitly written for our instruction and faith?
Why do we, as humans who don’t know the basics, want to delve into what God forbids us, and into something that has no practical daily application for us? Why enter into the dark, unclear, unexaminable dangerous field full of landmines? Let us just take God’s word in the simple, linguistic, historical, contextual, historical, understanding of God’s Word and do our best to practice that which we know clearly to be divine and inspired?
The second thing from this Torah portion that I would like to share with you is the paradigm of true repentance.
“Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God drives you, and you return to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.” – Deuteronomy 30:1-4 [NKJV]
Notice the language of God’s word in this text that is spoken by the mouth of Moses! Moses does not say, “If you sin and God sends you out of your country into exile, and you receive the curses of the Torah upon yourself.”
As a prophet of God Moses says, “Now it shall come to pass.” This is going to happen to you, you will sin and you will bring upon yourselves God’s curses, the curses of the Torah, and you will be scattered among the nations because you didn’t obey the Lord.
However, “if you return (repent, “teshuva”, “epistrepso” in Greek, walk back) to the Lord your God and obey His voice, according to all that I commanded you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the Lord your God has scattered you. If any of you are driven out to the farthest parts under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you.”
Now this condition of repentance is of great importance, but the truth is that according to Ezekiel the prophet, God Himself understood that to wait for this stiff-necked nation to repent is not going to exactly work. The people that He chose are not an easy and pliable people, they are stiff necked.
God therefore applied a second plan that He reveals to Ezekiel while he is still in Babylonian exile. God reveals to the prophet His plan “B”:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.”’” – Ezekiel 36:22-28 [NKJV]
This text is one of the greatest demonstrations of God’s grace and a revelation of God’s ability and willingness to show grace to a nation that is called rebellious and stiff-necked.
God’s faithfulness to His plan and to the promises that He gave to our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – is the demonstration and reason why He had this plan “B” to send His Son, Yeshua, and give us a new heart and a new spirit and clean us from our filthiness, by the highest price of all, sending His only-begotten son Yeshua to redeem us from our sins and to establish the kingdom of Heaven down here on this Earth.
This is our prayer and our song to become partners with God, the Creator of this Universe, in the fulfilment and accomplishment of our return (repentance) and restoration.
As we enter into this new season of repentance, according to the Jewish calendar of the year, let us first seek our own hearts and spirits and return to the Lord, not to church, not to our political parties, not to our religious clubs, but to the Lord! Let us hold on to the hand of Yeshua who will lead us back to the Lord as our (in Greek) “paraklētos” (advocate, counselor, helper).
We, humans, can’t make that journey back to God alone, because we have gone so far away from the Lord, that we need that unique Servant of God, the Messiah, the one that fulfilled God’s promises made to Israel by the mouth and pen of Isaiah the prophet in chapter 53.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the paradigm of repentance is in the Torah, but God’s grace has given us credit paid for by Him and Yeshua His Son, our Messiah to help us come back home spiritually and physically. We are already in the process!
Praise the Lord and please use us weak and limited humans, whose hearts have been washed and circumcised, and who have dedicated our lives to Yeshua the son of God and our Savior!
Use us Lord and make us tools in your arsenal for the salvation of Israel and the soon return of Yeshua back to Zion! Amen!
Joseph Shulam: A Prescription From the Master Doctor [2020 – Nitzavim]
The reading this Shabbat is from Deuteronomy 29:10 (9) – 30:20. The name of the parasha is Nitzavim – “We are standing straight and firm.” From the prophets we are reading from Isaiah 61:10 – 63:9. All of the reading on this Shabbat is of great importance.
In fact looking at the reading for Shabbat I see so much that is like a prescription for medication written by the master doctor. The medication is for a healing of nations and especially for Israel. From the New Testament the reading is from Romans 10:1-13.
The first verse of this reading of Nitzavim provides a spiritual light for me personally.
“All of you stand today before the Lord your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives—also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water— that you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath, which the Lord your God makes with you today.” – Deuteronomy. 29:10-12 [NKJV]
Why am I always deeply touched by the public reading of this text? The reason is because this generation that was born in the Sinai wilderness, that was fed manna from heaven, that drank water from the Rock, is now invited to stand before the Lord as one united body of people, including the strangers who are not Israelites (Gentiles) who have joined Israel for the journey and will enter the land of promise and inherit it, and Moses that is talking to them and who will not enter the land.
