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: Business is Business and Jesus is Jesus [2022]

This Sabbath the reading of the Torah is called “Toldot” (“history” or “genealogy”). There is also evidence that in the synagogues in the land of Israel they also read from the prophets.

It is interesting in Luke that Yeshua was reading from the scroll of Isaiah, chapter 61; the first verses. This portion of the reading from the prophets is read in conjunction with the reading from Leviticus on the Jubilee year.

If we had the schedule of reading in the synagogues of the Pharisees in the First Century we might be able to discover about what time of the year Yeshua was born, because reading from the prophets (the Haftarah) was normally given to honor someone maybe on his birthday. The interesting thing in this reading from Isaiah 61 is that the writer writes this text from Isaiah 61 in first person singular.

This is why it was legitimate for Yeshua to state that this text is a reference to Himself. This angered the people of Nazareth. Nazareth might have been a sectarian village in the time of Yeshua, and they acted in a radical sectarian way when they wanted to kill Yeshua for claiming that the prophet Isaiah was talking about was Him in person.

My point is that reading of the Torah and the prophets in public in the synagogues around Israel, and Asia Minor and Greece (Berea), was already a well-established custom and practice both in the land of Israel and among the Diaspora Jews…

Today in churches there is very little reading in God’s word, the main part of the service is given to the salesman (the pastor) and not to the product. The word of God from Genesis to Revelation is the product that we ought to supply to our brothers and sisters, and this is what happens in every Jewish synagogue. The main part of the service is the reading from the Torah and from the prophets and that is normally what the teaching (sermon) is about, an exegesis of the texts that were read in public in the Hebrew language.

We are fortunate that we live after the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, next to the Dead Sea north of Sodom. In the treasures of the Dead Sea Scrolls there was a full copy written on leather of the book of Isaiah, the same type scroll as the one that Yeshua would have been reading from in the synagogue in Nazareth.

The Torah portion of Toldot is found in Genesis 25:19-28:9, and from the prophets the reading is from Malachi 1:1-2:7, and from the New Testament we read from Matthew 10:21-28. The main and most important part of our Torah portion Toldot is story of Isaac, Abraham and Sarah’s son, who was married at the age of 40. Not being married until the age of 40 was very unusual in the ancient world, but the reason for Isaac’s situation was also the reason why Sarah insisted to cast out Ishmael and Hagar his mother away from their midst.

Ishmael tried to destroy Isaac’s manhood, and I wrote about this last week with proof from God’s word. Now Isaac is 40 years old and Rebecca is very young, about 20 years younger than Isaac, and this alone gives me a good explanation of Rebecca’s behavior and dominion over Isaac, especially as the boys, Esau and Jacob, were entering their adulthood. Isaac would have been well over 70 years old when the competition between Esau and Jacob was at the highest level.

I realize that the purchase of Esau’s inheritance in an exchange for bowl of soup might look bad to some self-righteously inclined brothers or sisters, but I have been around the world a few times and have seen and learned from some of the most famous pastors and elders that business is business and Jesus is Jesus!

Jacob was a good modern businessman and he had a product. His product was in demand, and it was unique in the marketplace. There was a client that was willing to pay the price of the red, red soup that Jacob was cooking, and there was an opportunity to exercise free market, by supply and demand rules, and a good business deal was carried out to the satisfaction of both sides: the seller and the buyer.

Rebecca, the wife of Isaac and the mother of both boys, Esau and Jacob, was the broker and the middle “man” between both of her sons. The question always comes up in my mind, why did Rebecca worry about Jacob more than about Esau? The rabbinical Jewish answer to this question is simple: Rebecca was a prophetess, and the intention of Esau’s heart to kill his brother Jacob was revealed to Rebecca, and for this reason she, as the mother of both boys, was more worried about the physically more timid and weaker boy, Jacob.

She knew that Esau, the outdoorsman and hunter, could take good care of himself in this physical world. She might have worried about this Jacob who is sitting in his tent, contemplating philosophical ideas and calculating more opportunities to do more business deals with his older brother Esau, or maybe with some Canaanite or Hittite merchants.

This is also the reason why Rebecca is sending Jacob to her brother Laban in Mesopotamia: in order to protect him from his brother Esau’s plan to kill him after Isaac’s death. It is interesting to me that Esau honored his father Isaac, and didn’t want to cause grief and sorrow to his father by killing his brother Jacob. This consideration of Esau is not only nobel, but also very interesting in my own friendship and understanding of my Arab brothers and sisters in the faith.

I have had the good fortune to teach and educate and reach several Arab families both from the Jerusalem area and from Ramle-Lod area. I can’t say enough of the amount of gratitude that I have to the Lord for this opportunity and privilege to disciple and nourish brothers and sisters who are Palestinian Arabs. Almost all the Arabs that I had the privilege and opportunity to evangelize, train, and disciple are as precious and as important to me, and I believe to the Lord, as any other human being on the face of this Earth.

The good news of this story is that the Lord Himself brokered the justice and the fairness and the future of the two brothers and their families. Jacob had twelve sons and Esau had also twelve sons. Jacob grew with wealth and power and so did Esau grow in wealth and power.

God Himself made sure that both brothers were a great success and had successful lives, and the blessings of Isaac were fulfilled for both Jacob and Esau. One gained and the other didn’t lose anything.

I would include also Ishmael and his descendants, that were also blessed every time that tents of Ishmael welcomed the children of Israel in their tents. There are no Arabs that have better, richer lives, and are more educated and are more professional and more upwardly mobile than the Palestinian Arabs.

When the sons of Esau and the sons of Ishmael make peace and join the sons of Jacob, and understand that we are all from the seed of Abraham — peace and prosperity will envelop the Middle East and all the inhabitants of this space between the Jordan River in the East, and the Mediterranean Sea in the West.

The reading from the prophets this Shabbat is from the prophet Malachi 1:1-2:7. This reading from Malachi is a difficult reading because it has all sides condemned for abuse. Even the priests and the Levites, who should be the paragon of holiness and charity, are corrupt and dishonoring the very name of the Lord.

In the end, the great equalizer of God’s love and justice, blessings and judgment, equally spread between the children of Abraham and the neighboring nations, will be the victory of the Lord, and peace between fathers and sons. And Elijah the prophet, who is one of the stranger prophets in the Bible, will come and make peace between fathers and sons.

The strange thing is that we know nothing about Elijah’s family, his birth place, his father’s name, or anything much about Elijah’s origin, or even his tribe. We do know that the prophet that killed 450 prophets of Baal in the Kishon River will in the end be the great peacemaker between fathers and sons, and I also hope between brothers and brothers peace will reign! The Prince of Peace will be on His throne forever!

Yehuda Bachana: The Ultimate Work-Life Balance [2022]

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

Dear friends, today we continue our journey through the book of Genesis, which is full of interesting and didactive stories that offer us many life lessons, and the Toldot Torah portion is no exception.

