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: A Purim Torah Portion [2021]

This weekend in Jerusalem is the Feast of Esther – Purim! The Torah reading for this Shabbat is from the portion “Tetzaveh” (You shall command) Exodus 27:30-30:10. The reading from the Prophets is from Ezekiel 43:10-27. From the New Testament we will read Hebrews 13:10-17.

I would like to share a little about the Feast of Purim. The book of Esther as regards the canon of the Bible was hanging by a thread and is one of the last books that entered into the Jewish canon and therefore also into the Christian canon.

Why did the book of Esther have such a hard time being included into the Jewish canon? Why is there evidence in the Qumran community at the Dead Sea, evidence of every book in the Hebrew Bible but no evidence at all (not even a small fragment) from the book of Esther?

There is also no mention of the Feast of Purim or of Esther or of Mordechai in the New Testament. The reasons are numerous:

  1. God is not mentioned at all in the whole book of Esther.
  2. The level of morality and ethics in the book of Esther is below standard and contrary to the basic rules of the Torah.
  3. Mordechai the Jew teaches his niece Hadassah to hide her identity and gives her a pagan name “Esther” (“Ishtar”). He sends her to be the concubine of the King of Persia and to live in the king’s palace harem. The food in the pagan king’s harem would for sure not have been kosher.

There are other minor reasons why the book of Esther almost didn’t enter into the canon of the Hebrew Bible.

However, I am very happy that the book of Esther is in the canon of the Bible both in the Hebrew Bible and also in the Christian Bibles. Here are the reasons for my appreciation and joy to have the book of Esther and the Feast of Purim deeply engrained into my faith.

My birthday, some years, is right on the Feast of Purim and most years it is during the week of Purim. So, why do I like the book of Esther and why I am happy to study and dig deep into it, to understand every nuance in this short book?

  1. For most of my 60 years in the faith, I have experienced God in the same way, as being both hidden and tangible through His actions down here among us humans. Yes, I have seen the hidden hand of the Lord moving mountains, but I have not had the privilege of speaking to the Creator every Monday and Thursday. In fact in spite of my fear of not being politically correct, I would clearly say that most of those whom I have heard claiming to have revelations and visions with God speaking to them and telling them where to drive to, to find parking, have proven to my satisfaction, that they are not true prophets or servants of the Lord God of Israel.
  2. Yes, God is not mentioned at all in the book of Esther, but when you read the book you see the hand of God moving in history, not only in the life of Mordechai the Jew and Queen Esther, but also in every one of the characters mentioned in the book, both the Jews and the Persians. In the book of Esther, God is the unmoved mover of all things. Like a master Chess player God moves the queen and the king and the king’s guards, and of course Haman the descendent of Agag, the Amalekite king, whom King Saul spared and Samuel the prophet came and gave Agag his last and very close haircut. Haman was a descendent of Agag and that is why he is called the Agagite!
  3. I love the way the different characters, every one of these characters, are moved and used by the “unknown” God to function and do what is necessary to change history and to save the Jewish population of the Persian Empire!

If you read the book of Esther like reading a short novel, and pay attention to all of the small details, I am sure that you will both enjoy the reading and also receive insight into, as well as a better understanding, of how God works, even in our own days.

The Torah portion that is read on this Shabbat contains a description of all of the clothing and of the instruments of the priests and of the building of the Tabernacle. Where you can read in great detail, the descriptions of every piece of clothing, and of every tool and instrument to be used in that temporary tent-type tabernacle.

We ought to ask what is the purpose of all of this elaboration and of all of the fancy detailed gold and silver and purple, royal blue, animal furs and acacia wood that is so much is invested in this temporary tabernacle, everything being dictated and prescribed by the Lord Himself.

Today we have neither a tabernacle nor a temple. We don’t have a golden breastplate or even a high priest or any priests that are serving in a holy place. When you read the subsequent stories in the Torah you find out that even the sons of the high priest Aaron, the brother of Moses, sinned and brought strange fire to the altar and died on the spot. We read that right after the very detailed instructions of what to build and how to equip the tabernacle were carried out, and the presence of the Lord was on it by day and by night, there was still sin in the camp, even augmented sin, and even in the hands of Aaron the brother of Moses who sinned gravely and betrayed the Lord and his brother, Moses.

