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: A Leader’s Final Great Challenge [2022 – Vayelech]
The Torah portion, Vayelech, is from Deuteronomy 31:1-30. This is a short Torah portion, in it there is the announcement that Moses is going to present a “song”. The song itself is actually a court case from God against Israel. It will be next Shabbat’s reading. From the prophets the reading this Shabbat will be from Isaiah 55:6-56:8, and from the New Testament we will be reading from Matthew 21:9-17.
The Torah reading this Shabbat has some important things that I need to bring up to my Christian leaders as a point of important wisdom that ought to be at the top of the agenda of every church and synagogue leader, from the day that he stands the first time as an appointed preacher in front of the pulpit. Here is the first verse of our Torah Portion, “Vayelech”:
“Then Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel. And he said to them: ‘I am one hundred and twenty years old today. I can no longer go out and come in. Also the Lord has said to me, “You shall not cross over this Jordan.” The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you; He will destroy these nations from before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua himself crosses over before you, just as the Lord has said.’” — Deuteronomy 31:1-3 [NKJV]
I am now in the same place that Moses was standing, on the shore of the Jordan River, on the east bank, and saying that he is retiring and giving Joshua the space to take the helm of leadership over the nation of Israel and lead them into the Land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants, as an everlasting inheritance.
Moses actually says that Joshua is going to lead the nation of Israel across the Jordan, “just as the Lord has said!”
“And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate him in their sight. And you shall give some of your authority to him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient.’” — Numbers 27:18-20 [NKJV]
These words of the Lord to Moses were many years before the children of Israel have come so close to the Land of Canaan. The Lord told Moses to appoint Joshua the son of Nun, “a man in whom is the Spirit.” Joshua was to come before the Priest and before all the congregation and it was announced to all that he, Joshua the son of Nun, will be the one who will inherit the place of Moses as the leader of Israel that will take the nation into the promised land!
I remember, 20 years ago, a dear Japanese brother, who was already old, sat in my office in Netivyah and said to me, “Joseph I have a word from the Lord for you Appoint Yehuda Bachana as the one who will take your place when you are too old to lead!”
At first I was surprised. Second, I took brother Takeo Muraoka’s words seriously and immediately started first to pray, and second, to put Yehuda Bachana to work with the youth group of our congregation. Today several of the Netivyah staff are men who were born from day one in their lives in Netivyah and the Ro’eh Israel Congregation in Jerusalem.
Some were not born but raised in the context of Netivyah in Jerusalem and in the Galilee congregation that we had in Zippori. Some of our staff are also the grandchildren of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine to whom I and others from Netivyah ministered near Ramat Gan in the late 1970’s.
God instructed Moses years earlier to appoint Joshua the son of Nun as his successor. There is nothing more important and nothing more wrong in all the different churches that I have visited in the last 50 years in the United States and around the world.
Most “pastors” and “preachers” are so jealous for their seat and job that they seldom, if ever, think of what is going to happen to their ministry after they are no longer there or able to continue their work in God’s vineyard. There is not only wisdom but command in this Torah portion for Moses to appoint Joshua, years early, to be his successor.
The second and most important teaching from this Torah portion is the following:
“So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying: ‘At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law…’” — Deuteronomy 31:9-12 [NKJV]
One of the main issues that I have with the churches, denominational or non-denominational, is that the salesman is more important than the product. The pastor and the teachers are the salesmen!
The pastors and the teachers of God’s word are not the product, and the product is the Word of God. That is what the church and the people of the churches need!
The power is in the Word of God, and there is precious little reading, and therefore precious little knowledge, and therefore precious little understanding, of God’s word for the person seated every Sunday, and sometimes also on Wednesday evenings.
The situation in most of the churches around the world that I have visited is devastating for the good people who are the members and those who attend the church. Because they become dependent on the pastor to break for them the word of life! They are given fish and chips but never instructed or encouraged or equipped to look and learn and hear the Word of God for themselves!
Yes, I can understand some of the pastors and leaders of the churches. It is dangerous for the person in the church, sitting on the bench, to know too much of God’s word and to understand it. He might catch the pastor making mistakes or teaching things out of context in order to make a pitch for some church project that needs funds!
Dear brothers and sisters, here is the picture that I see in Gospel of Luke and in the book of Acts in respect of reading the Word of God:
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.” — Luke 4:16
“Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.” — Luke 4:20
“So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath…” — Luke 4:28
“Now in the synagogue there was a man who had a spirit of an unclean demon. And he cried out with a loud voice…” — Luke 4:33
“Now He arose from the synagogue and entered Simon’s house. But Simon’s wife’s mother was sick with a high fever, and they made request of Him concerning her.” — Luke 4:38
“Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered.” — Luke 6:6
“…for he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.” — Luke 7:5
“And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue. And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house…” — Luke 8:41
“But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.’” — Luke 13:14
“But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.’” — Acts 13:14,15
“So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath.” — Acts 13:42
“Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed.” — Acts 14:1
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” — Acts 15:19-21
(Notice the context of this text. The apostles and elders of the church send the gentile disciples of Yeshua to the synagogue of the Jews to hear the scriptures being read!)