Today I wanted to talk to you about Jacob, his exceptional work ethics, and a questionable Jewish tradition, which claims that Jacob was a yeshiva student. Today we will examine this tradition, and the serious question it presents.

This question concerns us all, where do we, as observant Jews, as Christian, or as Messianic believers stand before God, regarding our prayer times and study times? What should be first in our life? God? Family life? Or a career and financial success?

It is very hard to be successful and fully invested in all three spheres of life. Not only as they often contradict each other, but also because our time is limited, and we only have 24 hours a day to get it all done.

In order to achieve “real” financial success, one has to be willing to invest in work and business much time and effort, to be focused and make sacrifices. However, building a good and devoted family also requires time, focus and sacrifices.

Many of us are thankful for our mother’s willingness to give up her career for nurturing family life. But that is my point exactly — one comes at the expense of another.

And where is God in this picture? He requires us to be honest in business, to tithe from our income, and be compassionate to the less fortunate.

Can I sit and study Torah all day long, at the expense of my family? And what about work? Income?

How can we find a right balance between these three spheres of our life: family, career, and God? Do we need to choose one over the other? Shall we choose God at the expense of a family life or a career?

This is the question behind the Jewish idea that in his youth Jacob was a yeshiva student. Meaning that Jacob sat and studied the word of God all day long.

This idea is coming from the interpretation of verse 27 of chapter 25:

“So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.” — Genesis 27:25

Many commentaries were written in an attempt to understand the phrase “dwelling (sitting) in tents”. The traditional interpretation of this phrase is that Jacob was sitting and studying the Torah. How do the rabbis describe it?

Jacob was a mild man, sitting (dwelling) in tents. Since the text doesn’t say sitting “in a tent”, but “in tents”, they interpreted it as:

“…he was leaving the midrash school of Shem and went into the school of Ever, and from school of Ever to the school of Abraham.”

For many Jewish sages “sitting in tents” means that Jacob was a yeshiva student, a rabbinical disciple. They use it as a justification of long hours, dedicated to prayer and Torah study, at the expense of taking care and providing for one’s family, or army service.

I do not think that this kind of interpretation and lifestyle is an exclusively Jewish problem, but rather a general religious problem, common to many religions. In ultra-orthodox Judaism, we see the willingness to sacrifice job and career for the sake of Torah study. It is quite common that men dedicate their lives to study and prayer, while women are left to provide for the family and to take care of children at the same time.

In Christianity, a similar mindset is found in the monastery lifestyle, when people are sacrificing a family life and material pleasures for the sake of prayer and meditation in accordance with their religious system. It is not different in the case of the Buddhist monks. So, as I said before, this is the general problem of any “religion”.

This concept is not foreign to us, as Messianic believers. We believe in God with all our hearts, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We love God, we want to serve Him, we want to invest in our faith, in prayer, in the study of the Word and good works.

To have God in the center of our lives is our ideal. So how can we keep the balance between the different spheres of life: between family, job, and life of faith and service to the Lord?

Let’s look at Yeshua’s answer, when he was asked about the greatest of all commandments:

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” — Mathew 22:35-40 [NIV]

Yeshua could’ve said “love the Lord you God” and that’s it, this is the “greatest commandment”. But He didn’t stop here, he carried on: and love your neighbor as yourself. This was absolutely necessary!

Yeshua is telling us that the commandments are not limited to our relationships with God, but our faith is expressed through the way we treat our neighbor, or a stranger passing by. Yeshua said that the entire Torah is founded on these two commandments.

Yeshua’s teaching is practical and is familiar to us as Jews, who know the expression “pikuach nefesh” (“saving a life”). And we know that saving a life comes before the Torah, before Sabbath, and before all the commandments.

Yeshua teaches us, that when there is a person in trouble, all the commandments are canceled, that it why Yeshua healed on the Sabbath (Mathew 12 and more). We cannot be only focusing upward, but need to think both about what’s above, and what’s around us.

The greatest challenge of our lives is to find the right balance between heavenly matters and earthly responsibilities. Both the Bible and the New Testament teach about relationships with our neighbors, about proper attitude to those near us. And although God comes first, the most important aspect of serving God is serving others around us.

What am I trying to say here, is that we believe in God and we want to serve Him, but in what way can person serve God? He serves his neighbor in the name of God. A believer serves his neighbor, because he believes in God.

Let’s go back to Jacob:

“So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.” — Gen 25:27

Can we explain and understand the expression “dwelling in tents” differently? Yes, as we find the similar expression only a few chapters earlier:

“…dwell in tents and have livestock.” — Genesis 4:20

Dwelling in tents means being a shepherd. Genesis 4 tells us about two brothers Jabal and Jubal, one invented music instruments, the other was the founder of shepherding — of animal domestication, the first rancher, so to speak.

When we think of what did Jacob do in his youth? Did he study Torah? Pray? Care about his spiritual wellbeing? Search for God? The answer to all these questions is found in the rest of Jacob’s story, so let’s examine his behavior.

Upon his arrival to Haran, even before entering the town, Jacob met a large group of shepherds sitting near the well, doing nothing. What was Jacob’s fist question?

“‘Look,’ he said, ‘the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.’” — Genesis 29:7

What are you doing here, he asks them, why are you wasting your time, go back to pasture! Jacob is lecturing local shepherds about work.

Could he do it, if he was not a hard worker himself? From this conversation we can assume that Jacob grew up working as a shepherd, and it bothers him to see others not doing their jobs.

Jacob proves himself as a person of action:

“…he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.” — Genesis 29:10

Here we discover that Jacob was very strong, stronger than average. While all the shepherds were waiting to gather together to move the heavy stone from the mouth of the well, Jacob was strong enough to do it by himself.

Later he will fight the angel on the planes of Jabbok River; he is strong! We also discover that he knew how to water the flock. We learn that being a shepherd is what he does, it is in his blood, that’s what he is good at.

The scripture tells us that after meeting Rachel and the rest of the family:

“Laban said to him, ‘Surely you are my bone and my flesh.’ And he stayed with him for a month.” — Genesis 29:14

What did Jacob do during his first month with Laban? Was he sitting and studying Torah? Did he search for answers to empiric questions, like: what does God want from me? Why am I in Haran? How did I get into this trouble? What is the meaning of my life?

Not at all, and the next verse gives us an answer.

“Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what should your wages be?’” — Genesis 29:15

We understand that Jacob didn’t rest for a minute, all this time he was working, diligently watching Laban’s flocks. Laban saw Jacob’s work and offered him a job. Why, because he was impressed by Jacob’s work ethic.

He wanted this diligent worker for himself, before his neighbors would make Jacob an offer and steal from him this good employee. Jacob was successful in everything he did.

Jacob stayed and worked for Laban for 20 years. In chapter 30 we read about the trick he did, when he and Laban decided to split the flocks, so every family will have what’s theirs. They decided to divided flocks by color, separating spotted animals from even-colored. In order to get desirable results, Jacob placed rods with stripes by the place where animals were conceiving.

