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

Joseph Shulam: God Came Down [2019]

We just finished reading from Genesis 1:1 – 6:8. Last week I said that Genesis is one of the most important texts in the whole Bible. It is the basis of everything that will follow all the way to the book of Revelation. It starts with man and woman in the best of possible states, and it ends with God regretting that He creating man.

This shabbat’s parasha is just a little better, but it also starts with a God, who in spite of his anger at the generation of Noah, and in spite of wanting to destroy humanity, sees a person who is relatively righteous. He decides to save eight souls of Noah’s family, and essentially restart humanity from these eight souls.

God’s plan is successful, but not without big problems. The act of saving humanity from certain death in the flood does not cure the problem of sin, even with Noah. At the end of the story, after the flood, his son sins, and Noah is an accomplice to Noah’s sin, because he, Noah, invents wine and gets drunk.

The flood ends, and there is a “re-creation” of humanity through Noah’s three sons. Not long after that great act of salvation, through the ark that the Lord commanded Noah to build, humanity again falls into a desire to hedge themselves from the Lord’s rule over His creation, and especially over mankind.

Netivyah | Parashat Noach | “Noah's Ark” from “Bible Pictures with Brief Descriptions” by Charles Foster, published in 1897, Philadelphia, PA
“Noah’s Ark” from “Bible Pictures with Brief Descriptions” by Charles Foster (1897)

So, they decide to unite and to build themselves for a defense two instruments, unity of all flesh, and a mega-tower will keep God out of their affairs. In chapter 11, we find, for a second time, this idea that God is talking to someone that is very close to Him, and they make a decision together to destroy the tower and scatter the people dividing them into nations.

So, this second parasha, the very next week after the fall of God’s creation, Adam and Eve, man and woman, we have the fall of humanity again. They are no longer suffering from loneliness, but now they suffer from fear and insecurity. They want to defend themselves from their vulnerability, so that God would not repeat His control of men and slow their ungodly desires.

God comes down with someone and talks in the plural to someone who is accompanying Him:

“But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city.” – Genesis 11:5-8 [NKJV]

God comes down! There are a few texts that this phrase appears in, and in every case the dismay of the Jewish rabbis is great. How and why does the Creator of the Universe have to come down and step into the circumstances? Could God, the creator of the Universe, not command hordes of angels to come down and destroy the Tower of Babel?

He had angels come down to talk to Abraham and about the destruction of Sodom. But, in this case, God Himself and someone else came down.

The text says, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language…” This is very similar to the text in Genesis 1:26:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26 [NKJV]

This within itself is of great interest. The Lord came down. God investigates man’s doings personally, and He came down with someone of significance to discuss what would be done with humanity, that built the Tower of Babel as an act of rebellion against Him.

The depicting of God in human terms appears again in Genesis 18:21, in connection with the divine scrutiny of the situation at Sodom and Gomorrah. This figurative usage implies no limitation on God’s omnipotence, for the divine “descent” presupposes prior knowledge of human affairs from on high, and God’s subsequent counteraction unqualifiedly exhibits His absolute sovereignty.

There is not so subtle irony here. Man builds a tower “with its top in the sky”. They want to reach to heaven where God is thought to dwell.

The Bible presents God’s infinite transcendence and incomparable supereminence. By having God “go down” in order to scrutinize the scene of what men are doing down there, and their unity in order to block God’s authority over them, they become a parody to the point of comedy.

They want to unite against God’s authority and God comes down and topples their tower of cards. In place of unity, they get scattered and alienated from the Creator. In the next chapter, God choses Abraham and his seed to fix that alienation and unite mankind by a Man who will eventually judge all flesh, Yeshua the Messiah.

It is not likely that the Lord came down and brought unnamed angels with Him, to take advice and counsel from the angels, and to divide and spread mankind by giving each his language and territory. Like Deuteronomy says:

“And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.” – Deuteronomy 4:19 [NKJV]

Moses is warning the children of Israel from falling into idolatry by explaining to them that the host of heaven, that they feel driven to worship, the sun and the moon, the stars, are all what God gave the nations to worship, but Israel is to worship God alone.

