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: Better to be Too Serious Than Too Casual [2020]

On Shabbat Jews around the world will be reading the parasha (Torah portion) called Shemini from Leviticus 9:1-11:47. The Haftarah, reading from the prophets is 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17. The New Testament reading (for Messianic synagogues) is from the book of Acts 10:9-22.

The reading from the Torah describes one of the most interesting tragedies in the Bible. Moses has just completed seven days of training and instructions for the Priests (the cohanim). Now it is the time for these sanctified servants of God and the people to get to work and practice what they have learned.

In Leviticus 9, Moses provides specific instructions with regard to what sacrifices are to be brought to the Tabernacle for the sacrificial ceremony. The entire leadership of Israel has been gathered together to witness the inauguration of the altar of the Lord. Everyone is dressed for the event.

Aaron is wearing his special priestly garment. He has on the golden breastplate (the ephod) with the names of all of the 12 tribes, the twelve precious stones shimmering in the light of the desert sun. Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s two eldest sons are next to their father ready to perform their duty as priests and to present the offering in front of all of Israel.

This is the first time that the Tabernacle is going to be fully functional. Everyone is under great pressure and the ceremony starts and the two young priests who have been trained and rehearsed for a whole week, are now expected to do their priestly duty and bring the fire to set on fire the burnt offering which is on the altar.

Here is the tragedy, Nadab and Abihu took a shortcut and brought fire from the wrong place, strange fire, not from the holy fire that was prepared for this occasion. This is how the text in Leviticus 10:1-3, describes what happened:

“Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace.” – Leviticus 10:1-3 [NKJV]

Some criticize the harsh punishment that The Lord used against the sons of Aaron. A tragedy without doubt. A tragedy is not an act of no choice. A tragedy is always something that could and should have been avoided and prevented. If some very bad thing happens that is out of our human control, it is “force majeure”, an act of Heaven.

No human being can be punished for a volcano that erupted, or a tsunami that struck a coast line and destroyed a city. The event that brought the Lord to such anger that he took the lives of these two sons of Aaron was something that could have and should have been avoided. These men spent a week with Moses teaching and training and rehearsing their duties as priests serving the Lord Most High!  So what caused these young priests to make such a bad mistake?

The text of Leviticus 10 does not say explicitly why Nadab and Abihu did this stupid deed, but it does hint and give us a reasonable explanation of why these well trained young priests did this terrible thing that angered the Almighty God.

“Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: ‘Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean.’” Leviticus 10:8-10 [NKJV]

Because this command of the Lord through Moses comes immediately after the tragic event of the death of the children of Aaron the connection is made and an explanation is given by the ancient Jewish rabbinical authorities that Nadab and Abihu were drunk during the ceremony of the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Therefore the Lord commands Moses and Aaron and his two surviving sons not to drink strong drink (alcohol) when they are preforming their duty and service to the Lord.

I imagine what went on in the minds of these two young priests, sons of Aaron: They probably said to themselves, “This event is so important and so holy that we can’t make mistakes. All of Israel’s leadership will be there watching us. Maybe it would be wise for us to drink a little and be more relaxed and not so tense and nervous when we serve the Lord and the people.” So, they took one glass of whiskey and soda, just to be a little more relaxed, not so tense.

This is a very important message for all those who serve the Lord and the people of God: It is not good to be so tense and full of fear when you serve the Lord. However, it is much more serious to take your service in God’s Kingdom lightly or take lightly the Lord and His serious attitude toward the instructions and commands that He gives us, His servants, in all that pertains to His instructions.

Just take as an example the instructions that the Apostle Paul gives us concerning the communion, and let these instructions put a little more of the fear of the Lord in every servant of God when it comes to our public service to the Lord and His people.

Share with your pastors, rabbis, and preachers!

