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: Do Not Do According to Their Works [2021]

The Torah reading for this Shabbat is called Shoftim, (“judges”). The reading is from Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9. From the prophets the reading is from Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12. From the New Testament we are reading from the Gospel of John 14:9-20.

I must share with you that although I have been reading and studying the Bible since the age of 16, that is 59 years, and now I am 75 years old, and yet, every time that I open the Bible and read texts that I have read at least hundreds of times before, and still there is always something new that pops up and fires my soul with excitement. The trick is simple, don’t just read, think, doubt, examine, and ask for the Holy Spirit to help you understand, and lead you to all truth.

In our reading this Shabbat there are some of the bases for so much of what is going on in Judaism today and so much that ought to be going on in Christianity, but it does not. In the Hebrew Bible what is called “The Old Testament” there are no synagogues, no rabbis, no Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, or yeshivas. These are institutions that are born into existence only in the inter-testamental period, and therefore are mentioned in the New Testament. But, these institutions, that are made kosher in the apostolic writings, are all based on a text from our reading of the Torah this Shabbat.

This is the text:

“If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So, you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.” – Deuteronomy 17:8-13 [NKJV]

In the simple understanding of this text in its historical context, God is providing stations where a person who has a particular problem that is not directly addressed in the text of the Torah, that person can go to the authorities of his own day, the judge, the priest, the Levite, or the policeman (officer) and get a clarification of his question. The man needs advice, and these are the stations where he can go to and get advice and clarification to his question.

However, the price of this Torah command is that if you do go to the authorities in your time and in your place and ask the advice or a ruling of the Torah, you are obligated to receive and take the advice seriously and do according to their instruction.

I can understand well the Lord’s command that if you go and get an answer to your question you have an obligation to do according to their instruction. You just don’t go and waste the time of these officials and then turn and do as you wish. Take seriously what these learned officials have advised you and use their advice to resolve your problem.

On the basis of this instruction of God here in Deuteronomy, the synagogue was established, and the court system, the Sanhedrin, was established, and the whole rabbinical system was developed in the inter-testamental period, when Israel was in exile in Babylon. When they returned from Babylon with Ezra and Nehemiah, the Temple in Jerusalem was in total disarray and disrepair, these good rules from our chapter are taken seriously.

The Pharisees were established as a puritan group. They wanted to return to the Land of Israel and restore the Jewish lifestyle and the Temple and returned to use it for a high place of worship.
However, much time has passed from the days of Moses and their simple lifestyle in the wilderness. Now they have lived in their own land and in cities with walls, and they have farms, and industry. New questions come up that need guidance to live and to stay faithful to the Torah of the Lord.

So, these instructions of Moses in our chapter are apropos in place and needed. However, when the Israelites returned from the Babylonian exile they came back to the land and to Jerusalem that was in ruins, the Temple was not in good repair, the economy was in very bad shape.

This text gave them an opportunity that apparently allowed them the basis to establish new institutions that didn’t exist in Israel or Judaism before. They established houses of learning (Beit Midrash) because they heard the reading of the Torah for the first time when Ezra and Nehemiah and the Levites read it in public (See Nehemiah chapters 7,8) just before the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The Pharisees were the people who took the Torah seriously and used it for the reestablishment of the word of God as the authority for the lives of the Jewish people.

However, the world had changed some and the people who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and to Judea had needs that the Torah and the Word of God had no clear answers for. The Torah institutions, like the Temple and the priests and Levites were not now the same as they had been during the first Temple period.

So, what the Pharisees did was like what Martin Luther did, they made the Torah approachable and accessible to the public and not only to the priests and the Levites. Now, the Torah is open to anyone to study and learn and draw his own conclusions.

Decisions regarding the Torah are now made through discussion and deliberation among rabbis and not by waiting for divine revelation for every little issue. All this is based on the one text from our Torah reading this Shabbat.