The Lord is addressing all of the people gathered there and is inviting them to enter a covenant with the Lord your God… today! Most people that read this text miss the most important point of this text in the Torah.
This gathering of all of the people of Israel as one man, is invited to stay united and to enter the covenant with God as one people, united by the circumstance of tracking together nearly 40 years, and eating the manna, and the quail, and drinking the water from the rock as one people, one nation united by God, having the joint experience of crossing the Sinai desert together, fighting the wars together, having the opportunity, through the giving of their gold and jewelry, to participate in the building of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.
Now they are all invited to take part on this occasion, of standing across the Jordan River opposite Jericho and hearing and committing to be a part of the nation of Israel. The invitation of the Lord from the mouth of Moses is an invitation for all those gathered there on that day to become one with the nation of Israel.
One of the reasons that this text excites me so much now is the terrible things that are happening in the United States and the violent and destructive behavior of one important minority that has good reason to be upset.
However, there may be good reasons for this minority to be upset over the abusive behavior of several policemen that have abused their authority and power and have committed murder, but one wrong and even a thousand wrongs and abuses of power do not justify the violence, looting, burning and killing that is going on, and above all they do not justify the slogans that are not bringing an end to racism, but perpetuating it.
The life of every person is important, but even more important, figuratively speaking, is how we all drink our coffee. There are some that drink their coffee black, no milk and no sugar. Others drink their coffee with milk and it is not black now, it is brown, and some don’t drink coffee and only drink white milk.
Shall one of these coffee and milk drinkers be discriminated against for what and how he drinks? We are one people with one destiny, bound to share the future of the United States together, with unity and prosperity as one nation under God.
Those who take themselves out of the consensus, and place themselves out of the whole and the united nation, will cause themselves trouble in the future. The seeds that you plant now will grow in the future and if poisoned seeds are planted poison trees will grow and mature, and the fruits of these trees will be good only if the tree is good.
The tree will be good only if the seed that was planted is good! Let us all take care to plant good seed so that our children and grandchildren will have good fruit to sustain them and keep them in the Lord.
The portion of reading this Shabbat from Isaiah the prophet chapter 61:10 – 63:9 is also very important for every disciple of Yeshua. Chapter 62 of Isaiah is of special importance for us in Israel, but is also of essential importance for all Christians throughout the world.
There is a challenge for every Christian in chapter 62. The challenge is to fulfill the promises of God to Israel and to those non-Jews around the world who are connected with Israel’s hope and Israel’s future, and with their identity as described by Isaiah and by the other prophets.
Read and meditate on these texts and pray for the Holy Spirit to quicken to you these words of God and to help you to appropriate these words from Deuteronomy and Isaiah and the apostle Paul, for yourselves.
Joseph Shulam: Examples of Mysteries in the Torah [2019 – Nitzavim]
The Torah reading this week is from Deuteronomy 29:10-30:20, from the prophets the reading is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9, and from the New Testament we are reading this Shabbat from John 16:1 – 17:26 and Romans 10:1-13.
Parashat Nitzavim is a very rich portion of the Torah. It is another one of the Torah readings that “puts the monkey on your back”. It forces us, those who believe the Word of God, to make a conscious choice for our life and lifestyle.
The choices that the Torah forces us to make are some of the most important choices of life, or if you wish, of death. In our days, in the post-modern culture, the religious establishment avoids forcing constituents to make life-changing choices.
Yes, they talk about things in a politically-correct way, but the choices that are put before the members of most churches are “vegetarian.” They are more like toothless light recommendations with promises of prosperity and success, promising that everything will be pink roses and New York cheesecake.
The Torah is much more serious, and there is no enticement with pink roses and New York cheesecakes. The motivation is to do what is God’s will, and choose to do things like circumcise your heart, or allow the Lord to circumcise your heart, so that you might be able to serve Him and bring a blessing to yourself and your family, and your tribe and nation.
Nitzavim is a very important Torah portion for every believer in the word of God, and especially to believers in Yeshua the Messiah.