We are dealing here with an expert in sheep herding, who knew how to manipulate the circumstances in order to get what he wants:

“Thus, the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.” — Genesis 30:43

This is written about Jacob. Jacob was herding Laban’s flocks with diligence and endurance, often in harsh conditions. We learn it from the conversation between Jacob and Laban:

“These twenty years I have been with you; your ewes and your female goats have not miscarried their young, and I have not eaten the rams of your flock. That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night. There I was! In the day the drought consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes.” — Genesis 31:40

It was because of Jacob’s work ethic that God has protected him all these years.

“God has seen my affliction and the labor of my hands, and rebuked you last night.” — Genesis 31:42

…says Jacob to Laban.

Discussing Jacob, the Jewish sages teach us the following principle, that is worthwhile applying to our lives as well:

“…the merit acquired from labor may be helpful even when the influence of one’s ancestors is not.” — Midrash Tanchuma Vayatze 13

This saying means, that a man can’t say “I will eat, drink and enjoy myself, without working and God will bless me” No, a man needs to work, to do things with his own hands, and only then he will receive God’s blessing.

I believe that this Torah portion teaches us the correct balance in life. As we all need to find a healthy balance between family, job, and our faith.

Yes, maybe my career will not be on the top of my abilities, but so what? if I am surrounded by a loving family. And maybe, I am not the greatest Bible scholar, but I am doing pretty well at my job, and I am a decent and honest person.

Life in this world requires us to work and earn our living, to build our future, to invest in the family and in the next generation, and to teach them about faith and God. We must remember that we are accountable before God.

Shabbat Shalom.

Joseph Shulam: The Importance of Genealogies [2021]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is from Genesis 25:19 – 28:9. The name of this portion is Toldot – this Hebrew word is very important and it is translated into other languages in different ways: Toldot means history, genealogy, birthing…

These are but a few of the different meanings and uses of this word. The reading from the prophets (the Haftarah) is from Malachi 1:1 – 2:7, and from the New Testament the reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans chapter 9:1-31. It is unusual that we read a whole chapter from the New Testament, but this is a very important chapter and it is connected with our Torah portion.

The reading from the Torah starts with the following words:

“This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” – Genesis 25:19-21 [NKJV]

It is a very strange genealogy! We have a few strange genealogies in the Bible and even in the New Testament. However, this one is strange because it so very short.

We know from earlier chapters of the book of Genesis that Abraham had a father, and we know his father’s name and the names of Abraham’s grandfather and great grandfather. In fact, in Genesis chapter 11 we have Abraham’s genealogy from the time of Noah’s son Shem, eleven generations back.

Why does our chapter start with Isaac’s genealogy and only give us two generations? This is an interesting question. There are several possible answers to this question:

  1. Abraham’s genealogy for several generations was pagan, idol worshipers. The text here dealing with Isaac and Rebecca is concentrating on the “now” and not on the past and the word Toldot that is translated as “genealogy” is the same root as “birth” and the first thing that we hear in Isaac’s story after the death of his mother and father is that Rebecca his wife is not able to have children and Isaac is pleading with God for his wife, because she was barren. So, the whole blood line of Abraham and God’s promises to Abraham are now in danger and the word “Toldot” – “genealogy” reminds us of, and is associated with the word “birth,” in the Hebrew Language.  Hebrew is a multilayered language and actually a very limited language and therefore words have many possible meanings. This makes the Hebrew Text of the Bible more difficult to understand and more interesting.
  2. A second reason why Abraham’s full genealogy is not presented here could be that it was already given in chapter 11 of Genesis.
  3. The third reason why a more extensive genealogy of Isaac is not given here, is to accentuate the fact that all of God’s promises to Abraham are now hanging by a thread. A thread that puts all of God’s plan of redemption of mankind in danger. The first round of humanity was a total failure, and it ended with Noah’s flood, where the Lord pushed the reset button and only eight people were saved, and this too didn’t eliminate the propensity for sin or the existence of rebellious and unfaithful human hearts. Now the Holy Spirit is trying to tell us, that is, all of humanity, that with Isaac, God is pushing the reset button again, and it is not natural and not by the force of nature that this new family, the family of Isaac, is going to continue and survive and produce the seed promised to Abraham that will become a blessing and salvation for all the nations (all humanity) of the Earth.

In my opinion, that is why this portion of the Torah starts with the word “Toldot” – genealogy. There is one more strange use of the word “Toldot” – genealogy in the book of Genesis and also quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 1:1.

The very opening verse of the book that we call the “New Testament.” The source of this quotation in the New Testament is from Genesis 5:1:

“This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” – Genesis 5:1 [NKJV]

But Adam didn’t have a genealogy. Adam didn’t have a father and a mother. Adam was created from clay by the hand of the Almighty God and the spirit of life was breathed into his nostrils by the Father of Life, Himself.

Why do you think that the Holy Spirit through the pen of Matthew, starts the Gospel with these words: “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.”

The reason is very simple and important. Matthew is about to tell us the fantastic story that a young woman named Myriam has conceived and given life to a boy without the interaction of a male partner, a man.

This story is so fantastic and strange and difficult to understand that Matthew want’s to remind us that the Almighty God, creator of Heaven and Earth, can breathe life into a clay statue and make it alive without the intervention of a male. Here is the fantastic use of the word “Toldot”.

Now on to Genesis 25, God opens the womb of Rebecca and she has twins, Esau and Jacob! This is not a natural birth. It is a miracle birth like the birth of Isaac, and like the birth of Yeshua.

The birth of these twins came with a prophetic message, a massage that now thousands of years later is still being fulfilled and the end is known, but it is not yet in sight.

“And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’” – Genesis 25:23 [NKJV]

This prophecy is a rolling forward prophecy. It is still being played out on the stage of history and through the very flesh and blood of the Jewish people who are returning home after two thousand years of diaspora.
This return home to the land of Israel is not just the work of a few Zionists at the end of the 19th century. It is also the fulfillment of dozens of prophetic promises from the Torah, and through the New Testament. The one that I like specifically is short and it is promise whose fulfillment we at Netivyah have been praying for and working for.

“But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, And there shall be holiness; The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau shall be stubble; They shall kindle them and devour them, And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau, For the Lord has spoken. The South shall possess the mountains of Esau, And the Lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim And the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captives of this host of the children of Israel Shall possess the land of the Canaanites As far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Shall possess the cities of the South.Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion To judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” – Obadiah 1:17-21 [NKJV]

This word of God will be fulfilled to the letter. We are living in the Land of Israel at the time of the fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises. We are returning home and the seed of Esau and Ishmael, the Arabs, are falling apart with the murder and the destruction of millions of their own citizens, and a failing economic situation.

We need the prayers and the support and the help of all of our Christian brothers in the Word, who claim to believe the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. We, the disciples of Yeshua, living in the Land of Israel, and in the State of Israel, and in the Jewish communities around the world, need you, our dear brothers because the God who loved the world so much that He sent His only beloved Son, Yeshua, to the world to save you and us, is keeping His promises to Israel and you need to be with God and with Israel because these are the last scenes on the stage of History as we have known it from its dawn.