Yeshua functioned as a Pharisee rabbi who preached in all the synagogues in the Galilee, and people loved what they heard from Yeshua:

“Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding regions. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” – Luke 4:14,15 [NKJV]

It is clear from these texts that Yeshua was a rabbi and was invited to teach in the synagogues as the text says, “…taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.”

Yeshua uses our text from Deuteronomy 17:8-13 to give the following instructions to His disciples and to the others that were around at that moment:

“Then (Yeshua) Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.’” – Matthew 23:1-3

This phrase in verse 3, is an exact quotation from the Hebrew of Deuteronomy 17:10,

“You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you.” – Deuteronomy 17:10 [NKJV]

Yeshua was not the first to call the Pharisees “hypocrites.” And for sure He was not the last Jew to call the Pharisees “hypocrites”.

I could make a list of the kings and rabbis who were Pharisees and called their own party by the same epitaph. I have called some of my Christian brothers and sisters more than once “hypocrites”.

You could ask me why I call some of my Christian brothers and sisters whom I love very much “hypocrites”? The reason is very simple, because I love my Christian brothers and sisters so much that I have high expectations for them, and I see them falling into the standard religious hypocrisies and being dragged by the trends and fashions of the Evangelical culture into living a fake spiritual life and pretending on Sundays that Monday will be different from every other Monday on their job.

Yeshua was a Pharisee and Paul states clearly that He is a Pharisee. The big question that this text of Yeshua’s teaching in Matthew 23 is – what are we, in the 21st Century, supposed to do with the teaching of Yeshua in Matthew 23?

Are we to ignore it like most of the Christian world, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Churches of Christ, Baptists, Methodists? I would say almost all my Christian brothers might read the words of Yeshua marked in red and come out condemning the Pharisees (the Jews) for being hypocrites, when they do the same thing that Yeshua condemned in His own group, the Pharisees!

I love you, my dear Christian brothers and sisters, no less than I love my Jewish brothers and sisters, and because I love you, I am neither ashamed nor fearful of writing these words of truth. Shall we ignore the teachings of Yeshua and just worship a Jew hanging on a cross and never take Yeshua off that cross and have Him crowned as King of the Jews and King of our lives?

Shall we ignore the red-letter edition of the Bible and say that these were just words spoken by the Son of God in the streets of Jerusalem, and on the hills of the Galilee and the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and just write them off?

We could just say this is “old stuff”, we live in a modern world now, with an iPhone made in China, a laptop computer made in China or Taiwan, and wear a face mask also made in China, to protect us from a coronavirus plague also made in the same place. We don’t need a Jew that lived 2000 year ago in a faraway land which we don’t know whether to call, Israel or Palestine!

I realize that I am writing “hard stuff”, but this “hard stuff” is written from a deep love and commitment to that Jew who hung on the Roman cross for six hours, was buried on the hills of Jerusalem, in a land soaked with blood, and got out of the rock-hewn grave after around 72 hours, to walk again through the land of Israel and fix an Ashkenazi fish breakfast for his fisherman disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

You see I am writing to you because I love you and because I believe in your personal integrity with the Lord, and because I don’t blame you for anything, but I do blame the leadership of most of the churches in the West for not teaching the full counsel of the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation.

I do blame the leadership that is more interested in creating big churches with no little personal gain and do what the Sadducees did in the time of Yeshua (Jesus). By far there is a high percentage of exceptions to my generalizations, and I know many leaders, pastors, and elders, who are a clear and shining exception to the general rule and are not hypocritical at all and are living a life of pure dedication to the Lord and His church and love Israel and love and support Netivyah.

I bless all of the leaders and pastors and elders not to be offended by my words, but to be self-examining and take the time and the effort to be like King David, make mistakes, and allow the Lord to help you fix them and restore the purity of your ministry and intent.

It is never too late for any of us, and all of us without exception need to read that chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew every few months or at least one time every year and ask ourselves where we stand in relation to preaching to others and not doing what we say.

God bless you all my brothers and sisters! I love you all and if I have offended any of you with this – please do yourself and me a favor, pray for me, and for Jerusalem and for Israel and for your own country and ask the Lord for the zeal and strength to straighten up and fly right. With this worldwide plague I pray every day, Lord come quickly!