Joseph Shulam: God is Not to be Treated Casually [2019]

The Torah portion this next Shabbat is called “Shemini” (the eighth day). The reading starts in Leviticus 9:1 and ends in Leviticus 11:47. The Haftarah (the reading from the prophets) comes from 2 Samuel 6:1-7:17. We read from the New Testament from Mark 14:1-72, and Acts 10:9-22, 34-35.

So, this Shabbat we will be reading no small amount of text. The Jewish principle in worship and in the Synagogue is that “the product is more important than the salesman.” Interpreting this to plain language: the Bible is the word of God, and that is our product. The rabbi (pastor) is the salesman.

This principle ought to be adopted also by evangelical churches. Typically speaking, in most churches that I have visited around the world the situation is reversed. The “leader” (rabbi, pastor), is the product, the producer, and I don’t know who the salesman is. Maybe the salesman is the person who speaks a few words before the contribution is taken.

However, for Jews and for us, the most important part of the service is the reading the word of God. I can say the same thing in different words: hearing from God is the most important thing – hearing from God is the reading of His Word! The rabbi only dishes it out with the mashed potatoes and the green beans as side dishes.

The Torah portion (Lev. 9:1) starts with the words:

“It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.”

When the Word of God gives us a “date,” “on the eighth day”, and all the places that there is an indication of a “date” – the Holy Spirit thought that it is important enough to give us this information. If we read the text and just ignore that date – we are missing something that the Holy Spirit considered important enough to include in the Word of God.

Let me give you an example from the Gospel of John. John 2:1-2,

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding.”

We see here that the wedding was held on the third day. What does this mean? What day is the third day in the Hebrew calendar? It is Tuesday.

The Hebrew calendar does not have names for the days. The English calendar has Sunday, Monday… these names are names of pagan gods. On the day of the sun, they worshiped the sun. On the day of the moon, they worshiped the moon.

In Hebrew, it is the first day, the second day, the third day of the week, and so on. So, why are the Jewish weddings always held on Tuesday? Because weddings need a double blessing. Tuesday is the only day in the story of creation when God says twice, “Behold it is good!”

Back to our reading from Leviticus 9, “on the eighth day” – what day is it? It is after the week of initiation of the priests and the beginning of the functioning of the Tabernacle in full force.

In other words, it is after the graduation of the priests, and they are now starting to function as full-fledged priests in the Tabernacle of the Lord. If they were under initiation for seven days, that is one week, the eighth day is Sunday. The first day of the week!

The second story of great importance in this portion is in Leviticus chapter 10, the two sons of Aaron the High Priest bring strange fire to the altar, and fire from Heaven devours them, and they are burned alive.

This event is a traumatic event for all of Israel, and the interesting part is that Moses forbids Aaron his brother from going through the customary practices of grief for a close relative who has died.

This is what God says to Moses in verse 3,

“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying: “By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; And before all the people I must be glorified.”’ So Aaron held his peace.”

Here is the biggest lesson that I learn from this text, a lesson that is of vital importance for our time: God is not to be treated casually. He demands His sanctity and He must be “honored” – glorified in front of the people.

This event seems very harsh to our modern Hellenistic/humanistic values. But, when you think of God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and all that is around our galaxy, and maybe more… you begin to understand the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron.

Here is the score. These young priests, sons of Aaron the High Priest, just graduated from their training, and this is the first day of their full-fledged service before the Lord. They immediately started breaking the instructions of the Lord and doing what they themselves thought to be better.

It was not a mistake. It was these two young priests thinking that they know better what is possible. They probably had in mind something like, “Why should we go so far to bring the fire from the altar? There is a fire much closer, much easier, we will make things easier for ourselves.”

This was the serious sin that they have committed, it was dishonoring God publicly. The Lord of all could not allow this to happen at the very inauguration of the Tabernacle. If Aaron’s boys start by dishonoring the Lord in public what would the other young servants of the Lord do?

The Lord is a loving God, but He does demand those who are serving Him in a holy precinct, like the Tabernacle, or in church or synagogue before the people of God, to show minimal respect, dignity, and honor to the Creator of the world.