What I learn from this Torah reading is the following:

  1. The Lord pays attention to details and when He wants something done, He gives clear instructions and expects His servants to obey them and to do exactly what He has commanded.
  2. Having a wonderful, beautiful, and sanctified place of worship even directly commanded by the Creator Himself does not guarantee that what is happening there is either pleasing to God or that serious sins are being prevented from happening right inside and under the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Worshiping God in the right way as He prescribed in such great detail, is not a guarantee that your worship is acceptable to the Lord. You have several stories in the Bible of the high priest, and of the children of the high priest, having sinned and being punished unmercifully for their sins, including Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, the high priest.
  3. Worship is a privilege and a blessing but only if it is done from the heart and with sincere and pure motives. The grandiose and fancy and professional worship that looks like a Broadway show might not necessarily be an expression of sincere worship that expresses the true hearts of the worshippers. I realize that I am painting with a very wide brush in broad moves. I am not accusing any one individual specifically, but I am pointing out a biblical paradigm that we can learn from the Torah, and learn to take a humbler stance before the Lord and His presence and the people of God. We must remember that God looks into our hearts and into our inner parts and judges all flesh from what they have in their hearts.

Joseph Shulam: God is Our Eternal Light [2020]

The reading this week is Tetzaveh, from Exodus 27:20 – 30:10. From the prophets the reading is very interesting. The Shabbat before Purim always the reading from the prophets is the same. The reading is from Deuteronomy 25:17-19 and 1 Samuel 15:1-34. The New Testament reading is from Hebrews 13:10-17.

The reason for this special Shabbat is that it is just before the feast of Purim, the Feast of Esther. The enemy of the Jewish people in the Persian (Iran) empire was the prime minister of Persia, Haman the Aggagite.

An Aggagite is a descendent Aggag, the King of Amalek, who King Saul didn’t kill (in disobedience to the Lord’s command). Samuel the prophet came to Saul, and because of his disobedience, King Saul lost his kingship. Now we are in the days of King Ahasuerus (also spelled Xerxes), King of Persia.

The main text for this reading from the prophets is actually the three verses from the book of Deuteronomy 25:17-19:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around, in the land which the Lord your God is giving you to possess as an inheritance, that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget.” – Deuteronomy 25:17-19 [NKJV]

The deep enmity against Amalek comes from their methods of warfare, their cruelty, and their origin:

“Now Timna was the concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son, and she bore Amalek to Eliphaz. These were the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife.” – Genesis 36:12 [NKJV]

The Torah portion has so many interesting things for us to learn, but I have chosen to deal with the first verses of the parasha:

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.” – Exodus 27:20,21

The question that needs to be asked is why the Lord commanded Moses to command the children of Israel regarding the lighting of the lamp in the Tabernacle that was built in the wilderness. There are only two places in the whole Bible that there is such an emphatic command that Moses himself has to go to the priests and command them in regards to what kind of olive oil they need to use for the lighting of the candelabra with the seven candles.

God wanted Moses himself to go and command the priests about the lighting of the candelabra and the type of oil that they must use. Now the custom was to use cheaper olive oil for light in the candles.

Now God sends Moses to tell these priests that they must use, “extra virgin cold pressed, first pressing olive oil.” This is the most precious and expensive olive oil and for lighting. It is not really necessary to use this fine oil.

For this very reason God sends Moses himself to command the priests. For such a simple command it would have been natural for Moses to send one of his helpers to pass this command on to the priests. However, what God wanted here was for the chief himself, Moses, to go and make this command and demand from the priests.

This is consistent with all that the Lord demanded from His children. There is the command that a sick or damaged bull, goat, sheep or anything else cannot be offered to God as a sacrifice. The worshipper must offer his very best to the Lord.

No second-best would work. God deserves the very best that we have. Even a simple thing like the oil for the candelabra has to be the best. Even though the quality of the light would not differ much. What is more interesting is that the Lord didn’t worry much about saving money when it came to the olive oil that He wanted to be used for lighting the oil lamps in the Tabernacle.

What is the lesson that we can learn from this reading? It is a very simple lesson. We need to worry about exactly the opposite of what most ministries, churches, and synagogues worry about. Remember Paul’s sermon in Athens, Mars Hill:

“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” – Acts 17:24,25 [NKJV]

A reading of this text could be used to come to the wrong conclusion, that our service to the Lord and worship is non-consequential because, “the Lord does not dwell in temples made with hands.” The right conclusion ought to be that God does care for us not to be stingy. He created the world and gives life to all living creatures. He deserves our best, and the light in the Tabernacle (and the Temple in Jerusalem) deserves to have the best and the purest olive oil.