Joseph Shulam: Innocent Blood Must be Avenged [2019]

The Parashat Shoftim (“shoftim” means “judges” in Hebrew) reading is from Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9. The weekly reading from the prophets is Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12, and from the New Testament we read John 1:19-27.

One of the intriguing texts in this Shabbat’s reading is the issue of the blood avenger. The issue of the blood avenger starts with the second story of the book of Genesis. When God speaks to Cain:

“And He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. 11 So now you are cursed from the earth, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.’” – Genesis 4:10 [NKJV]

Innocent blood that is shed on the ground will forever have to be avenged. Sooner or later, God does see that the innocent blood will be avenged. This is a true principle.

At times it takes hundreds, and even thousands, of years for innocent blood to be avenged, but the best judge of such crimes is history itself (His Story). And history has proven that those who kill eventually pay for their crimes in one way or another.

Now in our Torah portion Shoftim, the difference between a premeditated murderer and those who have killed a person by mistake is being administrated, and the rules of engagement are being set for righteousness sake. The Torah does not judge with blindfolded eyes, but with the eyes of God’s wisdom and mercy.

On the other hand, the Torah states that a person who premeditates a murder should be dealt with in the following manner:

“You must show him no pity. Thus, you will purge Israel of the blood of the innocent, and it will go well with you.” – Deut. 19:13 [NJPS]

The Word of God instructs us not to have mercy on a murderer, but rather to purge “the blood of the innocent”. This is a major problem in today’s Western civilization. The law ignores the pain and the suffering of the victims and their family, and worries and stands with the rights of the criminals.

What the millennials say today is, “How does killing the murderer purge innocent blood?” The modern judgement seems to ask, “Who is the ‘innocent’ person?” The victim is already dead, and the only one now left is this poor murderer who will now suffer in jail 10 or 20 years, and be released. Let us help this poor murderer and not avenge the innocent blood that he shed on the ground.

The Word of God says, “You must show him no pity. Thus, you will purge Israel of the shedding of innocent blood, and it will go well with you.” This is what God commands Israel.

Suddenly, dear brothers and sisters, we, the human race, are those who know what is wise and what is righteous and just and right for humanity, better than Lord, who created the world and made us out of the dust of the Earth and the breath from His mouth.

The Lord, who created this world, and chose Israel, and gave us the Torah, is the one who is speaking to Moses, and through Moses to us Israel, and to the whole world. In other words, clean out bloodshed.

The blood of the innocent is an important topic through the whole Bible. Those who shed innocent blood must be purged, and if we don’t or can’t do the purging today, we must know that God Himself will judge and excise justice for the blood that was shed, so that it will go well with us.

I realize that this text from God’s Word seems not so politically correct for the eyes and ears of the modern world. Some people might say that the language of the word of God here is to be understood figuratively. As long as the murderer is not brought to justice, it is as if the blood of the murdered is exposed on the ground.

In other words, the ground does not accept it, and this blood is not covered. The blood that is not covered and not avenged continues to be a curse to the murderer and to the collective community, and the curse stays on the ground until it will be avenged.

See the following text from the words of Yeshua, that demonstrates this principle:

“Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.” – Matthew 23:34-36 [NKJV]

This text is interesting from a few different viewpoints. One of the more interesting points is that the Matthew text today speaks of the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah. Zechariah, son of Berechiah, is the famous Zechariah who wrote the book of Zechariah, one of the last prophets of the Old Testament.

But this Zechariah is not the Zechariah that was murdered between the Temple and the altar. The Zechariah that was killed between the Temple and altar is actually Zechariah the son of Jehoiada. This is the story to which Yeshua is referring in Matthew 23:34,35:

“Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, ‘Thus says God: “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you.”’ So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lord.” – 2 Chronicles 24:20,21

So, how did Matthew write the wrong Zechariah? Did Yeshua make the mistake, and mix up the right Zechariah? No, Yeshua just said “Zechariah.” One of the early translators, a Greek brother who did not know the Bible very well, and knew the book of Zechariah the son of Berechiah, was thinking that he will help the reader and tell him which Zechariah Yeshua is speaking about.