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures…” — Acts 17:1
“Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” — Acts 17:10-12
“Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” — Acts 17:17
“And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” — Acts 18:4
“And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.” — Acts 18:7,8
“Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.” — Acts 18:17
(Notice that immediately after brother Sosthenes was beaten Paul didn’t stop going to the synagogue.)
“And he came to Ephesus, and left them there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.” — Acts 18:19
“So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” — Acts 18:26
“And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God.” — Acts 19:8
“So I said, ‘Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You.’” — Acts 22:19
“And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” — Acts 26:11
Paul continued to go to the synagogue and to the Temple in Jerusalem and worship, and even offer sacrifices, after he returned to Jerusalem from his last missionary journey (see Acts 24:17).
What do you think that these texts teach us? Do you think that the early church had a relationship with the Jewish community? I am not talking of pogroms, inquisitions, and gas chambers. I am talking about brotherhood, gratitude, and love for the Bible that Jews have given us, and God’s grace and interest and fellowship!
People who believe and preach and proclaim that they want to see the church restored and be like the First Century New Testament church need to reread the Bible and the New Testament. I call my brothers and sisters around the world to read and read again every year the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from the beginning to the end. Drink water from the wells of salvation, as Isaiah the prophet said, and get away from the polluted sources of the water of the Tiber River and the Bosporus of Istanbul-Constantinople.
Those who are committed to the restoration of the New Testament church, and don’t want to be Catholic, Protestants, Coptic, or Armenian, but just want to be simple and true disciples of Yeshua (Christ), and be prepared for the return of our Lord to Zion, and serve the King of Kings on His eternal throne forever and ever with all the saints, better start reading the Word of God for themselves. And when you have questions, ask your pastors and teachers.
And if they don’t know, they can always ask Mr. Google — he knows everything. But you have to sift the stuff from Google with a very fine sieve before you drink from it.
God bless you, dear brothers and sisters, and enjoy the love of God and His grace in Yeshua our Lord, and be anxious about nothing except your own salvation!
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Vayelech [2022 – Vayelech]
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 have been, and continue to do the weekly Torah readings that are read in every synagogue around the world.
We are approaching the end of this round of Torah readings; they will end just after the Day of Atonement, and during the Feast of Tabernacles, we will start over again – go back to Genesis. But now we are in the shortest Torah portion in the whole Torah. It’s actually only one chapter, chapter 31 of the book of Deuteronomy.
The chapter 32 starts one of the very, very important – especially important for the New Testament and for the believers and for the Apostle Paul, portion of the Torah. In fact, Paul’s complete theology is based on chapter 32 of the book of Deuteronomy. We’ll talk about that next week.
This week we are in chapter 31 from verse one to the end of the chapter to verse 30. The Torah reading starts in a curious way. “And Moses went and spoke these words to all Israel.” What does that mean? Went and spoke? Moses, where did he go? You know, he was living in the camp. He was living in the section of the tribe of Levi because he was Levi like Aaron and the children of Aaron and all the priests. He was a Levi. His father was Levi. His mother was Levi and his brother was Levi. Where did he go? Where did he go, so he could speak these words to all Israel? And we said, these words, start in chapter 31 and ends way at the end of chapter 32. But that’s another portion of reading next week. This week, it’s only chapter 31.
The idea behind the word “went” is that he intended. He didn’t just have a bunch of people sitting around a coffee – there was no coffee then- but sitting in a coffee shop and he’s talking to them; no. He went to the assembly. He went to the leadership of Israel and it was with intention to speak to them and to address all Israel. And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today.”
Wow. I wish I had the date. What day was this? Moses’ birthday? He’s talking to them on his birthday? I don’t know his birthday, and I don’t know anybody else who knows his birthday. Beause the Torah doesn’t say so. And the prophets don’t say so. And the writings don’t say so. And we don’t have any grounds to assume that anybody knows his birthday. But he is saying these things on his birthday. And he is saying them intentionally.
He’s speaking to the leadership of Israel, and he says “I can no longer go out and come in”. This phrase – to go out and come in – is a very interesting phrase. It appears several times in the book of Deuteronomy, when it’s talking about the king and the job of the king. And it appears during the crowning of Kings in the later books of the Bible, and it means to serve. To go out and to come in – it means to serve. It means to take care of. It means to administer these people, to lead them to war, to bring them back from war. That’s what it means. I am now 76 years old. I can identify with Moses, and I can identify with Moses and learn from him; that he appointed in, this chapter, in the next verses, the next generation of leaders before he died and before he was indigent and could not lead anymore.
You know, people think the greatest thing that Moses did is to go up to Mount Sinai and spend 40 days and 40 nights with the Lord and bring down the tablets of the covenant, the 10 commandments, and bring down the Torah from Mount Sinai. No, that’s not the greatest thing that Moses did. The greatest thing that Moses did is that he envisioned the next generation of leadership and prepared that next generation of leadership ahead of time, for years. This is a very important principle. A principle that most of our brothers, both in the Christian community, in the Jewish community, and in the Messianic community, don’t pay much attention.