What happened in this event of the Tower of Babel is that the whole world is divided, and to each is given their territory and language, and even the worship of the powers of heaven, the sun and the moon and the stars. If you notice, these are the main gods of the nations around Israel – Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, the Hittites, and in fact all the pagan nations.

What happens in chapter 12 of Genesis is that God chooses Abraham and his seed to bring back all the nations to the knowledge and understanding and the worship of the One God, who is the Father of all, the Lord of all. Abraham, Israel, are God’s choice to fix what was broken in the Tower of Babel.

Our Torah portion of Noah, and Genesis, are the demonstration that disaster and destruction and death does not cure the evil desires of humanity, and now God chooses Abraham and his seed to save the world.

As you can see, the Book of Genesis starts with one great calamity after another. It is not a typical religious book or a spiritual narrative. It is the most realistic picture of the human condition.

We are still dealing with the same human condition, and the world has only a few Mary Poppins’ and Goody Two Shoes’. Even Poppies and Snow Whites are hard to find.

There are more Cain and Abel families than the “Little House on the Prairie” type families. We are, as disciples of Yeshua, put to the test every day. We are forced to choose who are we going to be like – Noah, Abraham, and Enoch, or Nimrod and Cain!

It is incumbent upon us, the disciples of Yeshua the Messiah, to have the wisdom and the strength to make the right choices. To do this based on the mission that God has put on us, as Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua. We are commanded to be the salt and light of this world, to make the choices that have an eternal good promise!

Read the Bible every day and every week, and follow the order from the beginning to the end. This is the only way you will get the full picture. Trust no one with your soul. You yourself guard it and keep it close to the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, who is the only One who can, through His Son, Yeshua, guarantee your eternal life in bliss and the joy of the Lord.

Do good to all men, and above all, to those of the household of the Lord!

Joseph Shulam: We are All in Danger of Falling [2016]

This Shabbat’s reading is the story of Noah and the flood. It is really hard to imagine an artist that is totally disappointed by his grand creation.

After the death of Pablo Picasso there were thousands of paintings and drawings found in his basement. They were all original Picasso paintings and drawings. He never showed these works, they were not up to Picasso’s standard, but he did not destroy his works, he kept them and protected them, but just didn’t show them.

Now these same paintings are being sold for many thousands of dollars. Imagine how big the disappointment of the Creator of the world, the Father of mankind, must have been to decide to almost totally destroy the work of His hands.

The One and only God of the universe, the God who is described as “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”, made a decision that humanity is almost beyond repair and brought on the flood.

Yes, the human race in the days of Noah is described in Genesis as:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’” – Genesis 6:5-7 [NKJV]

We must remember that there was no idolatry in that generation of Noah. Idolatry was introduced to the world only after the Tower of Babel’s division of human beings into nations. The sins of the generation of Noah were moral, evil, and there was no redeemable factor in the majority of the human race.

The evil was so big that God, the Father of all, the long-suffering and gracious Creator, just about decided to destroy man and start over. It is sad to read that the Creator said: “I am sorry that I have made them.”

The story of Noah actually raises another red flag that greatly concerns me. Here you have a man that is described as,

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” – Genesis 6:8,9 [NKJV]

God saves Noah and his family from destruction in the flood. Yes, soon after the flood we read:

“And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent… And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.” – Genesis 9:20,21, 24 [NKJV]

This story is a red flag for me and I suppose it ought to be for all of us who serve God. The danger is there for anyone, preacher, elder, rabbi, or doctor, to fall. To fall even after receiving such a great blessing and so much grace and love from God.

We all must be on watch constantly and make sure that after receiving God’s grace and gifts we don’t turn around and bring shame on ourselves and our families. There is no guarantee that if today we are men of God and servants of the Most High, tomorrow we could not fall.

With that said I must ask you all to pray for your leaders and for those men of God who are serving the body of the Messiah, and also pray for me and for all the staff of Netivyah.