There will be a New Heaven and a New Earth! We just don’t know when and how! Noah built the Ark on dry grown on an Earth that never had seen rain before the flood. He had no knowledge or clue of how this wooden box covered with pitch would save him and his family and humanity. He was obedient and faithful and did the work and built the Ark.

I am sure that his wife, gave him a good talking every evening during dinner! He heard God and did what God commanded and led him to do! Let us take an example from Abraham, Noah, Moses, Joshua, David, and those prophets who stood and suffered persecution but never stopped believing in the words that God gave them to deliver on the streets of Jerusalem, Samaria, and in the hills of the Galilee.

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Toldot [2021]

Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Joseph Shulam.

Shalom. My name is Joseph Shulam and we have been doing the reading of the Torah portion that every Jewish synagogue in the world does each week, together with Brad TV and in this lesson we’ll be talking about the portion that is called in Hebrew “Toldot.”

The word Toldot, like a lot of words in Hebrew has more than one meaning and that is because Hebrew is actually a very limited language compared to Korean, English, and other languages. It has only about 70,000 words in modern Hebrew, In Biblical Hebrew, it’s actually only 22,000 words.

And the word Toldot is translated as genealogy. It’s also translated as history, and it appears several times in the Book of Genesis, more than any other book in the Bible. Both Genesis and Chronicles have the word toldot appearing very, very many times, and it’s an interesting word. The reading in the synagogues this week is from Genesis 25:19 to Genesis 28:9. And the reading from the Prophets is from Malachi, 1:1 to 2:7, and the reading from the New Testament is from Romans 9:6-13. But we’re going to deal mainly with the Torah reading. The portion of Toldot.

New Testament Starts With Toldot

Now the word Toldot is a word that the New Testament starts with. All of you should probably already know how to quote Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” Hallelujah. You all know that. But very few pastors actually know how to quote a more important verse for every Christian in the world, and that is Matthew 1:1, which starts in Hebrew, “Ele Toldot Yeshua ha-Mashiach ben Avraham ben David.” This is the genealogy or the history of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, the son of David.

No, I misquoted it on purpose. It doesn’t say that. It says “This is the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, the son of David.” And the phrase, “this is the book of genealogy,” only appears twice in the Bible. Matthew 1:1 and Genesis 5:1. Now that’s a very, very interesting start of the first verse of the first book of what we call the “New Testament.”

It’s an amazing start. A genius start that you should know because the phrase “This is the book of genealogy” appears only one other time in the whole Bible and that is Genesis 5:1 and it says “This is the genealogy of Adam.” Whoa! This is the- Adam didn’t have a genealogy, folks. He was created from the clay of the Earth that God molded and formed into a human being and breathed into it the life from the Spirit of God. So why did Matthew start his gospel with this phrase, taken from “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam,” Genesis 5:1?. Why did he start with that?

Isaac and Ishmael Bury Abraham

Because if anybody would criticize the virgin birth, the first words in the Gospel starts with a bang, nailing the case for the divinity and the sonship of Yeshua, of Jesus, to the Father, the creator of heaven and Earth. Hallelujah. So now, this is the genealogy of Isaac. In the last few verses in chapter 25, last week’s portion, which was called “The Life of Sarah.” “Chayei Sarah.” And Sarah dies. Abraham negotiates for her grave and he dies, and another amazing verse in last week’s portion is “Isaac and Ishmael come together.” Isaac, the Father of Israel, the Father of Jacob and the Twelve Tribes of the Nation of Israel.

Ishmael also has twelve children, twelve sons, and they are arch enemies until this very day. Yep. But they come together to bury their father in Hebron in the cave which Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as an everlasting tomb for Abraham and his family.

Wow, Isaac and Ishmael come together to mourn and to bury their father. That’s a very interesting and touching verse, and I think it’s a very important political verse for us today because the war between the children of Isaac and Jacob and the children of Ishmael is still on. That’s the war that we’ve been fighting now for hundreds of years. But let’s go on with our portion of the week, Toldot.

Isaac Marries Late

Abraham’s son Isaac is 40 years old when he marries Rebecca. 40 years old. Unusual for the time of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. At that time, men married when they were 18, 19, 20. It was considered a late one if they were 27 or 28 like the age at which Israeli boys marry today, even that would have been considered late.

But no, Isaac marries Rebecca when he’s 40 years old and she’s around 18 years old. That’s why when she comes in the previous portion riding a camel to get Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, and the first time she sees Isaac, the Hebrew text says she fell off the camel. She said, “This old man, I’m gonna marry this old man?” The Hebrew says “vatipol,” and she fell off the camel. In the Old King James version, it says “She alighted off the camel.”

If you ever go visit Hong Kong and you ride the subway in Hong Kong, the announcement in English is, “The train will alight” in any particular station. Tsim Sha Tsui or other station in Hong Kong. Alight. It’s a very fancy Old English word, to land. So Rebecca alighted because she saw Isaac was 40 years old when she married him. But let’s continue with our text.

Isaac Prays for a Child

Isaac prays for Rebecca to conceive and have a child. Why? Verse 21 tells us, she was barren. Now folks, is it an accident that she was barren? Sarah was barren, Rebecca was barren, Rachel was barren. Moses’ miraculous birth and survival. It’s a strange thing, isn’t it?

That all the Mothers of the Nation of Israel are barren and their issue has to come from God as a miraculous intervention to be able to give them a child? I’ll tell you what the Holy Spirit is doing. Why are the Mothers of the Nation of Israel barren? Because it’s a preparation of the mind of the reader of God’s Word for the angel to come to Mary and she becomes pregnant of the Holy Spirit and if anybody says “how could that be?”

If God could open the womb of Sarah at the age of 90 and then Rebecca and then Rachel, and David’s case which is also a little bit more complicated, but David also says “in sin did my mother conceive me.” He wasn’t talking about every human being like some of the Christian denominations teach. No. He was talking about his mother, not about my mother, and maybe not about your mother. I was born naturally, and most of you have been born naturally, too.

Isaac Asks God to Intervene to Make Rebecca Pregnant

We didn’t have to have a miracle, divine intervention of God and the Holy Spirit, to bring us to life. The course of nature did it. Hallelujah. Praise God for nature. And for God’s intervention, also. So Isaac has to beg God, plead with God, please give me a child from Rebecca. The problem was probably not with Rebecca but with him because he was already an older man.

But anyway, God answers his prayer and not in a simple way. Rebecca gets pregnant with two twins. Twins! I know a case like that in Israel. One of the kids that grew up in our congregation. Also he was married a few years, no children, then bang, she gets pregnant. Bang, they have twins. Yeah. After prayer as well.