One of the things I particularly care about is in chapter 29:28, verse one out of 10 verses in the Torah that have points on the top of a word or phrase. These points above the words are enigmatic, hard to understand, a phenomena that demands explanation and interpretation.
Rabbi Shimon ben Eliezer was a second-century rabbi who lived in the Galilee, and was a disciple of Rabbi Meir. He says that the above letters that have the dots on top of them ought to be interpreted in a special manner, because this marking of the dots is found only ten times in the Torah, and they are a sign to teach us to pay special attention to these words.
It is therefore very probable that these words, that are under the roof of these dots above each letter, are protecting some secret meaning that is there to bridge the gap between the simple, plain meaning of the words, and much more that is hidden. This means that Torah, in these words, has things to reveal to us that normal words could not or should not be revealing. And therefore the sages (scribes) have hidden them under a roof of dots placed over every letter, as you can see in the above Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 29:28.
I will bring one example that is my favorite. A simple picture from Genesis 33:4:
“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” – Genesis 33:4 [NKJV]
Over the word “kissed him” in the Hebrew text, there is a dot. The Hebrew text looks like this. Please notice the dots above the word “kissed him”:
This is one of my favorite examples of this phenomena. Esau is actually approaching Jacob and his family with murderous intent. He has 400 soldiers.
If you remember from chapter 27 of Genesis, Esau has made a vow to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac, his father, dies. Now there is the encounter between Jacob and his brother, after he was at least 21 years in exile in Aram, with the house of Laban, and now married to Laban’s daughters Rachel and Leah.
Jacob has taken precautions and divided his camp, so that if one part is killed the other will survive. Esau never forgot that Jacob has taken his inheritance by selling him a lentil stew in exchange for it.
So, now Esau is hugging and kissing Jacob. The text puts this dotted roof on top of the word “kissed him”, and the rabbis indicate that if you switch one of the letters in the Hebrew word “kiss”, it would be “bite” and not “kiss”.
So, maybe there is an unspoken revelation given to the reader in Hebrew, indicating that Esau never forgot his hate of Jacob, and his real intention was to bite Jacob in the jugular artery and kill him. The kiss was not a sincere kiss of a brother, but a point of temptation to keep his vow and kill Jacob. But because of the occasion, in front of Jacob’s family and surrounded by military men on both sides, Esau changed his desire at the last moment.
The future relationship between Jacob and Esau proves that Esau never did forgive Jacob. The descendants of Esau continued to hate and war against the descendants of Jacob.
So, these dots above the word “kiss” have a deep and interesting message that could not be expressed in words, but the dots do the job. The simplifying of this text actually respects the fact that he forgave Jacob for the lentil stew.
If we now go back to our portion of the Torah, in Deuteronomy 29:28, we can see that there are dots over the words “to us and to our sons”. Now we can understand that in the Torah, and in all of God’s revelation, we have some important secrets hidden under the dots. Here are some of the interesting implications in the case of the 10 incidents of dots above the text:
- There are 10 places in the Hebrew Bible that have dots above the letters. These are, according to ancient Jewish tradition, places that hold secrets within these words. “Secrets” means that in the plain meaning of these words not all that is intended is revealed or visible. This principle is true about any coded texts, but they are not often marked with a specific mark, like dots above the letters. So, this idea is not new in any context and in any texts. Yeshua was teaching in parables precisely for the same reason. This is what Yeshua told His disciples when they asked Him why He is using parables to teach: “And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” (Matthew 13:10,11 KJV)
- The text, as it was first received by the Jewish scribes and rabbis, had no dots in it, and it could not be changed. There was a tradition that might have emerged from the difficulty in this text that indicated that there is something mysterious in the interpretation of this text.
- The text itself indicates that there are things that are not revealed by God and kept for His own domain, and what is visible and revealed to men in the Torah is for us to do it, to keep it, to obey it.
- The implication of this simple understanding for all of us is to stop speculating and arguing and dividing the body of the Messiah over things that are not written explicitly in the Word of God, and stay with what is clear and revealed and practical, and do it. The majority of the divisions and denominational splits are not over the simple, practical, clear commandments of God, but over eschatological speculations that have no practical consequences, other than to damage the unity of the Lord’s body.