Joshua was Moses’ servant a long, long time ago. From the book of Exodus, we learned that Joshua was Moses’ servant. Moses is called in the Bible, the slave of the Lord, Ebed Adonai, the slave of the Lord. Joshua is called the servant of Moses. Why is Moses called the slave of the Lord; including also in the first chapter of the book of Joshua? Because Moses was conscripted. He didn’t choose to be the Moses that we know from the Bible. He was forced to be. Okay, maybe gently forced to be.
We have the story in Exodus chapter two and three and four. How God finally convinces Moses to go down to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” Moses didn’t want to do it. He had several excuses. One of the excuses was that he could not talk right. But he had other excuses as well. He had lack of self-confidence, after he was a prince of Egypt and killed an Egyptian that was beating up and abusing a Jew. He had to run away from Egypt. He lost his self-confidence and he was willing to become a shepherd. That was abominable in the eyes of the Egyptians – especially the Egyptian nobility But Moses chose to serve Jethro, the father of Zipporah, his wife, as a shepherd.
From way up high, we can see the palaces of Pharaoh. We can visit in Egypt and see some of those palaces that are left behind; learn archaeologically from these palaces. They are magnificent, huge, luxurious, like nothing else in the world in that time. He chose to leave that and to go take the side of his brothers – of his Israelite brothers and became a shepherd of Jethro.
So, he tells them now, “I’m old, I can no longer serve you right. Also, God told me ‘you should not cross over this Jordan’. So I can’t continue being your leader. You are going to cross into the promised land. You are going to enter the land that God gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I am not going with you. I can’t serve you anymore. Old. And God forbid me to cross the Jordan, but don’t worry. The Lord, your God himself crosses over before you. He will destroy these nations from before you and you shall dispossess them.”
Let me stop here. One thing that my – my Christian brothers and sisters don’t realize that our relationship with the almighty God, the creator of the universe, is not a relationship of servants and some mythological character, like the Greco-Roman gods, or like the gods of the Canaanites, or like the gods of – of North America, South America, Central America. Where we, as surfs, are obligated to serve the idol – to serve the – the – the mythological pagan characters that form the Pantheon of idolatry in the world.
No. We are in partnership with the creator himself toward the goal that was set before the creation of the world. God already knew what is going to happen before it happens. And before the world happened – before He said, “Let there be light”. And there was light. God had already known the end before the beginning. We have hints of it in the book of Genesis. We have hints of it in the prophets and in the writings, throughout the whole Bible, all the way to the book of Revelation.
So Moses says, “Look, I’m not going with, but God is going with you.” Ah, the boss is going with you. He himself will cross over before you and prepare the way for you. We are in partnership with God. The faithful disciples of Yeshua and the Jewish nation have to see ourself as partners with the creator himself – as partner and a part of the program of the plan from the beginning of the world to the end of the world.
Because our world from the beginning was created finite like a lot of the worlds around us. If you look at the Milky Way, and study the Milky Way, and ask the astronomers about the nature of the stars, you’ve got stars in the Milky Way that are just born. They’re called Novas. They’re full of light and power, and you’ve got black holes – stars that are already dead and they cannot be seen with – even with very powerful telescopes. If they have special telescopes, like the Hubble and the other – the new one that is going out into space now.
Verse three. The Lord your God Himself crosses over before you. And He will prepare the land. He will destroy the nations from before you, you shall dispossess them, and Joshua himself crosses over before you. Just as the Lord has said, here it is. Moses, with this sentence, passes all the authority to take the children of Israel across the Jordan, and to essentially take his place. Take his place as the leader of Israel, God’s people.
Like I said, this is in my opinion, Moses’ great accomplishment – that he prepared Joshua for the years in the wilderness, equipped him both spiritually and intellectually – and I’m sure also physically, to take his place. And he understands that he is not there forever as the leader of Israel, that somebody’s going to inherit his place, inherit the right to distribute God’s good news, God’s provisions, God’s manna, God’s quail, God’s commands to the people of Israel. How gracious.
How gracious this is because when you have change of leadership — especially leadership that has been there now for 80 years — their brothers 80 years. 80 years, Moses has been leader. To relinquish that leadership, to pass it on to a younger person like Joshua without squabble, without internal affairs, without splits is an art — is as an art.
And I can say, praise the Lord that I listened to a Japanese brother by the name of Takeo. Many years ago — 20 years ago — he says, “You start preparing the leadership of Netivyah now.” And that was when Yehuda, Daniel, and other of the leaders of Netivyah were just toddlers. Yep. But they’re the leaders now. And I’m no longer the official leader. I’m in the capacity of an advisor. Only. Gladly. Happily. The weight of – of leadership is no longer on my shoulders.
Joshua himself will cross over before you just as the Lord has said. God promises and God keeps his promises. And he continues – says what the Lord is going to do to the Canaanite and Amorite Kings And uh. how God is going to give them – give the people, Israel, the land to possess it and destroy the idolatrous neighbors that have occupied the land.