Joseph Shulam: God’s Sadness and Grief [2013]

The reading today in every synagogue is the story of Noah. The reading starts in Genesis 6:9 and ends in Genesis 11:24. Probably this is one of the hardest texts to understand in the whole Bible, and one of the saddest tests. What makes it one of the saddest texts in the Bible is the fact that it says:

“And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” – Genesis 6:6 [NKJV]

The English translations don’t want to use the word “saddened”, so they use the word “grieved” instead.

In this verse we also read that the Lord repented that He made man:

“And it repented Jehovah that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” – Genesis 6:6 [ASV]

The ASV has correctly translated right the word “nicham”, which really means “repented”. The NKJV translated it: “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the Earth.”

“Sorry” or “repented” or “saddened” or “grieved”, it is a sad text that speaks volumes about God and His creation.

This is especially true when you consider that God does not make mistakes, and that God is in full control of His creation. God knows all things before they happen. How could it be that God repented or was sorry that He created man on the Earth?

These chapters in Genesis hold some of the most important concepts that direct our lives and give us a better understanding of God and how He functions.

This portion of the reading starts with these verses that speak of how bad humanity has become, and it ends with the Tower of Babel, after the flood. Even Noah himself has committed a grievous sin, after the Lord saved him and his family from certain death by water, with the other members of humanity.

If you look at the story of Noah and the flood in this dark and morose light it would be easy to become very pessimistic, even depressed. However, the truth is that in all the statements about the sinfulness of man and God’s role as the responsible adult, God could have designed everything different, from the Garden to the flood, to keep from creating a situation that would condemn man for his bad choices.

The spot of light and demonstration of God taking responsibility for His actions is seen in the decision and one-sided covenant that He makes with humanity, not to destroy the world again with water. The similarity between the beginning of chapter 6 and the text in 8:21 is shocking.

The very same reason why God decided to do the flood and wipe out humanity, except the eight souls of Noah’s family, is the reason why He decided not to do destroy the world again.

Here is the wonderful reality of the God who created the world and all of us human beings. Remember, dear reader, that when God created the world He said “behold it is good” six times only, but on Tuesday he said it twice. When he created man and woman God did not say, “it is good.”

The grace of God is seen in the flood in both the harshness of the flood, an act of exercising justice and payment for sin, and in saving Noah and his family, because Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Even in the punishment for the horrible sins of that generation, God showed His character full of grace and truth, lovingkindness and mercy.

Yehuda Bachana: Noah Was Not a Man of Words [2017]

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

Our weekly Torah portion begins with the following:

This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God. – Genesis 6:9 [NKJV]

And already from the first verse we have questions. A question of relativity: what is a just man, perfect in his generations?

The accepted interpretation is that, according to his generation he was righteous. But if he was found to be in the generation of the righteous, such as Abraham or Moses, he would not be so esteemed. In relative terms – in relation to his surroundings – Noah was a righteous man.

The criticism is stinging, and even insulting: it says that indeed there was a righteous man, but righteous in comparison with people who were completely evil. So much so that God had to destroy them and wash them away from the world. And if he were born in the generation of Abraham, Noah would not be considered to be much. He would have just been an average man.

Why don’t the commentators like Noah?

Why don’t the commentators like Noah? I think it is because of his silence. For example, Abraham hears about the desire to destroy Sodom. Immediately he starts negotiating with God, and he doesn’t let up until he gets the answer he wants. That if there are 10 righteous people in Sodom, God will not destroy the city.

Or look at Moses – at the time of the sin of the golden calf, or any other sin of Israel, when God wanted to destroy and/or punish the people of Israel, Moses fiercely protects the people. He goes so far as to risk his own self:

Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written. – Exodus 32:32 [NKV]

What Moses is saying is: either You forgive the people – or You count me with them and erase me from the Book of Life as well.

But Noah did not say a single word, for an entire world.

God wants to destroy the world – and Noah is silent, letting it happen without saying a single word neither in the defense of humanity, nor in the defense of all the creatures of the world.

The difference between putting on a coat or lighting a stove

This can be described as the difference between putting on a coat or lighting a stove.