This portion of the Torah being read in the synagogues of the world on Shabbat, just one day before the evening of the first day of the seventh month (the Feast of Trumpets in the Bible, and the Jewish New Year – Rosh Hashanah), according to Jewish tradition, is important for all of us today.
It is important to leave the things that are not clearly delineated and clearly spelled out in the Word of God. To leave them until the Lord reveals His mysteries and secrets clear and loud. This is the importance of this one verse in the Torah in the reading of Nitzavim.
Joseph Shulam: A Covenant for Jews and Non-Jews Alike [2018 – Nitzavim]
This week’s Torah reading is one of my favorites, Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:10 – 30:20) the reading of the prophets, the haftarah, is also one of my favorites (Isaiah 61:10-63:9). I will try to take a little from both the parasha and the haftarah.
“‘You are standing today, all of you, before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today. You know how we lived in the land of Egypt, and how we came through the midst of the nations through which you passed. And you have seen their detestable things, their idols of wood and stone, of silver and gold, which were among them. Beware lest there be among you a man or woman or clan or tribe whose heart is turning away today from the Lord our God to go and serve the gods of those nations. Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” This will lead to the sweeping away of moist and dry alike. The Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven.’” – Deuteronomy 29:10–20 [ESV]
The first word of this reading in Hebrew is “nitzavim”, it is translated in English as “standing”. However, “standing” is not a strong enough word in English to translate “nitzavim”. The root word of “nitzavim” is translated in other places in the Bible as “standing erect”. Regarding Lot’s wife, it says she became a “nitsav” of salt. The basic meaning of this word is “standing firm/erect/steady”.
So Moses is speaking to the children of Israel, who are standing on the shores of the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Note that we are reading in Deuteronomy chapter 29. This is already towards the end of Moses’ lecture to Israel before he goes up to Pisgah to die.
The people of Israel are already standing in the sun, in the desert, where it is hot and dusty. This is just before Passover. The Jordan River Valley could already be as hot as upper 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The people of Israel are there already a couple of hours or more, old and young men and women and children. Now Moses states “you are standing here erect, not sitting down”.
The first thing that Moses is reminding Israel in his last speech is that God has made a covenant with Israel’s father, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but not with Israel alone. Of this covenant Moses says:
“It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” – Deuteronomy 29:14,15 [ESV]
This verse is of great importance and it is greatly ignored by both Jews and Christians. The Jews think that God’s covenant is exclusive with Israel and with the Jewish people. It is “our covenant” and no one else’s.
This text is very important for me because it states clearly that the covenant of God with Israel is not exclusively for Israel, but for everyone who is standing with Israel. Not only those of the first generation of Israel standing there with Moses, but with those non-Israelites who were not there at that historical moment.
This text opens a whole big discussion of what the non-Jews, who have joined the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:11,12), ought to do. We have two paradigms on this issue in the New Testament.
We have Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 14. It essentially says that there are more important things in the Kingdom of God than what you eat or what day you keep or don’t keep. The other paradigm is from the teaching of Yeshua, and Paul agrees with it, as said in the story of the rich man and Lazarus:
“‘Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”’” – Luke 16:27–31 [NKJV]
I suppose the two paradigms that we find in the New Testament gives each of us the freedom to keep or not to keep the kosher instructions of the Lord to Israel. And the same is true with the feasts of the Lord.
There are more important things for us to do and keep than what we eat or where we celebrate. In fact, today, without a temple and without sacrifices and a kosher priesthood in Jerusalem, the whole question is moot.
Yehuda Bachana: The Hidden Torah and the Visible Torah [2018 – Nitzavim]
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we study Parashat Nitzavim, which is a rather short portion. In fact, all the upcoming weekly Torah portions are concise, however, the excitement builds up towards the completion and the restarting of the weekly Torah reading cycle.
We, together with all the people of Israel, are excited because the holidays of Tishrei are coming up. We are just about to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of the appointed times.
The Personal Aspect of the Covenant
In Parashat Nitzavim, Moses declared that the people of Israel were making a covenant with God. All were considered equal and all were to stand together; this applies to the past generations as well as those to come.
Sometimes we think about our personal relationship with God and what Yeshua did for us. I often contemplate how Yeshua released me personally from the burden of the Torah, or at least from the punishments mentioned in it.