Therefore, verse six, you need to be strong and have a lot of courage and no fear. No reason for you to fear, for the Lord your God, He is the one who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. He’s repeating what is said earlier. And Moses called Joshua and said to him “In the sight of all Israel…”
Ah, I like that very much. The exchange of leadership didn’t happen in a closed room, secretly. The exchange of leadership happens in front of all Israel – in the sight of all Israel. And he says to Joshua, “Be strong and of good courage for you must go with these people, to the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them. And you shall cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He is the one who goes before you, He will be with you. He will not leave you. He will not forsake you. You do not fear nor be dismayed.”
Look, these verses are not only hinted at in the gospels, but parts of them are quoted in the gospels. We have in the gospels: “I will not leave you nor forsake you. Don’t fear. Don’t be dismayed.” This is almost quoted verbatim more than one time in the New Testament.
And we need to realize that the Torah, from Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, is chapter one of the same book, and the same book continues all the way to Revelation. The fact that Christians have circumcised the Bible and taken out the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not authoritative for Christians. The Old Testament is not something to take seriously for some Christians.
The commandments that God gave, the holidays that God gave to His people. They’re not for you, Christians. You’ve got Christmas. You’ve got, Saint Valentine’s day. You’ve got Halloween. What more do you want? You’ve got Easter, but that’s not the holiday that Yeshua, Jesus, and His apostles and is disciples observed. And that’s not the holidays that they, the New Testament, commands the Christians to observe.
You’ve got 1 Corinthians 5 that says, “Let us therefore celebrate the feast, for Christ is our Passover”. Talking about celebration of the Passover. But, no, the Christians prefer to listen to the church fathers, to the Greco-Roman church fathers that were pagan. Yeah.
All these things are here in this one chapter. And of course, one other thing, Moses is Levi. And it says in verse nine, this very strong statement. “So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priest, the sons of Levi, who bore the arc of the covenant of the Lord and to all elders of Israel.”
Alright, verse nine. “Moses wrote this law.” Okay. You wanna say this law means only the book of Deuteronomy? I could grant that, although I don’t agree with it. But I could grant that if you insist on it.
But even if you say this law, and if you say only the book of Deuteronomy, the book of Deuteronomy contains almost all the aspects of the Torah law — from Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy. It contains the holidays. It contains the 10 commandments. It contains the laws of torts, of damages, in the book of Deuteronomy. It contains the inheritance of the land, the book of the Deuteronomy. It contains prophetic chapters from which Paul draws most of his theology, like the next Torah portion that we’re gonna do next Shabbat, Ha’azinu.
Yeah. Hear these things. But when it says, Moses wrote the law — I was a student at Hebrew university for many years, had some of the most famous Bible scholars in the Jewish world, maybe in the world altogether. If I give you the names, they were the people that today in most of the universities in the world, they study the books of these people, like Shemaryahu Talmon, Jonas Greenberg, Abby Horovitz, Michael Stone, David Flusser.
These are, these were my teachers, folks. And some of them, in fact, Dr. Alexander was my first teacher. The first class and the first time I sat in a student’s chair at the Hebrew university. An Orthodox Jew stood there. And the first words he said, “Moses did not write the Torah”. Wow. An Orthodox Jew saying that.
But then I went to talk to him and, I asked him, “What do you really believe?” And he said, “Listen, I am an Orthodox Jew, so I believe that Moses wrote the Torah, according to our tradition, but the scientific approach to biblical criticism based on Wellhausen, and these German scholars, says that Moses didn’t write. So, I am supposed to swim in both seas: in the sea of tradition and in the sea of modern biblical scholarship.”
“But what do you really believe?” “I believe Moses wrote the Torah for myself, not as a professional scientist. I believe Moses wrote Torah.” And I believe that Moses wrote Torah also, because that’s what it says here in verse nine in chapter 31. One more thing. The end of chapter 31. Very difficult.
Verse 14 and on – the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, the day’s approach when you must die. Call Joshua, present yourself in the tabernacle of meeting that I may inaugurate him.” In other words, appoint him officially. Moses called Joshua, went and presented themselves to the Tabernacle of Meeting. Now, the Lord appeared at the Tabernacle — pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood above the door of the Tabernacle.
The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you will rest with your fathers. And these people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them. And they will forsake me and break my covenant, which I have made with them. Then my anger shall be aroused against them in that day. I will forsake them. I will hide my face from them and they shall be devoured and many evils and troubles shall befall them. And they will say that in that day ‘have not these evil come upon us because our God is not among us’. And I will surely hide my face in that day.”
And this whole thing of hiding God’s face and revealing God’s face is a key issue all the way to the prophets. And I want to end this text with the reading from the book of Ezekiel chapter 39 because it’s crucial for me and I think for you too, to see how prophetic the Torah is, that tells us what is going to happen before it happens. And we are all witnesses that it happened.
And when I read from chapter 39 of Ezekiel from verse 22 to the end of the chapter, I just pay attention to the phrase, “Hide my face and reveal my face to the children of Israel.” Because this is what we are seeing now from the days of Moses, prophetically announced by God to Moses and Joshua inside the tent of meeting in the Tabernacle.