Rebecca Has Twins

So this is the case. Rebecca has twins. In verse 23 in our portion, Genesis 25:23 says, “And the Lord said to her,” before birth, before there was such thing as ultrasound, before they could take a picture of the womb and see what’s with the baby and see that there are twins. Before all that, the Lord tells Rebecca, “Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples shall be separated from your body. One shall be strong and the other,” no, I made a mistake reading. “One people shall be stronger than the other and the older shall serve the younger.”

Rebecca Hears From God

That’s a very interesting text. It’s a very interesting text that is quoted, actually, in The New Testament. But here is a young woman that gets pregnant and God revels himself to her. What does it make Rebecca? A prophetess. In the Jewish religion, Rebecca, like Sarah, were prophets. And why are they prophets? Because God reveals to them things.

God Shows Rebecca Esau’s Thoughts

Now the next portion of the week that we’re going to teach next week, we’re going to see that Rebecca is a prophet because she gets a revelation of what Esau, her older child, first to come out of her womb, contemplates in his heart. He hasn’t told anybody. He thought about it in his heart and it was revealed to Rebecca that he wants to kill his brother Jacob after Isaac, her old husband, dies. And that’s why she tells Jacob, “Pack up, leave. Go to my brother in Assyria.”

That’s a very interesting thing, but here we see that God reveals himself to Rebecca and says, “You have two nations.” Not just two children, two nations in your womb. “And the older shall serve the younger.” That’s also a quotation in The New Testament. How do you say in Hebrew, this phrase? “The older shall serve the younger.” “Rav yaavod tzair.” The one that is greater, the older, will serve the younger.

The Older Will Serve the Younger

Now, Yeshua makes use of it in John 13 when he wants to wash the feet of the disciples, and he washes the feet of the disciples doing a midrash, a homiletic, use of this phrase that we see in our portion. “Rav yaavod tzair.” “Your Rabbi,” the greater one among you, will serve the younger.

Tzair is also another word especially in New Testament Greek, for disciple. Student. Not the same word as disciple, but the same meaning as a disciple. “Neaniskos” is a parallel to the word “mathitis,” which is disciple. So interesting. Interesting. Right in the beginning of our portion.

But because our time is limited in these TV broadcasts on Brad TV, I want to jump to chapter 26 of our reading. I’ll come back to Chapter 25. 26:5 is very interesting. God is transferring to Isaac all the promises that he made to Abraham, his father. And here is the verse that I want to concentrate on. Chapter 26 in our portion of the reading. Verse five.

Abraham Both Believed and Obeyed God

“Because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my Torah,” in the plural, “That’s why I am going to give you all the promises that I made to your father, Abraham.” They will be transferred to, inherited by you. What do we learn in this text from our portion? We learn from this text from our portion that Abraham not only believed God and God counted it for him as righteousness, like in Genesis 15 that we already talked about, but Abraham believed God and obeyed God.

He obeyed God’s commandments and he obeyed God’s charges. Precepts, if you want to translate them. And His commandments and His statutes and His Torah. Plural Torah. His teaching, His instruction. His law is the way it’s translated into Greek. Very interesting verse. Connects us back to Abraham. But I wanna back up now to the relationship between Jacob and Esau.

Jacob Was a Homeboy – Esau, a Hunter

It says that Jacob was a man who dwells in his tent. A homeboy. And Esau, an outdoorsman, a hunter, runs around the hills of Judea, around Bedlam, around Hebron, hunting. Contending with the people. A roughneck in Yiddish. Yeah. A kind of rough outdoorsman. Jacob is sitting in his tent and he’s cooking for himself some kind of red soup. And the King James translation followed the Greek and says lentil stew.

Esau Sells His Birthright for a Bowl of Soup

And Esau comes off the field and he’s hungry and he smells the good garlicky, onion-y, wonderful lentil soup and says to his brother, “I’m hungry. Feed me.” Jacob says, “Listen, I’ll be glad to feed you, but you have to pay.” And it says that Esau, verse 34 of our portion says that Esau… 25:34, I mean, says that Esau despised his birthright. Said, “why do I need a birthright? Don’t need a birthright. I am a man of the outdoors. I’m a tough guy. I take care of myself. I don’t need the inheritance of my old father.” Despised his birthright, and Jacob says, “You know what? I’ll feed you for your birthright.

You don’t like your birthright? You don’t want it, you despise it? I’ll take it.” And he takes it. Esau gives it gladly, for a bowl of soup, sells his birthright and that becomes a problem for the next several chapters in the Book of Genesis that we are going to continue to study, dear brothers and sisters in Korea, in the next weeks.

God bless you all. Read the Bible for yourself. Follow the Torah portions and read the whole Torah portions every week and the text from the Prophets and the New Testament. I guarantee it will enrich your faith and your life. In Yeshua’s name, God bless you all. Amen.

Joseph Shulam: The Rabbi Will Serve the Disciple [2020]

The reading this Shabbat, November 21, 2020 is from Parashat Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9. The Haftarah from the prophets is from Malachi 1:1-2:7. The reading from the New Testament is from Romans 9:1-31.

Both Noah and Isaac had righteous offspring. Noah had Shem and Isaac had Jacob. Both also had offspring that were not so righteous. Noah had Ham and Canaan, and Yitzchak had Esau.

There is a fundamental difference between Noah and Isaac.

Isaac had a heritage to transmit to Jacob, a spiritual inheritance. The blessings that Isaac gave his son were those that he had received from his father Abraham. It is heritage, family and national memory and traditions that create “toldot” (history), a continuity and connection to generational bonding and unity.

During these crazy days of the pandemic when almost everything is in disarray and the future of the whole world is unsure, our readings are supposed to bring some divine perspective from our past towards our future. The biblical and Jewish paradigm of Toldot, history, means in Hebrew: “The deeds of the fathers are a sign (a prophetic path) for the children with regard to sin.”

Future generations form a chain of history by their deeds; it’s like a linked chain leading to the end.

It is interesting to see here in the Bible, how our personal past shapes and directs our future, and the future of our children. This is one of the amazing things that the Lord has given us, an intense effect on future generations. The word “toldot” means “birthings”. How we live our lives affects the lives of our future generations, not only their physical life, but also the paths they take as well as their relationship with the Almighty God patterns that our actions plant in the souls of our children.

This is something that since the 18th century AD, humanity has neglected. The industrial revolution promoted economic progress, but took away from the nuclear family the very matrix that made the human being a creature created in the image and form of the Creator.

So, here you have it in this reading from Genesis 25:19 – 28:9, the good the bad and the ugly. In the most formative and important family in the history of salvation we have every human emotion, and the good is mixed with the bad and the bad has some good in it, and the future of humanity’s salvation is always hanging by a hair.

The amazing thing is that it all starts in Rebecca’s womb, where twin boys are fighting each other and competing with each other even before they come out of her womb, and even before they’re seeing the light of day.

“Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived. But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.” – Genesis 25:21-22 [NKJV]

Have you ever considered this interesting fact that all the mothers of the nation of Israel were not able to conceive and have children naturally? They were all “barren”.