Indeed, the covenant is with individuals, but these individuals are all a part of the whole, they are part of the people of Israel. In other words, God was and is making a covenant with all the people of Israel. If I am a part of the Jewish people, than this covenant still applies to me.
Yeshua redeemed me personally, but I am still part of Israel, and due to this I am also part of the covenant.
The Torah Applies to All of the People of Israel as a Whole
If we, the people of Israel, leave the path of God and transgress the covenant, then we will receive the curse; this includes the believers. In fact, we are also to blame, we have not been successful enough in shining the light of the Messiah, the gospel, and the Torah. We did not succeed in being a good influence.
We can see this form of thought woven throughout the stories of the Bible. When the people sinned and got punished, the prophets, the priests, and even those who remained faithful to God suffered and were killed.
The culture we live in today encourages us to think that we live in a personal bubble, that we are the center of the world. This ideology can also be seen with believers today. We have become accustomed to the thought of personal salvation – it’s me and my God.
In my opinion, there is a core concept that must be changed so that we can truly be tools in the hands of God. This is the concept of the overall salvation of the nation, as opposed to the salvation of the individual.
Each person or small group decides what he feels that God wants from him on a personal basis.
The approach that we must adopt is that the gospel is intended for society as a whole.
For example in Israel, we need a vision that suits the entire Jewish people. We have a mutual responsibility like what is found in the saying that ended up becoming one of the foundations of Jewish culture: “All Israel is responsible for each other.” We are responsible to pay the debt.
Each member of the people of Israel took upon himself to pay the debts or the sins of his fellow man.
We are All Responsible for Each Other’s Sins
Last week we read in Deuteronomy 27 about the commandment to stand on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eival in order to perform a ceremony in which the people committed themselves to the covenant of the Torah.
The Biblical understanding is that we have a collective responsibility of each and every member of the nation of Israel, including the sins of others. The example of this is Achan’s sin, when he took some of the loot which was forbidden, and as a result, innocent individuals died in battle. This story appears in chapters 7 and 8 of Joshua.
The Bible mentions the sin of Achan in a general and collective way:
“The Lord said to Joshua… Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies…” – Joshua 7:10a-12a [NIV]
Should We Take Responsibility Only for Public Sins?
Now, there is a disagreement among the sages of Israel on this matter: does this responsibility apply only for public sins or also for hidden sins that no one knows about?
The accepted view today is that we must take responsibility only for the public sins, and even then there is no punishment. That is unless a person was able to protest the sin, but he did not do so.
This issue brings us to the verse that serves as a summary for this covenant:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29 [NIV]
The Hidden Meanings Found in the Torah
In the original Hebrew text found in the Torah, there is a dot above each letter in the words “to us and to our children forever.” No one knows what exactly these dots mean.
Most likely there is a secret hidden within these mysterious markings.Perhaps this means that what is hidden from us, the hidden sins, are revealed to God. It is also possible that the Torah has a hidden side and a visible side: the visible side being the practical commandments and the hidden side as the secrets of the Torah that are revealed only to those who seek God.
In my opinion, this verse asks us to understand the reasons behind the commandments, and to understand the intention of the Torah. On one hand, the whole chapter deals with keeping the Torah and the reward that will follow if you do so. On the other hand, however, there are numerous punishments that will follow if we breach the covenant and choose not to observe the Torah.
The question is, what is the proper observance of the commandments of the Torah? Do we have to know the entire Torah with all of its secrets? Or is it enough to fulfill it only in its clear plain meaning?
I think we can explore, think, pray, and examine the secrets but this is indeed between us and God. The revealed are the actions and things that the Torah commands us to do or to avoid, and they are an obligation for us and our children.
The Torah and the Commandments are Attainable
In our parasha, Moses made two important statements: the first is that we do not know all the secrets of heaven, which is ok. We must leave what is hidden to God and act honestly in the visible plane.
The second important statement of Moses is that the truth is attainable, the Torah and the commandments alike. This includes the will of God, which is close, clear, attainable, and available.
The Long Journey to Find Treasure
I will end with a short story:
There was a man who dreamt of finding a treasure buried under a bridge. After having this same dream repeatedly, he decided to get up and go on a journey for hundreds of kilometers in order to reach that same bridge and the treasure hidden beneath it.