Until today, we are witnesses of the truthfulness and the power of the gospel and the power of God’s word and above all the power of God — the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who created the world from the beginning and to the end to where there will be a new heaven and a new earth in Yeshua’s name.
In Ezekiel chapter 39 from verse 21 to verse 27, “I will set my glory among the nations. All the nations shall see my judgment, which I have executed and my hand, which I have laid on them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord, their God from the day – that day forward. And the Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity, because they were unfaithful to me. Therefore, I hide my face from them.”
Back to Deuteronomy. “I gave them into the hands of their enemies, and they fell by the sword.” Historical fact in the 20th century, only 6 million Jews died, but our history is full of it. Couple of thousands of years, “According to their uncleanness. And according to their transgression, I have dealt with them and hidden my face from them. Therefore, [verse 25], thus says the Lord, God. Now I will bring them, the captives of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel.”
Like Paul said, all Israel shall be saved. “and I will be jealous for my holy name after they have born their shame and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to me when they dwelt safely in their own land. And no one made them afraid. When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemy’s lands. And I am hollowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am the Lord, their God who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide my face from them anymore, for I shall have poured out my spirit on the house of Israel”, says the Lord God, amen. And amen.
Joseph Shulam: The Secret Things Belong to the Lord [2022 – Nitzavim]
The Torah portion this Shabbat is called Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20, and from the prophets the reading is from Isaiah 61:10-63:9. From the New Testament the reading in our congregation is from Romans 10:1-18.
The portion Nitzavim is one of my favorite Torah portions, for two reasons. First, it is a sign that we are ending the Torah reading cycle and the feast of Sukkot, then starting again the reading from Genesis chapter 1.
I really like this new beginning of the Torah cycle year after year. Every time that I read the Torah or hear the reading I receive new insights, and some phrase or word or verse jumps up into my conscience and gives me a jolt to search and look into the biblical text.
The second reason why I love this Torah portion is because of 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
This text is especially meaningful for me these days when so many people are sucked into mysticism and Kabbalah, and fall into the pit of spiritual deception — delving into areas that are not rational, which is like taking drugs, dealing with things that puff up the ego of the person with false security that he is doing something “secretive”, something special and exclusive, and receiving esoteric knowledge.
The true meaning and warning of this text is much more simple, and it is a warning to all people who seek God and want to follow and serve Him faithfully. There are things that we, normal and simple human disciples of Yeshua and children of God, need to leave alone. We are to concentrate on the revealed and practical.
The plain things that move us and motivate us to good deeds and actions, and the practical working-out of our faith into action, to bless people on the sidewalk level – people who walk on the same ground of this earth and have similar hungers and needs and desires and dreams like we do. Yes, those people who need God and need friends and need a community and need assurance that the Creator and Father of us all hears prayer and cares and love us, a love demonstrated in our relationship to others like us!
There are also things that we must know and leave up to God. There was a movement called Gnosticism that essentially started first in closed circles toward the end of the first century CE (AD) and continued strong into the 3rd Century CE. The term, based on the Greek “gnōsis” (”secret knowledge”), was coined in the 17th century, when it was applied liberally to ancient Christian heretical sects, especially those described by their orthodox contemporaries as radically dualistic and world-denying, and those who sought salvation through esoteric revelation and mystical spirituality. (Taken from Encyclopedia-Britannica definition of Gnosticism.)
The Lord is instructing Moses and the children of Israel that there are things and knowledge that belongs to God and we, the human disciples, ought to deal with those things that are clear revelation from God for us, for mankind, those things that are revealed in God’s word. In fact, it is my opinion that even the revealed things, the simple things that are assessable to us, are sometimes too much for us, much less dealing with Kabbalistic and esoteric issues and knowledge that, at best, is speculation and speculative for normal folk like me.
Most of those people whom I know, both Jewish disciples and non-Jewish disciples, that delve into the mystical and think that they have some kind of secret special spiritual knowledge end up to become false prophets — and for profit. This is the reason that I feel so good that the word of God, the Torah, gives us this very important and clear instruction:
“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
Personally, I have a hard enough time dealing with those things that are clear and demand practical action and executive power to do. Much less do I want to swim in unclear waters, where I can’t see either what is in the bottom of the pool or what is in front of me, and in what direction I need to swim to get to the safe shore.
This text for me is a compass and a border guarding me, as a disciple of Yeshua and a servant of God, to stay in the clear and safe, practical and useful, fields of corn where even on Shabbat I can pick and feed on it myself and help others feed and satisfy their hunger for God and fellowship with Yeshua and with the community of disciples of Yeshua in Israel and around the world.
Another approach to these words of God:
“For what is open and revealed in you and what is concealed in you, are equally known to Him. He will requite you for all that His omniscience observes in you, though it remain hidden from human beings. For do you not see that a human judge decides according to what has been established before him as fact, whether on the evidence of witnesses or by his own senses. If what was in the mind could be established for him, he would also take that into account in his decision. Since the blessed Creator knows everything equally well, it follows that He judges according to His knowledge, as it is said: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord, our G-d’ (Deut. 29:28).” — Rabbi Bechai Eben Pakuda, “Duties of the Heart”
We have a temptation to enter and delve into things that are mystical or esoteric, but the Lord gives us such clear and practical instructions to guide us into the practical and practicable things that can increase the good in the world and diminish the speculations, and attempts to lead us into practical actions to do good on Earth as the Lord does good for us!