The rabbis take the midrash on the text of Exodus 27:20-24 and expand the meaning, taking it to other regions. For the rabbis, the light in the Tabernacle and in the Temple was not only a physical light. The rabbis bring some other texts in order to understand the seriousness of this command, and the reason why God commands Moses himself to go to the priests and make this demand from them.

The connection is made with Isaiah 60:19,20:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the Lord will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the Lord will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” – Isaiah 60:19,20 [NKJV]

The connection made by the rabbis is that the day will come in history in which God Himself, the true revelation of light, will be our everlasting light. God is the everlasting light, according to Isaiah. And therefore, since the candelabra in the Temple and in the Tent of Meeting is an inheritance for all the faithful in history, therefore it represents not only light for the service in the Tabernacle, but it is a representation of the divine light Himself.

Chapter 60 of Isaiah starts with the same theme:

“Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” – Isaiah 60:1 [NKJV]

The rabbis in the midrash ask this question from God:

“You are the light of the world, so why do You ask us to light a candlelight with oil?” “From your light we will see light.” Rabbi Maier said: The Lord said that the lights that the sons of Aaron light in the Tabernacle are more precious to Me from the lights that I have hung in the heavens.” For the Lord has said “For the Lord will be your everlasting light.”

Let us look at the following texts that give us a new perspective both from the Old Testament and the New Testament on the need to light the eternal lights in the Tabernacle of Meeting in the wilderness and in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem:

“I, the Lord, have called You in righteousness, and will hold Your hand; I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles.” – Isaiah 42:6 [NKJV]

“Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” – Isaiah 49:6 [NKJV]

“The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:3 [NKJV]

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14 [NKJV]

“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” – John 8:12 [NKJV]

“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:5 [NKJV]

Now when you read these texts and then go back and read the text of Exodus 27:20-24, you begin to understand how God sees the lighting of the menorah that is inside the Tabernacle.

The main text gives us a very particular expansion of the concept that God Himself is the eternal light that right now is hidden from us humans. But the concept that the day will come when He replaces the sun, moon, and stars is a hidden truth that will become a reality.

Here is the summary and explanation of why God commanded Moses to use the purest and most precious oil for the lighting of the menorah in the Temple:

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” – John 1:4,5 [NKJV]

The Torah and the prophets and the New Testament are all connected, because these texts are a product of the same Holy Spirit. And the topics and secrets of the scriptures are there for us to connect and understand, to make the deep connections from Genesis all the way to the end of Revelation.

It is all connected, and it is all pointing toward the same point – the redemption of humanity and the whole Earth. Yeshua is the eternal light, equal to the Father, who is also the eternal light, and we, His disciples, are commanded to be the light, and Israel as a nation is commanded to be the light for all the nations.

Yeshua is that light of Israel that has brought the divine eternal light and spread it to all the nations. If you have received the eternal light of God, live in the light and share that light with all.

Joseph Shulam: The Uniqueness of the Priestly Calling and Its Relationship With the Messiah [2019]

This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Tetzaveh (in Hebrew, “you command”). The reading starts in Exodus 27:20 and ends in Exodus 30:10. There are a few unique and interesting things about this reading of the Torah.