After many days of a difficult journey, he finally reached the bridge. He approached it slowly, examining it carefully, when suddenly a stranger approached him and asked him what he was doing. When he heard the story, the stranger bursted into laughter and said: “So what if you had a dream?! I also dreamt that somewhere there lived a man named…” and here the stranger mentioned the exact name and address of that person. “…under whose kitchen there is a treasure. Do you think I’d just go off on such a long journey just to find some dream treasure?”
The man, who had wandered such a long way, suddenly turned around and went home. When he arrived, he dug in his kitchen floor and found the treasure.
This is a well-known Hasidic story, and can be understood and explained in several ways: It can be understood as a parable for every Torah student who goes far to study the word of God. The meaning behind it is that the treasure was already in his possession. He must dig in his house and within himself in the spiritual sense in order to find his treasure. In other words, only the person himself can decide to follow God. The rabbi, pastor, or leader cannot save you.
“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven… Nor is it beyond the sea… No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” – Deuteronomy 30:11-14 [NIV]
One does not have to look for the answer overseas or in the heavens, nor does one need to consult with the rabbi or pastor. The answer lies solely within us.
It is also possible to interpret this story in the opposite way: we must go out and search for the meaning of life, in order to understand that the treasure is at home. Sometimes we have to go to the end of the world to understand that the real treasure can be found right under our noses.
I want to end with the blessing of a happy holiday and a Happy Jewish New Year!
May we all start the year with renewed hope. My prayer is that God will bless the new year with health and mercy. May it be a blessing to the family, and a blessing to the community. I pray that God will bless the work of our hands and our lives, that we will always walk in the light of Yeshua the Messiah. May this year be a year of success, productivity, and faith. I pray this in the name above all names, the name of Yeshua the Messiah.
Yehuda Bachana: Yom Kippur: You Can Start All Over Again (If You Really Want To) [2018 – Vayelech]
Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.
This Shabbat we read Parashat Vayelech. The final weekly Torah portions are read during the High Holidays, and therefore we usually combine lessons and topics related to the appointed times of Tishrei into the study of the weekly Torah portion. In a few days we will fast with all the people of Israel – the fast of Yom Kippur. In Jewish thought, this is the most frightening yet sacred day, the day of judgment.
The Last Days of Moses
According to Jewish tradition, the story of Vayelech is said to have taken place on the last day of Moses’ life. The tradition comes from Moses’ statement at the beginning of the parasha:
“I am now a hundred and twenty years old…” – Deuteronomy 31:2a [NIV]
In the portion, Moses was commanded to come with Joshua to the opening of the tent of meeting, where the role of being the leader officially transferred over to Joshua.
Inside the tent of meeting, Moses received a prophecy from God. In this prophecy, God told Moses that the children of Israel will stray from the path of the Torah, and that all the evils and curses described in the previous parashot will occur.
Also found in this week’s reading is the Song of Moses. After he wrote it, he gathered all the children of Israel together to hear it. This poem is both a prophecy as well as a reminder of what will happen in the future; we will read it in next week’s Torah portion.
Moses finished speaking to the people of Israel as well as completed writing the Torah:
“So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the Levitical priests, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 31:9 [NIV]
Moses’ Great Prophecy
The Torah is not in the heavens, nor is it beyond the sea. It must be close to each of us, so that we as a nation will always remember God and our history as a people. This commandment is private and personal, but at the same time it is also national. It connects us to the people of Israel, the God of Israel, our past, and hopefully to a better future. Of course, this will only occur if we keep the words that Moses wrote in the Torah, about which he warned us again and again.
The words of caution are uttered repeatedly by Moses, with the intent to prevent the people of Israel from sinning. Moses gathered all of the tribes and gave them the Torah, the testimony, the song, and the hope that the warning may succeed in causing the people of Israel, in the present and also in the future, not to sin.
The truth is that Moses knew what would happen; he received it in a prophecy. All of his efforts did not help in the end. The Israelites corrupted themselves and strayed from God and His commandments.
“For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and arouse his anger by what your hands have made.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 [NIV]
Moses was also aware that this was not the end of the story. God would not not abandon the people of Israel. After the periods of punishment, rebellion, conquering, enemies, and various exiles, God would eventually reassemble the people of Israel and bring them back to the Land of Promise to try once again.