Let each one of who is leading and standing before God’s people take account of this story and remember that God is not a casual buddy of ours. Yes, we sing the song, “What a friend we have in Jesus . . .” He is our friend, but He is also the Son of God and our Lord and Savior, and the judge of all flesh for eternity. Pastors and rabbis, let us consider that we serve the very same God that Nadab and Abihu, and Aaron their father, served.

Joseph Shulam: God’s Grace Wins Over His Judgment [2017]

This Sabbath the reading of the Torah is called “Shemini”, that is the eighth day, because the beginning of the reading:

“It came to pass on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel.” – Leviticus 9:1 [NKJV]

However the most famous part of this week’s parasha is the first half of chapter 10. It is the story of Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought “strange fire” to the altar, and fire came down from Heaven and devoured them instantly.

The questions that everyone is dealing with are: What is the strange fire? Why did Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu bring the strange fire? Why did Moses not intercede for his nephews?

Some traditional Christian commentators use this story to show the harshness of God’s judgment in the so-called “Old Testament”. If however the readers would continue reading the rest of the chapter, maybe they would gain some insight or answers to the above questions.

There is a second story in chapter 10 of Leviticus. Yes, Nadab and Abihu sinned with the strange fire, but their other two brothers, Eleazar and Ithamar, who were also priests and sons of Aaron, sinned in a much more serious way, and yet nothing happened to them.

Aaron pleaded for himself and his sons, and Moses heard his brother’s plea and approved it. These two children of Aaron, Priests, Eleazar and Ithamar were given instruction by Moses and Aaron:

“Take the grain offering that remains of the offerings made by fire to the Lord, and eat it without leaven beside the altar; for it is most holy. You shall eat it in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due, of the sacrifices made by fire to the Lord; for so I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering you shall eat in a clean place, you, your sons, and your daughters with you; for they are your due and your sons’ due, which are given from the sacrifices of peace offerings of the children of Israel. The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering they shall bring with the offerings of fat made by fire, to offer as a wave offering before the Lord. And it shall be yours and your sons with you, by a statute forever, as the Lord has commanded.” – Leviticus 10:12-15 [NKJV]

The first command for these two sons of Aaron was: eat the grain offering beside the altar without leaven in a holy place. The second command: the breast of the wave offering shall be eaten in a clean place. The third command: The thigh of the heave offering and the breast of the wave offering with the fat made by fire were to be offered as a wave offering before the Lord.

These three commands were not kept by the two lasts sons of Aaron:

“Why have you not eaten the sin offering in a holy place, since it is most holy, and God has given it to you to bear the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord? See! Its blood was not brought inside the holy place; indeed, you should have eaten it in a holy place, as I commanded.” – Leviticus 10:17,18 [NKJV]

These sins of Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron, were much more serious than the strange fire that Nadab and Abihu brought to the altar. But they did not die, nor did they get punished.

Aaron and Moses interceded for these sons, and in the end Moses heard Aaron’s pleading, and it is said: Moses heard and was content. In other words, the Lord did not punish these two sons of Aaron and Aaron himself, because Moses understood, and Aaron’s explanation was satisfactory for Moses.

We have read two stories in the same chapter. In the first story, there is a very quick and harsh judgement, and both sons of Aaron die by divine fire from heaven. Even Aaron is not allowed to mourn for his two sons. God had no mercy for these two sons of Aaron.

In the second story, there are the two last sons of Aaron – Ithamar and Eleazar. They sin in three things, and God accepts Moses and Aaron’s understanding of the very difficult circumstances, and if the last two sons of Aaron and Aaron himself die – there would be no priests in Israel. The house of Aaron would be decimated.

For this reason, God’s relativity in judgment and provision of grace and lovingkindness wins over His judgment. Don’t say that the Torah has no mercy and grace, or no grace and truth. Read the entire chapter 10 of Leviticus.