Sara, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah, all had to have a miracle to give birth to children. Why do you think this is so? Why does the Lord who created man and woman and blessed them (or if you wish cursed them) to give birth to children and to replenish the earth with a population that is now exceeding the 9 billion and approaching the 10 billion mark, start with barren mothers?

I have considered this question for a long time: Why did God want to be clearly involved in the out of the ordinary births of the major historical heroes and villains in the path to the salvation of humanity?

My answer to this is simple, the Lord wanted us to know that there is the natural, but there is also beyond the natural the Lord God the Creator of the universe who has never abdicated His involvement in His creation.

Of course the most out of the ordinary, is the birth of Yeshua our Messiah that is not a birth given by a barren woman, but a birth given by a woman who knew no man!

The important part in this Torah reading for me is the simplicity of humanity with its beauty and with its good and at the same time from the same people you see the selfishness, and the manipulative behavior, the good and the bad mixed and interwoven tightly like a fine Persian carpet.

Every character in this text has good qualities and bad qualities. Every character is blessed and everyone has major weaknesses. There is grace and truth in all of the biblical characters, but especially in this particular parasha of God’s word.

The first word “toldot”, translated as “genealogy”, is the most powerful element of the divine comedy and tragedy that makes up the Bible. For me this is dramatic because everything that happens in Genesis influences Yeshua and the New Testament. Here’s just one example:

“And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’” – Genesis 25:23 [NKJV]

The last phrase in this prophecy is, “And the older shall serve the younger.” In transliterated Hebrew it looks like this: “ve-rav ya’avod zayer.” In the Hebrew language of the Second Temple it would be translated as, “The rabbi will serve the disciple.”

In the dramatic scene of Yeshua washing the feet of his disciples before the Passover Seder meal, the conversation is based on this text in Genesis. Here is the text from John 13:

“So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.’” – John 13:12–14 [NKJV]

“Teacher” in Hebrew is “rav”, “rabbi”, and I am serving you by washing your feet. This is the calling of those who are chosen by God to serve Him, to serve His disciples, to serve even the Esau’s of this world. This whole scene in John 13 is based on the prophetic promises given to Rebecca in Genesis.

We have another allusion to the Genesis portion of the reading for this Shabbat, and it is from Romans 9:10-12, that also sees the story of Genesis as an obligatory prophetic example for the relationship of the Gentile nations to Israel.

“And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’” – Romans 9:10–12 [NKJV]

In fact the apostle Paul in his last notes in Romans says it clearly:

“‘But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.’” – Romans 15:25–27 [NKJV]

Joseph Shulam: Life is God’s Gift, Not Man’s [2019]

The Torah portion this Shabbat is Toldot, Genesis 25:19 – 28:9. The Hebrew word “toldot” has many meanings. The basic meanings are “generations” or “descendants”, “history”, “genealogy”.

The Hebrew concept of history is a chain of events where one event leads to the next event with causality. One event gives birth to the next event.

Nothing in this world is independent. All things and events are connected in a linear line that has a beginning (Genesis) and has an end (the book of Revelation). This is the reason why Matthew starts the Gospel with the following words:

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham…” – Matthew 1:1 [NKJV]

Matthew is actually quoting from Genesis:

“This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” – Genesis 5:1 [NKJV]

The reason for this beginning in Matthew is just in case someone would say that it is impossible for a virgin to have a son. This text in Genesis 5:1 proves that it is possible.

God created Adam and Eve without a natural father or mother! If God can do this, a virgin can have a Son! This is how history starts, and history as we know it will end, with this created world, when that Son of God will return to redeem this world and mankind and be crowned as King over all!

Now, Genesis 25:19 shares the genealogy of Isaac. Here is the strange part. What is the first thing we learn in Isaac’s genealogy?

“Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah as wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Syrian. Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” – Genesis 25:20,21 [NKJV]

Do you think it is a coincidence that Sarah is barren, Rebbeca is barren, Rachel is barren, and Moses is miraculously saved? King David also had problems related to his birth. As he himself relates in Psalm 51:5:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:5 [NKJV]

Christians take this verse as if it speaks about all humans. There is no reason to ignore the pronouns of David in this text and condemn all of humanity. King David speaks only of his mother and himself, and not his father, and definitely not my mother, and I hope also not your mother.

Netivyah | Toldot | Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)
Gerard van Honthorst – Adoration of the Shepherds (1622)

Why do you think that so many of our patriarchs have barren mothers, and God opens their womb and they conceive a son? I propose to you, my dear brothers, that God is setting the stage for a birth, of Abrahamic descent, that will be from a virgin, and save the world. The Lord is preparing the stage of history for the ultimate Jewish King to be born from a virgin.

Every major leader in the chain of biblical figures has a problematic birth. This should light up the light in our minds. God is trying to tell us something simple and logical.

I believe that God is trying to tell us the following: “Life is My gift to the inhabitants of My earth! All life is in My hands, and I give it and take it, and if I want a virgin to conceive a Son without the intervention of a man, what is your problem? Isaac, your father, was born miraculously. Jacob, your father, and his brother Esau, were born also from a barren Rebecca, whose womb was opened by God. So, don’t doubt that I can and did have My only begotten Son conceived from a virgin.”

The rest of this Torah portion is the story of Rebecca and Isaac. The mover and shaker in this story is Rebecca!

Isaac is a much older and more earthy character. Rebecca is initiating the action, she is a prophetic character. Rebecca sees the future of her twin sons, and takes action to secure the future and fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and Isaac.

Some would condemn Rebecca for her actions. I don’t. Because God doesn’t condemn Rebecca for her actions.

Just like God doesn’t condemn Pharaoh’s daughter for disobeying her father’s law to drown every Hebrew male child in the river. Just like she hides Moses’s identity and saves the Hebrew child to become the deliverer of the Hebrew nation from Egyptian slavery.

No, the Lord God of Israel and the world is and can be extremely understanding when there are laws and rules that need to be broken for the greater good. Our God is full of grace and truth, longsuffering, and love!

In the Torah portion of Pinchas (Phinehas), Phinehas, the young priest from Aaron’s family, took the law into his hands, and without asking permission, spears Zimri and the princess of Moab through, all the way to the ground, for having sexual relations in public, in the entrance to the holy Tabernacle.

God didn’t condemn Phinehas for this action. God praised Phinehas. In the same way, Rebecca is praised among the matriarchs.

We have much to learn from the Torah! It is all the Word of God, and it is all profitable for instruction and correction to equip the men of God to do good works.

Joseph Shulam: Plead With the Lord [2017]

The reading of the Torah this Sabbath started from Genesis 25:19. The opening words in Hebrew and the name of this Parasha (portion of the reading), “Toldot”. This word is like many Hebrew words – complex, because it comes from the root “yalad”, which means to give birth.

So “Toldot” in the Bible has one of the following meanings, or all of them together. The dictionary gives this word the following meaning: generations (especially in genealogies, an account of a man and his descendants, or in other words, history).

