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: 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.

Muriel Stern: Sometimes the Lord Uses the Most Unlikely Person to Remind Us [2018]

Apparently, the men of Gerar had a pretty bad reputation. They would not hesitate to kill a man just because they would like to take his wife. But they did have respect for a man’s sister. Your sister might be taken, but at least you’d not be killed.

And so both Abraham and Isaac feared for their lives when they were living in Gerar. A very real fear because both Sarah and Rebecca were exceptionally beautiful. Therefore Isaac asked Rebecca to tell everyone she was his sister instead of his wife, just as Abraham had asked Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were actually brother and sister, they had the same father. Rebecca is the daughter of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, so they are related but certainly not siblings.

The timeline of this story is interesting. Right before Isaac asks his wife to lie about their relationship he has a personal encounter with the Lord. “The Lord appeared to Isaac”, we read in Genesis 26:2. Isaac is told by the Lord that he should stay put and not go to Egypt. The Lord himself told Isaac to stay in Gerar, with the protection and blessing of the Lord. And Isaac obeys.

And right after this very personal and powerful encounter with the Lord, Isaac is so afraid for his life that he asks his wife to lie for him.

Now it is very likely that growing up Isaac heard the story of how his mother told everyone she was his father’s sister, both in Egypt and in Gerar. And that both times she got taken away. In both cases the Lord intervened on her behalf and she was safely returned to her husband. So when Isaac finds himself in Gerar he decides to use the same ‘trick’ as his father before him. When asked about his wife, he tells the men of Gerar that she is his sister.

It seems like maybe the men of Gerar remember the family and stay on the safe side. While Sarah was taken by Abimelech, but no one came to take Isaac’s “sister’” Abimelech had every intention to make Sarah his wife, but was not able to due to the interference of the Lord. The Lord actually spoke to him in a dream and he returned Sarah to her husband. He even paid a large sum of money and gave gifts to compensate her. Now Abraham’s son has come to live in Gerar and again there is a beautiful ‘sister’.

After Isaac and his family have lived in Gerar for a long time the secret comes out. The King Abimelech sees Isaac cerrasing Rebecca. Isaac is asked why he lied. And he answered that he was afraid for his life. A fear we can understand.

But Abimelech raises an interesting point. He doesn’t argue with Isaac, nor did he with Abraham, about whether he should be afraid or not. The fear both men had was very real and just under the circumstances. Abimelech points out that their solution, lie about the identity of their wife, gravely endangered him and his people.

Abraham and Isaac might have been the Lord’s chosen ones but it was a heathen king that pointed out the danger their fear caused others. A non-believer, as we might say in this day and age, listened to the Lord and spoke truth to the people of God.

May this story remind us that, while it is very normal and natural to be afraid, our actions should always be in line with the commandments of the Lord. And sometimes the Lord uses the most unlikely person to remind us of this.

Yehuda Bachan: 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.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.