I want to do what I have to do, and what I understand how to do, and whatever is clearly given to me to do. That is already a very big challenge just to do what is my duty and responsibility without involving total strange things that don’t really apply to me. If I am not a Levite or a priest, I don’t have to do the work of a Levite or a priest.
There is one more very important teaching in our Torah portion this Shabbat. Something that we must allow God to do for us, something that is deeply connected with the concept of the “New Man” in the New Testament.
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” — Deuteronomy 30:6 [NKJV]
This command is the second time that the circumcision of the heart appears in the book of Deuteronomy. The first time is also in the book of Deuteronomy in chapter 10:16:
“Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” — Deuteronomy 10:16
We must notice the difference and similarity between the two instances in a command of circumcising our hearts. Both are in the book of Deuteronomy.
The first case is in chapter 10:16, we are commanded to circumcise our own hearts. The second is towards the end of Deuteronomy, in chapter 30:6, and here God will circumcise our hearts. This difference is of great importance to us as disciples of Yeshua our Messiah, the savior of the world. Note that the theme is in three places in the New Testament: Romans 2:28,29; Colossians 2:11.
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” — Romans 2:28,29 [NKJV]
The apostle Paul in this texts says something that at first glance is hard for us as Jews to understand. Paul is saying something very profound to us as Jews. It is not enough to have been circumcised.
Jacob’s brother Esau was circumcised, but he was not to receive the inheritance, because he disposed it and sold it for a bowl of soup. A real Jew is one that is not only circumcised in his flesh, but whose circumcision is also inward in his heart, dedicated in the Spirit, and looking for God’s approval and praise, and not the praise of men.
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses…” — Colossians 2:11-13 [NKJV]
Both of these texts in the New Testament are written by the apostle Paul. The one in Colossians 2:11-13 is speaking to the gentiles. Like in all of Paul’s letters, when he uses the pronoun “you”, he always, without exception, is talking to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. When Paul uses the first personal pronouns “we, us, our”, Paul is talking to and about the Jewish disciples of Yeshua.
In the text of Colossians it is clear that he is speaking to the “you” — the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. It is clear that even after these non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua are circumcised without hands, by the circumcision of Christ, even then, in the next verses, they are now in Christ dead in their trespasses and still in the uncircumcision of their flesh, but made alive together with Him (Christ) who has made them alive together with Him by the fact that their trespasses (sins) are forgiven! In other words, these non-Jewish disciples of the Messiah (the Christ) have been circumcised without hands, i.e. spiritually (in their hearts), because their sins have been forgiven.
The importance of these texts is first for my Christian brothers and sisters to see and realize that the concept and the command for the circumcision of the heart comes from the Torah that God gave to Israel! Yes, the circumcision of the heart is from the Torah!
The apostle Paul does something that is quite unusual in his world. Paul applies the circumcision of the heart that is done without human hands to the gentiles who have given their lives to the God of Israel through the work of the Messiah, and by this Paul connects and enables the non-Jews that accept Yeshua as their Messiah and savior as a part of those who have joined Israel, like the mixed multitudes that looked at the homes of the Israelites, and understood that doom is coming to Egypt with the last and tenth plague of the death of the firstborn of Egypt, and they copied what the Israelites did, and joined them in the exodus from Egypt, and in the inheritance of the land of Canaan.
The circumcision of the heart that is done by God on the hearts of the Gentiles is something that the rabbis of the Pharisees don’t have a say-so, or a hand, or a right to control or stop. All that the rabbis can do is watch and see if these former pagans, idol worshipers have changed their ways, have joined the community of the saints and are doing what it is necessary to do to be a part of the community.
This is what the following text from the book of Romans 12 really indicates. Please remember that when The apostle Paul uses the send person plural pronoun “you” in all of its forms, he is speaking to the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. For the Jewish disciples of Yeshua Paul always uses the first personal pronoun, “we” or “us” or “our”…
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” — Romans 12:14-18
Of course the same rule would apply to the Jewish disciples of Yeshua who are being persecuted. And it is made clear for both Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua, living and serving in the diaspora and in the land of Israel.
In the following text, Paul is using himself and his lifestyle and ministry as a paradigm and example for both the Jewish and the non-Jewish disciples. The young people would say that this is Paul’s avatar, that is recommended for all of the disciples that he has brought to the Lord. It is a formula that also the great rabbis of the first half of the first century CE commanded to their disciples:
“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” — 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 [NKJV]
Note that the principle that the apostle Paul is presenting here is the same principle that Hillel the Elder presented in the Mishnah:
“He used to say: do His will as though it were your will, so that He will do your will as though it were His. Set aside your will in the face of His will, so that he may set aside the will of others for the sake of your will. Hillel said: do not separate yourself from the community, Do not trust in yourself until the day of your death, Do not judge your fellow man until you have reached his place. Do not say something that cannot be understood [trusting] that in the end it will be understood. Say not: ‘when I shall have leisure I shall study;’ perhaps you will not have leisure.” — The Ethics of the Fathers 2:4
Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Nitzavim [2022 – Nitzavim]
Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.
Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam and we’re in partnership with Brad TV. We are doing the whole year following the reading portions that are read in every synagogue in the world on the Sabbath day.
Today, we are beginning to approach the end of the year of reading and we are in Deuteronomy 29:10, and it reads like that:
“All of you stand today before the Lord your God, your leaders, and 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 one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water.”
Interesting beginning of this portion of the Torah. And it has several revelations in it that are missed in the translation. First of all, the word for stand, “All of you stand today,” is not the normal word for standing. It is a word that is very loaded and it appears several times in the five books of the Law of Moses. Most of the time it appears in the book of Genesis.
Nitzav, if you want to have the true context of it, comes from Genesis 19:26, when Lot and his two daughters and his wife run from Sodom because the angels of the Lord warned them that God is going to overturn Sodom. They run, but the angels tell Lot and his family, “Don’t look back.” His wife, we don’t know her name, but she looked back and she became a pillar of salt.
The word for pillar there is “nitzav”, the same root as the Hebrew word for “stand”. It doesn’t normal standing. It means standing like in Kung Fu, or in Taekwondo; stand firm, don’t budge, don’t move. Get ready to be fixated like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife was fixated in place, standing there like a statue in the place.
So God, through the Holy Spirit, tells Moses and the leadership of Israel, “Today, you are going to stand before the Lord, your leaders, your tribes, your elders, your officers, all the men of Israel, your children and your wives, and the strangers in the camp.” In other words, the appeal of God’s word in the book of Deuteronomy, like in all the Bible, is not strictly only for Jews, only for Israelites.
It’s for everybody that joined the camp of Israel; all the strangers and the mixed multitude that joined Israel in the Exodus. It is for anybody from any nation, from any tribe, from any language, from any culture that leaves idolatry behind, accepts the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and joins together with the people of Israel.
Dear brothers, this is also true in the New Testament. Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians 2:11 says, “You,” talking to the Gentiles, “You were without God and without hope,” that means hope of eternal life. “And without covenants,” means all the covenants in the plural, “and outside of the commonwealth of Israel, but now through the blood of Jesus Christ, all these things that you didn’t have, you have.” In other words, even you Gentiles are in covenantal relationship with the people of God, with the people of Israel.
And so we see here in this occasion, before the children of Israel cross the Jordan River, that there are strangers, Gentiles. Gentiles who joined Israel. And they’re standing there hearing the words of Moses; and not only hearing the word of Moses. In verse 12, this is what it said,
“That you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God makes with you today.”
In other words, those strangers, those strangers, Gentiles, who were with the camp of Israel, are standing there now and they’re entering into a covenantal relationship with the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. How do they do that? Through the blood of Jesus Christ, according to Ephesians 2.
You’re no longer strangers. “You were strangers,” in Ephesians 2, Paul says, “but you’re no longer strangers.” Now you are citizens in the same city as all the people of God, meaning Jerusalem; not this physical Jerusalem. There’s not room for all of you. But with the heavenly Jerusalem, there is room. There’s going to be room.
And why is that? So that God can keep his covenant with his people, with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. That’s in verse 12 of chapter 29 of the book of Deuteronomy. But it becomes even more interesting in chapter 29, verse 13.
Why is this new affirmation of the covenant of God and His oath with His people, including with the Gentile people who have joined with Israel? That He may establish you today as a people for Himself. That includes the Gentiles that are standing there with the rest of Israel. That He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
“I will make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, not only with those of you are standing here now.” They’re at the edge of the Jordan River in front of Jericho. No, not only you alone, “but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today.”
Wow! I have goosebumps all over my body because this text is such an affirmation of the gospel that is sent to all the nations before Yeshua ascends to Heaven and before Paul receives his commission from the elders of the church in Antioch of Syria. Whoa, dear brothers, this is very important; very, very important. I’m repeating this text from verse 14 of chapter 29:
“I make this covenant and this oath, not only with you alone, you who are standing here now, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today.”
You know, all the generations of Israel and all the generations of the Gentiles who have joined themselves through the blood of Jesus Christ, through the covenant of our Messiah, through the body of the Messiah; those who were strangers and now are no longer strangers, according to Ephesians chapter two, they come under this category of those who are not there with Israel at the edge of the Jordan River but who will, in the future, join in, standing before the Lord, receiving the covenant, and receiving the oath that God swears.
And of course, comes immediately, the warning against idolatry because idolatry is something that is insidious. It’s sneaky. It creeps under our faith in areas of our life that are not anointed by the Holy Spirit and not anointed and dedicated to the Lord God, and to Yeshua Mashiach, our Lord.