Yehuda Bachana: What it Really Means to be Kosher [2018]

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

I hope that everyone had a meaningful Passover. We had a great holiday, in fact, it was very hard for me to get back to work. This Shabbat we read and study Parashat Shemini. Our parasha speaks of kosher laws, especially regarding animals that we are forbidden to eat. The swine, a notoriously unclean animal, is mentioned in our parasha.

In addition, the famous teaching that appears in different formulations in the Bible, “Be holy, because I am holy,” (Leviticus 11:44 [NIV]) also appears at the end of this portion.

Further, two major historical events occur: the dedication of the Tabernacle and the unexpected death of Aaron’s sons.

“Be holy, because I am holy.”

The kosher laws have been derived and preserved in the collective consciousness of the Jewish people and have never been removed. In fact, the swine, or rather the avoidance of it, has become a central symbol of Judaism.

In each generation we try to find an explanation of why God commanded us to keep from unkosher foods.

Some have determined that the kosher laws and restrictions help maintain the distinction between the Jew and the rest of the world. While others decided that the kosher laws were given for health reasons, that the Jewish diet was a recipe for better health.

It’s possible that God may have given the kosher laws for both reasons. As humans, we can find a thousand reasons why God forbade us to eat pork, but the truth is, they are irrelevant to the discussion – God commanded us, and so we obey.

After the long list of unkosher animals comes the commandment of God, “Be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 [NIV]). This commandment is stated in the context of eating kosher.

It is used to indicate the importance of observing God’s commandments. Likewise, to make it clear to the people of Israel and to us, that we have the need to preserve purity, including what enters our mouths and what comes out of them.

What it Really Means to be Kosher

Eventually, we come to one of the old arguments about kosher laws in the Judeo-Christian and Messianic world, when Yeshua talks about what goes into someone’s mouth:

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” – Matthew 15:11 [NIV]

This saying of Yeshua seemingly contradicts the kosher laws of the Torah, and there are people who interpret this passage as giving them permission to eat anything. It should be clear to us that this is not Yeshua’s intent, he is speaking in the manner that the prophet Isaiah did.

For example, when Isaiah said that God does not want sacrifices or offerings, but rather that there be kindness amongst men, this notwithstanding that the Torah explicitly commands the offering of sacrifices.

In a similar manner, Yeshua said that what enters the mouth defiles a man for a limited time. In fact, the next day that person will be clean from the impurity of the food.

The words that come out of the mouth, however, have the power to defile or harm others for much longer than a day. When Miriam spoke against Moses, she immediately became leprous, which makes a person unclean for much longer than eating all unclean things together.

According to Yeshua’s perception, there is no comparison between the severity of the act of slander and eating. Just as there is no comparison between the severity of the act of lying, theft, or murder, and yet we are commanded to avoid all of these.

The Punishment of Aaron’s Sons

Torah commentators offer various explanations for the sin of Nadab and Abihu.

This Shabbat we finally read about the dedication of the Tabernacle. In the second part of the Book of Exodus, we read a detailed review of the Tabernacle and its vessels.

Following that was the instruction regarding the sacrificial practices in the Tabernacle that were described to us at the beginning of the Book of Leviticus. Now, this parasha begins with the dedication of the Tabernacle.

In the middle of this important and happy event, the priestly family and the people of Israel were tragically traumatized: the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu the priests, were killed in the Tabernacle, right in the middle of the celebrations.

“Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” – Leviticus 10:1,2 [NIV]

The reason for the severe punishment of the sons of Aaron is explicitly written in the Bible: the offering of “unauthorized fire.” Torah commentators have attempted to interpret this sin. They spectated that perhaps they came in drunk from wine or they came in without washing their hands and feet.

Why Did God Strike Nadab and Abihu?

There are those who say that they wanted to take authority from Moses and Aaron and start a rebellion, or perhaps it was even a spiritual ecstasy. There are many possibilities to discuss.