So, the translator edited innocently and added the name of the famous Zechariah who wrote the book. Yeshua was actually referring to this other Zechariah that is only mentioned very few times in the book of 2 Chronicles chapter 24:20-21.

This is actually the Zechariah that was killed by the people inside the Temple, between the Temple building and the altar in the courtyard. Note the next verse:

“Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but killed his son; and as he died, he said, ‘The Lord look on it, and repay!’” – 2 Chronicles 24:22 [NKJV]

Note that upon his death in the temple, he said, “The Lord look on it, and repay.”

According to Jewish history, God did repay the innocent blood of Zechariah son of Jehoiada:

“R. Hiya b. Abin said in the name of R. Joshua b. Korhah: An old man from the inhabitants of Jerusalem told me that in this valley Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard killed two hundred and eleven myriads, and in Jerusalem he killed ninety-four myriads on one stone, until their blood went and joined that of Zechariah [Rashi: son of Jehoiada the priest, who was murdered in the Temple court by officers of Judah at the command of Joash, when the people were bowing down to Joash and worshipping him as a god], to fulfil the words, Blood touched blood (Hos. 4:2). He noticed the blood of Zechariah bubbling up warm and asked what it was. They said: It is the blood of the sacrifices which has been poured there. He had some blood brought, but it was different from the other. He then said to them: If you tell me [the truth], well and good, but if not, I will tear your flesh with combs of iron. They said: What can we say to you? There was a prophet among us who used to reprove us for our irreligion, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested. He said to them: I will appease him. He brought the great Sanhedrin and the small Sanhedrin and killed them over him, but the blood did not cease. He then slaughtered young men and women, but the blood did not cease. He brought school-children and slaughtered them over it, but the blood did not cease. So he said; Zechariah, Zechariah. I have slain the best of them; do you want me to destroy them all? When he said this to him, it stopped. Straightway Nebuzaradan felt remorse. He said to himself: If such is the penalty for slaying one soul, what will happen to me who have slain such multitudes? So he fled away, and sent a deed to his house disposing of his effects and became a convert.” – Gittin 57b

This chapter in Jewish history clearly shows that the words of Zechariah son of Jehoiada, upon his death, were fulfilled by the Assyrian general Nebuzaradan, when he killed so many of the young priests. One thing we should know: God’s word is living, and God keeps His promises. If we don’t do justice, God will do the justice! He always does!

The world must know, and the church must know, that the innocent blood that has been and is shed in the world will be purged and atoned for by God.

Today’s political correctness is not the Law (Torah) of the Lord. The Torah of the Lord and His promises are always fulfilled, and will continue to be fulfilled, and we all must know that no one will escape the just judgment of God, either in this world or for eternity after the day of judgment.

Yehuda Bachana: Judge Every Person Favorably [2018]

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

Shabbat Shalom. Parashat Shoftim is a more “practical” parasha, whose name, “Shoftim” (“judges”), testifies to its content. The parasha deals mainly with the government, where the people in the parasha are not “private individuals” but part of a collective called the Jewish people. And as such, the people are subject to the government, and must listen to the legislators.

We Are All Lawyers

parashat-shoftim
We must not lean on our own interpretation of the law, but rather strive to follow its spirit and intent.

At the beginning of our parasha there is a famous and well-known verse:

“Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” – Deuteronomy 16:19 [NIV]

A lawyer’s job is misleading, he or she must justify a desired outcome, and then persuade the judge – irregardless of the truth. And if that lawyer were hired by the other side, he or she would reach and embrace the opposite conclusion.

Judges are warned not to accept bribes. Even if they try very hard to see things as they are, the money will blind them. Even a judgment that is reasoned, explained, and logical can be madness.