  1. Moses is not mentioned in this portion of the Torah. This is unusual, because the very opening statement implies Moses: “you command”. Who is the “you” in this context? It is Moses. Some of the rabbinical commentators say that God was angry with Moses for a short season, because Moses disagreed with him after the sin of the golden calf, and did not allow God to destroy the whole nation. So, his name is not mentioned. Of course, this is only speculation and not a very convincing one! In the whole parasha, when God speaks to Moses, He just uses, “and you.” Very impersonal use of the word “you.”
  2. Moses is commanding the artisans in the camp (those who built the tabernacle) to make the official clothing for Aaron, his brother, and his sons who are officiating as priests for Israel.
  3. These articles of clothing and artifacts for the service of the Lord are so detailed in every aspect, from the cloth that is to be used for every part to the golden breastplate, and the stones that are to represent each tribe (Exodus 28).
  4. The ordination of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood is also an interesting process that most “believers” ignore in the ordination of leaders and elders (Exodus 29:20). There is the same ceremony with oil in Leviticus 14:17-28. Why is the ordination of those who are going to serve God and the people connected to the ear, the hand, and the foot of the servants of God and people?
    • The ear has to be anointed, because if the servant of God does not hear God and receive His direction to pass on to the people – if he does not have an ear that hears and obeys God – he cannot really serve God or faithfully serve the people.
    • The anointing of the right thumb – without anointed hands that are doing the will of God with dedication, purity, and honesty, under the Lord’s authority, every service is going to be impure and unacceptable to the Lord.
    • The right foot of the priest has to be also anointed so that he can walk in God’s will and lead the people that follow with the leading and direction of the Lord, and not with his own agenda and his own ambition.
  5. The connection between the high priest of Israel and those who were in the cities of refuge, because they had killed someone unintentionally. This part is fascinating for those of us who believe that Yeshua of Nazareth, our Messiah, atones for our sins with his death. Those in Judaism who opposed Yeshua and His Jewish disciples in the past and today use an argument that a human being cannot atone for others by his death. Here we see a Torah example that the death of the high priest atones for those who killed a person and releases them from the city of refuge, protected from anyone who would like to harm them or take vengeance. This paradigm of the death of the high priest of Israel that atones and releases those who killed a person by not paying attention and being distracted, by negligence, by not taking precaution to prevent such accidents from taking place, and many other mistakes (manslaughter). These people are forgiven and atoned for by the death of the high priest of Israel. This applies to all the six cities of refuge. If a high priest, who is a sinner like all men, can atone and release killers, how much the more the death of Yeshua, who was sinless and offered Himself for all, can atone and release us from damnation in the Judgment Day.

Yehuda Bachana: Why Should We Dress Nice for God? [2018]

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

This week’s Torah portion begins with God’s commandments regarding the priestly garments:

“Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him dignity and honor.” – Exodus 28:2 [NIV]

This reading. Tetzaveh, focuses on weaving and embroidery, breastplates and the ephods, robes, breeches, tunics, filigree settings, shoulder pieces, as well as buckles and stones. It discusses a variety of colors and fabrics such as blue, purple, scarlet yarn, and fine linen. If someone came in off the street while this Torah portion was being read in a congregation, he might think that he had mistakenly walked in on a sewing class.

“Clothes Make the Man”

Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry | Parashat Tetzaveh
What’s behind God’s detailed commandments regarding the priestly garments?

These passages are filled with very detailed descriptions of the vessels and colors of the Tabernacle, including the priestly garments. All of which create for us a tremendous symphony of majesty and splendor, as is fitting for the House of God.

I suppose that the idea behind the design was so that the people would not be indifferent, but rather that their spirits would be lifted, and they would feel a sense of inspiration when they came into the House of God.

This portion leads to the following question: What’s the point of an entire Torah portion that talks about clothes? There is a well-known saying that goes, “Clothes make the man.”

There’s an interesting story about an employee who works in a telemarketing company. For many years he would come to work dressed in very simple clothes. The huge advantage about working in phone sales was that customers do not care how the seller looks nor what he or she is wearing.

One day, however, the employee started to notice that the most successful salespeople were those who came to work every day wearing business clothes – a suit and tie. He decided to try out this business style for himself and he came to work wearing a pristine suit and tie.

Suddenly he found himself talking on the phone with greater self-confidence, sitting more upright in the chair, and communicating with the customers in a much more professional way. The clothes might not have been seen, but their presence was evident.

I suppose that this is the reason why the Torah emphasizes the garments of the priests, to make sure that the priests would be willing to serve the public and serve God in the most honorable way.

In Judaism, we are familiar with the idea of Shabbat clothes. What’s behind this idea? Does God really care about the clothes we wear? In a certain way, I believe He does.

I gleaned from this parasha, that whenever a person comes to the congregation, to be a part of the group, to stand and pray before God, he or she must be clean and dressed in respectable, fine clothing. The saying, “Clothes make the man,” proves to be true.

Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

God’s instructed accuracy and symmetry for the Tabernacle, the priests, the sacred vessels, and everything else that belongs to Him, create something luxurious and beautiful. Despite this, the word “beauty”, or anything similar, hardly appears.

Why does biblical thinking ignore the human enjoyment found in beauty?

Beauty is a subjective concept, it is by no means objective. There are no scientific laws or rules of logic that we can use to determine the criteria of what is beautiful.