This, by the way, is a different way of looking at history from the classical western view, as Webster defines history: “A systematic, written account of events, particularly of those affecting a nation, institution, science, or art, and usually connected with a philosophical explanation of their causes; a true story, as distinguished from a romance; — distinguished also from annals, which relate simply the facts and events of each year, in strict chronological order; from biography, which is the record of an individual’s life; and from memoir, which is history composed from personal experience, observation, and memory.”

Webster’s definition is good, but it is different. The difference is that it is cold, academic, and impersonal. It is dealing with the nation, the larger public, and the facts.

The New Testament body of literature starts with these words:

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham…” – Matthew 1:1 [NKJV]

It is not a scientific start of facts, it is in fact a very personal account of an individual. Most Christians don’t realize that there is only one other text that starts with these exact words in the whole Bible:

“This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” – Genesis 5:1 [NKJV]

You notice that the Gospel of Matthew starts with the same words as Genesis 5:1, but the catch is that the Genesis passage deals with someone that does not have a genealogy, in the plain sense of the word.

Adam did not have a father and a mother, and was not born as a product of love between a man and a woman. He was created by God from the dust of the earth and the spirit of life that God had infused into his nostrils.

So, when Matthew starts the Gospel with this words “the book of the genealogy”, he automatically closes the doors against any arguments about the virgin birth of Yeshua. So, Matthew’s gospel uses the word toldot/genealogy in the very Hebrew sense of the word; an account of a man and his descendants.

Of course the man that Matthew is referring to is not any man, it is Abraham and David. These two are the archetypes of God’s pleasure in mankind, and Yeshua is the culmination of the promises and ecxpectations of both Abraham and King David.

The next word that is of great interest for me is in Genesis:

“Now Isaac pleaded with the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea, and Rebekah his wife conceived.” – Genesis 25:21 [NKJV]

The word translated “pleaded” in English is an interesting word. It is one of the words in Hebrew that is used for prayer, supplication (always to God), sacrifice, entreating, and worship. So, as you can see, in the Hebrew language there are many words for prayer and different kinds of prayer. There are even more words for prayer than listed in the lines above.

Why is Isaac pleading, offering a possible sacrifice in order for God to hear his plea for Rebecca to have a son? We must remember that Isaac was likely more than 20 years older than Rebecca.

Second, almost all the mothers of the nation of Israel were unable to have children naturally without divine intervention. This is true for Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel.

This is not an accident. It is God preparing Israel’s history for the birth of the Messiah to be a product of divine intervention.

However, let me take us back to the concept of the Hebrew root of the word “pleaded” – “atar”. It is a root that exists in all the Semitic languages, and today in modern Hebrew it is mainly in legal language for a “plea” to the court, or an “appeal”.

This is much more than just a prayer, or a request, or a pleading. It is a strong demand!

Do we today have the privilege and rights to have such a petition before the Almighty One of Israel? Can we demand for God to do what we ask?

My answer to this question is both “yes” and “no”. Yes, we have the right to demand God to keep His promises. Some of God’s promises are time-sensitive, and He made them by His servants the prophets.

So, yes, we can petition God, as if in the court of history, and say, “Lord it is time now for You to keep Your promises to Your children. We are desperate and close to giving up, and despairing when we see where this world of Yours is going. We trust You Lord to keep all Your promises and covenants promised to our Fathers. Please Lord, we plead with You, either give us strength and courage and faith to keep on waiting, or hurry up and perform Your duties and keep Your promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David, and Yeshua Your Son.”

We can do this, but never for our own personal, sometimes selfish, requests. At least this is my opinion. For the sake of the world and our nations, we can knock on Heaven’s door with boldness as children of the Most High, petitioning our Father.

It is a good time, dear brothers and sisters, for all of us to “plead”, “petition”, “entreat” the Lord for the sake of our world and our nations, and His Kingdom down here on this Earth.

Joseph Shulam: God Has Planned History [2016]

This week the Torah reading is from Portion of Toldot, (Genesis 25:19-28:9). The starting word “Toldot” is one of great interest to me. Toldot is translated in several different ways in the English Bible. Let us see a few examples:

  1. “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” – Genesis 2:4 NKJV (also Genesis 37:2)
  2. “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness of God.” – Genesis 5:1 NKJV
    • This same translation of “toldot” is taken from this text in Genesis 5:1, and used in “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham…” (Matthew 1:1 NKJV) The importance of Matthew using this opening phrase in the very beginning of his Gospel is of great importance. Because the use of this word “toldot” here connects the two texts, and since Adam did not have an earthly father and mother, this becomes a closing argument to all those who claim that it is impossible to have a virgin have a son without the intervention of a man.
    • Also the same translation is in: Genesis 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, and many more places – this is the most prevalent translation of the Hebrew “toldot” into English and other European languages.
  3. “These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. And the years of the life of Levi were one hundred and thirty-seven.” – Exodus 6:16 NKJV
  4. “…six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth.” – Exodus 28:10 NKJV

The issue is even more important because it is a revelation of the idea of history in Hebrew and in the Jewish understanding.

Toldot/history is not a series of events that are accidental or a matter of chance, or just luck. History is a chain in which one link from the past influences the link that follows. It is linear, not circular. It does not repeat itself automatically. It is something that is planned and progresses in a single direction.

This is the only way that true prophecy can work. There is a master plan that is progressing, link by link, in a single direction that is set, and one drags the former event and creates the next and future events.

This is really the history of the Bible, but also the basis for moral responsibilities. The morality of the past generation is going to influence the future generation. There is no guilt incurred from generation to the next, but there are consequences that either make it easier and better for the next generations or make it harder. And inheritance of these consequences ought to be taken into account for our children and grandchildren.

Now in this Portion of the Torah there is the story of Isaac and Rebecca, and the birth of Esau and Jacob. The first thing we learn about this relationship is that Isaac is 40 years old when he married Rebecca.

Genesis 25:21 tells us that Rebecca is actually barren. Now Isaac is pleading with the Lord for his wife Rebecca to have a child.

Is it not interesting that Sarah was barren, and now her niece Rebecca is also barren, and Jacob’s wife Rachel was also barren? What is the common link between these women, the mothers of the nation of Israel?

It looks like a family problem – the family of Sarah and Laban her brother. All these women are related to Laban’s household.

However, there is probably a much deeper spiritual reason. The Messiah, the Son of God, was to be born by a virgin. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest birth miracle that makes all of us wonder.

So, The Lord is preparing our minds and the minds of all of Israel for this great event. If anyone is asking, can God actually have a child born of a woman that is a virgin? The answer is just look at Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel – and these are not the only births of Biblical heroes, Moses’ survival is a work of God’s power, and even King David has some questions surrounding his birth, and for this reason he said:

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” – Psalm 51:5 [NKJV]

In fact, the whole chain of history is organized from the very beginning, and all the prophets prophesied about the coming of the Messiah to fix what Adam and Eve spoiled in the beginning.