So, anything that our lives that is chaff, flies in the wind. But if we keep it, it becomes a source of idolatrous thinking first of all, and second of all, idolatrous practices, and idolatrous morals that are very different from the ones that God gave us in his word from Genesis to Revelation. What does it mean, idolatrous practices?
Well, idolatrous practices are anything that is connected with witchcraft. Witchcraft is forbidden in the book of Deuteronomy. Any form of witchcraft; necromancy, communicating with the dead, séances, amulets, different symbols that belong to idolatry and to superstition, all these things are idolatry.
And so, God is warning the children of Israel and all those from among the Gentles that have joined them, “Hey, stay away from all that you have seen in Egypt, all the glorious statues, and pyramids, and tombs, and sphinxes, and worship of the sun, and worship of nature. Stay away from these things. This is what you saw in Egypt. You don’t want to be there.”
These are called abominations in verse 17:
“You saw the abominations of their Egyptian idols, wood and stone, and silver and gold. You saw them. Stay away from these things. Anything that is even close to idolatry, escape.”
Escape, and I’ll tell you why. Because you may think that some things are innocuous, that they are not harmful. Yoga is only exercise, but it may not be only exercise. It may be a type of exercise that inspires you to forget trusting God and trust in yourself, in your body, in your ability, in your agility, anything like that. I am very much for sports and for exercise.
When I was young, I did a lot. Because I didn’t see with two eyes, I couldn’t play ball game, games like ping pong, tennis, soccer, basketball. I couldn’t play them because I saw only with one eye. So I got involved in gymnastics, and in diving, and in different kinds of sports. And I did a lot and I enjoyed it. But there are some things that have connections with idols, and especially from Far Eastern martial arts.
So you need to be able to do them, learn the martial art, or you could get the Israeli martial art which is Krav Maga, which is very popular and it has no connection with idols, only with ability to defend yourself and take care of yourself physically. But whatever it is that even smells like idolatry, escape it, escape it. Yes, escape it.
Another thing that is very interesting in our portion of the Torah comes from chapter 30. It’s still a part of our reading, and it’s got parallels to things in the New Testament, and that is the circumcision of our heart. But let me start the reading from Deuteronomy chapter 30, and from verse 10:
“If you obey the voice of the Lord your God to keep his commandment and his statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, for this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious, or too far from you. It is not in Heaven that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven from us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea that we should say, ‘Who will go over to the sea for us and bring it to us that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word of the Lord is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart that you may do it.”
Now, dear brothers, this text is quoted in the New Testament, not quoted as a historical note. It’s quoted as authority in the New Testament. And it’s very, very important for us to see the context in which this text is taken. I am going to tell you where it’s coming from.
I started reading from verse 10, but I’m going to go to verse 13 and tell you that Paul is quoting this text in Romans 10:6-7. And then the next text that we read, verse 12, 13, 14, is from Romans 10:14-15. And then, verse 14 of Deuteronomy chapter 30 is quoted in Romans chapter 10 from verse 8 to 10, and also in Hebrews 2:1 and 3, and also in Colossians 3:16.
In other words, this teaching from the book of Deuteronomy is not just in the Law of Moses, which some Christians, not all Christians, look at the Law of Moses with kind of a, ahh, look. No, this is the word of God. And what is being taught here by Moses, on the plains of Moab, in front of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, is as important for our Christian brothers and sisters as it is for any Israelite in all times.
Why is it important? Because of the next verse, verse 15 of chapter 30, and this is one of the great important verses. “Look, today I am giving you a choice.” I’m translating from the Hebrew because I think it’s a little bit more understandable for our modern ear. “Look, today I’m giving you a choice. You can choose life, which is good, or you can choose death, which is bad. I command you today, love the Lord your God, walk in His path, keep His commandments, and His laws, and His precepts, and you will live, and you will multiply, and you will grow, and God is going to bless you in the land, this land which God has given you as an inheritance.”
Wow. Wow. It’s very, very important, dear brothers and sisters, and there is one more command in our portion of the reading this week.
And that is that God promises that He is going to circumcise our hearts. In chapter 10 of Deuteronomy, the command is, “You circumcise your own hearts,” but in chapter 30, the command is, the Lord, out of his mercy, out of his patience for us, His children, says, “Don’t worry. If you do what I’m asking you to do, if you walk in my path, you will be delivered from the rule of death and curse. You will be blessed.”
Love the Lord your God. You will inherit the land that he promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And this land is not only physical land. It’s got a spiritual property that we inherit, everybody that is a disciple of Yeshua, a faithful disciple of Yeshua, inherits the spiritual value and promises of this land that apply all over the world of God.
So yes, our portion is very rich. Our time is up, but please read it. Please read from Deuteronomy 29:10 to 30:20. Please read Isaiah 60, the whole chapter. Please read Luke 4, the whole chapter, because God’s word is medicine for the sin-sick soul, and it is power, and wisdom, and love, and hope for all of us who are living on this earth and waiting for our eternal inheritance in the presence of the almighty God and in the presence of our Lord, Yeshua; the God who put on flesh and came to dwell among us.
In His name, God bless you. Shalom from Jerusalem.
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.