A common understanding of what is beautiful is bound to a society in a certain place and time. A fact proven to us in that, throughout history, the concept of beauty has changed drastically. Even today there are different concepts of beauty amongst various nations and people groups.

Again, this is because beauty is illogical and you cannot prove that something is beautiful or not. Yet there is nothing that attracts us more than beauty. It’s on this that all of our consumer economy is based. Almost everything we buy must first be attractive. Only after the product passes the beauty test do we think about the effectiveness of it.

We live in a time that is especially known for consumer culture, and as such we use beauty to promote sales. Designers strive to design consumer goods from shoes and clothes, to furniture and cars, in order to stimulate an aesthetic experience for the consumer.

The Struggle Against Externalism

One of today’s modern problems is that we have become like vessels in which only the outside is seen and valued – the external beauty and design of an object or person.

The Bible describes the problem with beauty. For example, in the story of Adam and Eve, the Tree of Knowledge is described as being beautiful, “…The fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye…” (Genesis 3:6) This was a major factor in the attraction to the fruit and in the subsequent rebellion against God.

The beauty of the “daughters of humans” is also considered to be a stumbling block, as is seen in the prelude to the flood: “…The sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful…” (Genesis 6:2)

The “Virtuous Woman” (Proverbs 31) comes against man’s externalism, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting,” in comparing it with man’s internal beauty, “…But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

So here is the time to stop and ask, is external beauty important? Or does only internal beauty matter? The answer is, of course, yes to both. Beauty – the cover of the book – is important. However, the contents are just as important as well. The right thing to do is to put the important things in a respectable external frame.

How to Dress for Holiness

Aesthetics are desirable and even important when they are in the service of the holy. This is evident with the Temple, the priestly garments, the Tabernacle, and the sacred vessels, as we learned today from this week’s parasha.

The plain sense of the Bible teaches us that the priestly garments are for “dignity and honor”, for two main reasons:

The first reason is to foster a sense of respect and honor in the assembly. Worship requires a separation between the holy and the profane, and for this the priests are dressed and adorned in a unique way. In fact, in every religion one can identify the prayer leader, the rabbi, the priest – because they are typically dressed differently from others. At first glance of the prayer leader, you can see that clothes make the man.

Clothes create a distance, they are indicative of reverence. A person who is well-dressed is seen as one who is elevated higher than the rest of the people, much more than if he were not to be dressed in luxurious clothes.

The second reason is for the priest himself, the prayer leader, to treat his status with respect, to take his role and status seriously and honorably. When we dress out of respect for the Sabbath and the community, we are honoring the status and the dwelling place of God.

Yet on the other hand, Yeshua despises our efforts to look good, and asks us why we care about clothing. Yeshua takes us to a field of flowers:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.” – Matthew 6:28,29 [NIV]

But nevertheless we are told to dress nicely and modestly:

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety…” – 1 Timothy 2:9a [NIV]

In the Bible, sometimes clothes are connected with a spiritual state, or a state of sin, for example, Zechariah 3 presents a vision of Joshua the priest standing before the throne of judgment:

“Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord… Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes [meaning he was filthy from sin] as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’” – Zechariah 3:1a,3,4 [NIV]

Clothes can also indicate salvation:

“I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…” – Isaiah 61:10a [NIV]

Yeshua teaches us the Parable of the Great Banquet in Matthew 22. The parable is about the Kingdom of Heaven, in which God the King prepares a wedding feast for His Son, Yeshua.

Many were invited to this wedding feast, but few showed up. The King sent out His servants to bring in any person they could find to come and participate in the wedding. In the end, many guests attended the wedding, but one passage is particularly jarring to the ears:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” – Matthew 22:11-13 [NIV]

In this parable, the wrong clothes represent sin, as in the previous example from Zechariah 3. This man had not given his life to Yeshua and did not receive the forgiveness of sins through Yeshua the Messiah. Therefore, that person was not suitable for the wedding feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.

In conclusion

I am convinced that we need to be dressed in dignity and honor when we come into the House of God or congregation. This will show respect to the people around us as well as psychologically cause us to take more seriously the status of the House of God.

Another famous saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This can cause us to miss the point. People will always judge the book by its cover, therefore we have the obligation to put content that is sacred behind a beautiful and dignified cover.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.