“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” – 1 Peter 1:10,11 [NKJV]

Just accept the fact that there is a God who has planned history, and all things are working for the good, even things that might not be the easiest or the most pleasant. There is only One who has the full control of all that is happening in His world, and He has loved us (all of humanity), and sent His Son to redeem us and prepare us for eternity in a place that He prepared for us.

This is something to cause us to rejoice, and trust, and do all that is possible so that in our end we will have joy and the pleasure to spend eternity with Him.

Yehuda Bachana: Jacob, a Dweller in Tents [2017]

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

This Shabbat we will read and study the weekly Torah portion, “Parashat Toldot.” The Torah portions from Genesis are rich in information and details. There is much to learn from these portions, especially from this week’s.

Today I want to focus on Jacob’s work ethic as well as a common question that arises in Jewish tradition, was he considered a yeshiva student?

This question causes us to ask ourselves the following, how much quality-time are we spending with God and what is our top priority – God or the world? Indeed, this is a thought-provoking portion that makes us reflect on our own relationship with the Almighty.

A Dweller in Tents

Let’s go back to the question of whether or not Jacob was a yeshiva student in his youth.

Jacob and his brother Esau grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter- a man of the open country, while Jacob was content staying at home among the tents. – Genesis 25:27 [NIV]

Many interpretations have been written in an attempt to understand the phrase, “to stay at home among the tents.” A popular view on the matter claims that this phrase means, “sitting and learning Torah.” Let’s look at how the Jewish sages depict this:

BUT JACOB WAS A PERFECT MAN DWELLING IN TENTS. “Dwelling in a tent” is not written in the passage, but rather “dwelling in tents.” Jacob would go out from the academy (bet midrash) of Shem and enter the academy of Eber. He would go from the academy of Eber to the academy of Abraham. – Midrash Tanchuma Buber, Vayishlach 9:1

Many consider “sitting in tents” to mean that our father Jacob was a wise yeshiva student. Hence the justification, for many in the orthodox community today, for excessive ​​learning and prayer. This can come sometimes at the expense of manual labor, household income, and participation in the burden of national military service. This problem does not exist only in Judaism. In Christianity we are familiar with the concept of monks, nuns, and monasteries who follow suit in this ideology.

As believers, this issue is not foreign to us either. The ideal, as most of us see it (whether consciously or subconsciously), is to invest in faith, learning, and prayer. The ideal is that God takes first place in our lives.

Surprisingly, the Bible and New Testament focus primarily on how we treat our neighbors and whether or not we are are doing so properly. Yes, God should be first and foremost; our duty is to worship and believe in one God – the God of Abraham and Jacob. But the kind of work that pleases God comes mainly in the form of how we treat others. In other words, we believe in God and want to serve Him, but how do we go about doing so? We can accomplish this by serving our neighbors out of our faith and love for God.

In Matthew 22 Yeshua was asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” Yeshua could have simply said, “Love the Lord your God,” and finish with that. However, Yeshua did not stop there. There’s more: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This commandment is not just about our personal relationship with God, even more so it’s about our relationship with our neighbors. Yeshua taught us that even the commandments of the Torah are annulled when there’s a person in distress. An example of this is found in Matthew 12, when Yeshua healed someone on the Sabbath. It exemplifies how our focus can not just be in one direction – upwards, towards God, but rather must be dispersed upwards and towards our environment. Our life challenge is to find the right balance, between the “vertical” and the “horizontal.”

Jacob: Scholar or Shepherd?

Let’s go back to Jacob’s story. Are there other ways to understand the phrase, “to stay at home among the tents”? Yes, in fact a similar verse is found in an earlier chapter,

Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. – Genesis 4:20 [NIV]

A “dweller in tents” is also known as a shepherd. Assuming that Jacob learned from his forefathers, what exactly did he study? What was Jacob’s main occupation during the first years of his life? Was he mainly studying the Torah and seeking God? Or was he mainly engaged in manual labor? 

The answer is revealed to us in the course of events and we must look at Jacob’s actions as they appear in the following passages. How did he behave, as someone who was used to manual labor or as a scholar?

As soon as he arrived in Harran, Jacob encountered local shepherds with flocks of sheep lying near a well. Jacob immediately spoke to the shepherds,

“Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.” – Genesis 29:7 [NIV]

“What are you doing here? Why are you wasting time? Go shepherd the flock.” Jacob is revealed as a person with a high work ethic who preaches morality, even to strangers.

Jacob is not satisfied with mere words, he is also a man of action, as seen in the following verse:

When Jacob saw Rachel, daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. – Genesis 29:10 [NIV]

Jacob is depicted as having above-average physical strength as well as being skilled in watering flocks. The shepherds justified their idleness as waiting for all the shepherds to come, so they could roll the stone away from the mouth of the well together.

After the encounter with Rachel and the rest of his relatives, it is written,

Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.” After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month… – Genesis 29:14 [NIV]

What did Jacob do for the first month he was in Laban’s home? Did Jacob sit and study Torah? Did Jacob seek the answer to all of his questions: What does God want from me? Why am I in Harran? Why did I get into this trouble? What is my life’s purpose? The next verse answers this clearly,

Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.” – Genesis 29:15 [NIV]

The answer is that Jacob did not rest for a moment. Instead he diligently shepherded Laban’s flocks. Laban sees Jacob’s work and offers him a job. Why did he decide to do this? He witnessed Jacob’s work ethic and he wanted him for himself, before his competitors would offer Jacob a job and take away his hard worker.

Jacob remained and faithfully worked for Laban for 20 years. During those years, Laban cheated Jacob on several occasions. Jacob labored in exchange for his marriage to Rachel, and instead of Rachel he received her sister Leah. Even more so, he had to work seven more years in order to finally receive Rachel as his bride. After that, Jacob continued to work for another six years.

Jacob shepherded Laban’s flock with diligence and persistence; he was faithful to his work even under difficult conditions. We read about this in the challenging dialogue that Jacob had with Laban.

“I have been with you for twenty years now. Your sheep and goats have not miscarried, nor have I eaten rams from your flocks. I did not bring you animals torn by wild beasts; I bore the loss myself. And you demanded payment from me for whatever was stolen by day or night. This was my situation: The heat consumed me in the daytime and the cold at night, and sleep fled from my eyes.” – Genesis 31:38-40 [NIV]

Jacob pointed out to Laban just as the Torah points out to us, that God protected and preserved Jacob throughout all those years due to his incredible work ethic:

“…But God has seen my hardship and the toil of my hands, and last night he rebuked you.” – Genesis 31:42b [NIV]

In Conclusion

The Jewish sages learned an important lesson that I think we should learn and apply in our own lives:

From this episode we learn that the merit acquired from labor may be helpful even when the influence of one’s ancestors is not. – Midrash Tanchuma, Vayetzei 13:1

The essence of this quote is that a person should not say, “I can eat, drink, and be merry, and not bother myself with work and I will still receive mercy from heaven.”

It is the opposite, a person must work with both his hands, and afterwards God will send him his blessings.

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