Will we be prepared to keep the written covenant of God’s Torah this time? Or will we also decide to abandon the Torah? As it was written in last week’s parasha:
“I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way…” – Deuteronomy 29:19 [NIV]
The Importance of Preserving Our National Identity
Today we often hear that the Torah is no longer necessary, it is not what God really wants. Some think that they know what God wants, He wants our hearts, faith, and worship. The Almighty does not desire lists of what to do and what not to do.
On a personal level, this statement is 100% correct. As far as we as believers are concerned, the essence of the Torah is to love God and our neighbors. It’s as simple as that!
However, on the national level, this statement is completely false. We must preserve our national identity as well as pass on our history to our children. This includes connecting them to their heritage concerning the whole episode of the Exodus from Egypt, the patriarchs of the nation, and also link them to the promises made to our forefathers.
What I am trying to say is, when I fulfill the commandment of the sukkah, or the blowing of the shofar, I primarily fulfill the mitzvah in order to educate the next generation, to connect them to the rest of the nation and to the collective memory of the Jewish people. The Torah is designed for the people to live at a certain level of morality and conduct towards those around us; the Torah is for the community as a whole.
Why do We Observe Yom Kippur?
Our long and painful history teaches us that those who left the Torah and the tradition of Israel, abandoned their identity and their connection to the people of Israel and to the future of Israel. This is the reason why we fast on Yom Kippur.
I have complete faith in the atonement of the blood of Yeshua the Messiah, who has pardoned me and cleansed my life in the best and most perfect way.
We fast because we are not just private individuals. We also have a family, and it is our duty to connect the family to the people of Israel. I am also part of the Jewish people, and as such I participate in the nation’s day of fasting and prayer. Together we are begging God to remember His people for the good, to have compassion on us, to remember the promises and the graces of the patriarchs, and to give us another opportunity to correct ourselves and live in a way that pleases God.
We sometimes think that asking forgiveness is a personal matter. Everyone is supposed to think about the mistakes he has made in private and repent. We are not supposed to make a public celebration of our private problems and personal sins.
Even though it usually works that way on Yom Kippur, asking for forgiveness from others becomes a collective effort. However I think that it’s deeper than that. On this day we talk about our weaknesses and share our failures together as a nation, or even as a community. We do not do so just as individuals, but rather as a Messianic congregation, a believing and supportive community. Together we gather our strength to rise up and change our lives, in brotherly love, something that our connection to Yeshua calls us to do.
Yom Kippur Grants Us a Second Chance
What great humility can be found in the ability to recognize a mistake, to repent, to re-examine our lives and our decisions, and to march on towards improvement. This very idea is magnificent. God gives us the possibility of repenting from our bad decisions and our mistakes.
Whatever happened happened, but it’s not so important now. If we really want to, we can start all over again. In short, this is essence of Yom Kippur, which is why it is considered the most holy and important holiday of the year.
On this day we stop time and the race of life to reflect on our actions and contemplate our path – are we on the right track? Do we live in accordance with the way we believe?
The idea of atonement for sin is at the center of Yom Kippur:
“…because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.” – Leviticus 16:30 [NIV]
Why We Should Ask Others for Forgiveness
Nevertheless, there is an issue here that needs to be resolved. According to Jewish tradition, Yom Kippur atones for the sins between us and God, and not for the sins that are between us and our friends. In other words, it is impossible to come on Yom Kippur before God and ask him to forgive me for the sin I committed towards a certain individual. According to Judaism, one must go to the person himself and ask forgiveness for the sin.
“Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against one’s neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor.” – Mishnah Yoma 8:9
In my opinion, this is Yeshua’s teaching, Yeshua commands us to first be reconciled to our neighbor, and only then to come and stand before God:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23,24 [NIV]
I think this is a good and healthy lesson for us today. Before we come to the congregation to praise God, let’s cleanse our conscience against those we hurt during the week, it can be a family member, friend, or co-worker. Let us ask for His forgiveness and plead with him, and then we will come with a clear conscience to worship God rightly and truly, and to seek His face.
Shabbat Shalom and may we all have a meaningful fast.