We are approaching the winter, and thank God we have been blessed with rain, and we must pray for more and more rain. And in the context of the winter, when it’s cold, there are those who wear a coat, in order to warm up, and there are those who light an oven to heat others.

And this is the argument of many commentators. Noah was righteous – but it is not enough to be just “OK”. It is not wise to just build a personal rescue ship – to put on a coat and warm up alone.

Compare this with Abraham, who defended and tried to save even his complete opposites – the wicked Sodomites.

The understanding is that it is not enough to just to wear a coat, you can and should light the oven and warm the environment.

Noah is not a preacher or a Torah innovator, Noah is not a man of prophecy, or a philosopher, he is not a man of thought or speech, he is not any of these things. So what is Noah? He was a man of work, a man of construction, a man of manual labor. Contrary to Noah’s ark, when there was a need for a small box – like a shoebox – to float for a bit on the river, they got Moses’ mother Jochebed. And look what a big deal they made out of it!

But when we need to save the human race, the animals, the vegetation, and all the wisdom needed to preserve creation, God got Noah, and our commentators do not approve of him.

Noah is good with large arks, with rescue missions, with practical responsibility, with physical construction and the working of the soil. He is not good with philosophical discussions or high spirituality.

Every member of the community must have a role

The New Testament gives us several lists of gifts, talents, abilities, etc. Some of these are gifts for physical labor and some are spiritual gifts:

For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Messiah, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:4-8 [NKJV] (amended)

Notice the end of the passage that we just read, “…he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Most importantly, everything we do must be with cheerfulness – if we do anything – it must look like we enjoy doing it, that we’re doing it with all our heart.

Every person has a role, every person has a gift, and it is not possible nor is it right to make a comparison between gifts, people, and whatever role is considered to be more important.

Every member of the community must have a role, whether it is an official position, or an unofficial role, such as encouragement, listening, caring for the surroundings, prayer, or visiting the sick and the elderly. We are all members of the Body of Messiah, and we all must give our part for the better of the community.

It can not be that there is a member of the community, who has been with us for years, who has no official or unofficial role.

It is required of every member of the community to continue to give something of his/her own accord to the benefit of the community. Just like in a kibbutz.

Each of us has skills and gifts, and we must use them, and contribute them to the community!

Noah was not a man of words

Back to Noah, his mission, and the outcome.

The first man was given specific roles in the Garden of Eden, and all of them are connected to the earth. Notice how important the matter of earth and vegetation is in the creation of the world.

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.” – Genesis 1:29 [NKJV]

And it goes on:

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat…” – Genesis 1:15,16 [NKJV]

And the direct punishment of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is:

Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:17b-19 [NKJV]

So much land – and how does the Torah describe Noah?

And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. – Genesis 9:20 [NKJV]

Noah is not the captain of a ship; he is not a sailor; he is not the savior of the world nor the righteous man of the world. First and foremost, he is a man of the soil. He doesn’t settle just with the fruit as it is picked. Noah plants, preserves, and creates wine from the vine.

God cursed the first man (“cursed is the ground for your sake”) and Noah comes and works the soil and saves creation, by processing, planting, and raising food.

According to this test, Noah provides the flour and only after him Abraham and the Torah can come, according to the idea, “if there is no flour there is no Torah .”

In conclusion:

  • Noah was a righteous man in his generation, was he righteous in relation to the evil environment? Or in his own right? It does not matter, what matters is that he was a man of deeds, he built the ark, he cared to feed all the creatures, and he replanted the Earth. He was a man of deeds – and not a man of words.
  • We cannot judge between different gifts, we can, however, judge whether the person is doing his or her job properly, and with cheerfulness.
  • There is no work or gift that is more important or less important. It is for each person to perform the role given to him or her. If we do not join hands and contribute to the community with everything we can give, we will never be able to make progress.
  • We are indebted to the rabbi and the guide, just like we are indebted to the cantor, just like we are indebted to those who arrange the chairs, and just like we are indebted to those who pay the electric bill. Without a combination of all these and more, we will not be able to exist – let alone advance.

Shabbat Shalom.

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