In my opinion, there are three possibilities that exceed the others in their logic:

The first is spiritual ecstasy, they became uncontrollably excited and broke God’s instructions in public, this interpretation speaks of innocence, not evil, and not malice.

The second interpretation talks about rebellion, in effect an attempt by the sons of Aaron to take over the institution of the priesthood as well as the nation.

The third interpretation targets wine as the culprit. That is to say that when the sons of Aaron entered into the service of God, they were drunk from wine, which is unacceptable.

In the past I spoke about the first two topics, so today I want to talk about the possibility that they, the sons of Aaron, drank wine before they went to serve God.

It seems reasonable that their sin is connected to wine, because immediately after the punishment, God spoke to Aaron and told him to keep from wine, so that he would not die when he comes into the Tent of Meeting.

“Then the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean…’” – Leviticus 10:8-10a [NIV]

The severity of the calling to be a teacher

In this section we learn some points that are very important for us today: It is critical to respect the house of God. We cannot defile His holy place nor can we bring impurity when we go to worship before the Almighty.

As God told Aaron, He distinguishes between the holy and the unclean. Therefore, we are obligated to make the same distinction when we enter into our congregation – we must honor the place as the House of God.

The second point I gleaned from this part is that the leader of the community has a great deal of responsibility. Be it a priest, a chief rabbi, or a congregational leader.

When we display inappropriate behavior, we despise the name of God, whom we represent. This is the same idea that appears in James:

“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” – James 3:1 [NIV]

What was James’ intent in this rather harsh verse?

First of all, James didn’t say that there should be no teachers, but rather he noted that with the role comes the power to build and to destroy. He emphasized that it is worthwhile to act cautiously.

The teacher bears double-responsibility, because he directs and influences not only himself, but rather he does the same for an entire group of people. In the instance that he, the teacher fails and/or makes a mistake, he misleads a whole group of people.

Yeshua also warned the teachers and the leaders about responsibility and criticism. He claimed that they not only close the gate to Heaven for themselves but also for others, and therefore their punishment is greater:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” – Matthew 23:13 [NIV]

This connects us to an interesting talmudic quote:

“Torah should be taught only to a proper student – one whose deeds are attractive – or to a person whose behavior is unknown. However, [a potential student] who follows bad ways should be influenced to correct his behavior and trained to follow a straight path. [After he repents, his deeds] are examined and he is allowed to enter the house of study to be instructed.” – Talmud Torah 4:1

“A potential student who follows bad ways,” speaks of a person who does not behave properly, and therefore should not be accepted into an institution for Torah studies.

Here’s the catch: should not such a person receive an extra dose of Torah in order to teach him about virtues?

The answer is that a Torah student who does not behave properly causes blasphemy. How can this be?

Torah students represent religion for all to see. The general public appreciates the virtue of religion according to the moral value of its representatives: Torah students of good character encourage people to respect the Torah.

Torah students who are not good people, however, evoke a negative attitude not only towards themselves, but also towards the Torah which they supposedly represent, and this is the essence of blasphemy.

The leader carries even greater responsibility, just like in the case of Aaron’s sons. I also want to point out, not necessarily in a bad or critical manner, that we must be aware that we also carry this responsibility.

We are the billboard for faith in God and in Yeshua the Messiah. We are literally a walking advertisement, and when you see us and our lives in a positive light, we give God good publicity.

In Conclusion

We spoke today about the kosher laws. Indeed, Yeshua emphasized that what is important is what comes out of the mouth. However, it does not have to be at the expense of what goes into the mouth.

The divine command is, “Be holy, because I am holy.” This requirement comes at the end of the list of foods that are, according to God, unfit for eating.

We also spoke about the tragic end of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. In addition, we talked about the importance of behaving properly and preserving the sanctity of the house of God.

Finally, we are called not just to be a good example, but also to be billboards for faith in Yeshua.