We all are lawyers in matters of faith, we all read the Torah from our own prejudice and previous ideas that have been planted in us. We can consistently ignore what is inconvenient to us in the text, and interpret what is convenient for us in such a way that it seems to us as logical and serious.

As lawyers, we lie to ourselves, using all the excuses in the world.

The True Intent, Not Our Own Interpretation

We must try and find the courage to change and manage our lives according to the spirit and intent of the Scriptures, and not according to the most convenient way that we sometimes interpret the text to be.

We are also all judges, we all look at the people around us and judge them. Whether it’s their politeness, their clothes, their children, and their belongings.

We all are judges, and usually we come to a verdict based on superficial appearances, without evidence, without investigation, without information on the reasoning behind each and every person.

Appearances Can be Deceiving

There’s a story about a father with two children riding a bus. The children were behaving wildly, they were very restless, bothering the other passengers.

The father, on his part, looked out of the window and seemed detached from reality, detached from the mess his children were making.

How did the other passengers judge him and the children?

“He is not a good father, he is detached from his children, the children are not educated, there is no discipline! Overall the situation is bad.”

You know how it is… Israelis like to push their nose into things that are not their business. So the passengers mentioned to the father that his children were not under control and that he should do something about it.

The father immediately responded, “Sorry for being so detached, we’re just in shock, we are returning home from the hospital where their mother just died. I’ll take care of the children.”

We Don’t Know the Whole Story

Yes, this example is extreme, but I want to emphasize that one piece of information can make a night and day – or heaven and earth – difference. A moment ago, the emotions that flooded all passengers on the bus were, anger, annoyance, irritation, and contempt for the father, before they knew the whole story.

After they knew, after receiving the facts, the emotions changed to, pity, caring, understanding, and empathy. One piece of information can make all the difference in how we see the people around us.

And we tend to judge people and families without knowing what goes on behind the scenes. Sometimes we get hurt from each other, in the community, at work, and even at home, but we do not know the whole story, we do not know all the facts, so the conclusion that we reach will probably be incorrect.

Judge Every Person Favorably

Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, is a tractate of the Mishan that deals with morality, virtues, and righteousness. It teaches us many important rules, two of which are:

“Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place.” – Pirkei Avot 2:4

“…judge every person as meritorious.” – Pirkei Avot 1:6

It is easy for us to judge people, especially as we sit on a deck chai, look out at everyone else, ignoring whatever led to conflict. For example:

You see a neighbor, or a member of the community, and he does not say hello, he ignores you. How rude!

Maybe he’s is egotistical and has no manners, so why am I even interested in his company? Or maybe he’s mad at me, or I did something to him, I made him uneasy. What could it be?

We forget to think about the third option, which is: last night one of the kids got up and wasn’t feeling well, he had to calm him and care for him. Five minutes before they left the house the boy wet his pants. He needed a full change of clothes. In the car the children were behaving wild, and because of the long night the parents got tired and argued in the morning.

Now we see them at congregation, the same family… I hope we do not expect them to be jumping for joy.

Let the Person Without Problems Cast the First Stone

The same can happen in marriage. The couple meet up for a date, the wife wants to talk, to share, to be close to her husband. The husband feels distant and not very attentive, even on the ride home the husband feels like he’s somewhere else.

The wife thinks – does my husband still love me? Does he want me? Do I still interest him? How can I fix the situation, why doesn’t he share with me how he’s feeling? In short – a first-rate disaster!

The husband thinks – the computer at work crashed – how do I save the data on the old computer and move it to a new one? And how much does a new computer cost?

If only we were to adhere to these two rules, “Do not judge your fellow until you come to his place,” and “…judge every person as meritorious.”

I think our community life, and our social lives, will be much better and closer.

We judge each other without knowing each other adequately. We do not even have a quarter of the evidence we need to formulate an opinion and do justice.

We tend to judge people about their problems and what they do not do right, but Yeshua warns us and says, “What about your own problems? Are you taking care of them?”

Let the person without problems cast the first stone.

Shabbat Shalom.

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