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: When God answers prayers with a “No” [2022]

The Torah portion that synagogues are going to be reading this Shabbat is called Va’etchanan, (ואתחנן) from Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11.  This Torah reading in my opinion is probably one of the saddest of all Torah portions in the five books of Moses. The first words of this Torah portion and the meaning of the word “Va’etchanan” in Hebrew is: vaetchanan “Then I pleaded with the LORD!”  A more pedestrian word to translate the Hebrew is “I begged!”

This is the prince of Egypt, the one that was raised in Pharaoh’s palaces in Egypt. This is the man who was 40 days and nights on the top of Mount Sinai in a personal one to one time with the Creator of the Universe. This is the man who inspired Israel in the second millennium B.C. and continues to inspire billions of people around the God’s blue orb that we call Earth.  He is pleading, begging, God to cross the Jordan River, just to put his foot on the land that the Almighty gave to Abraham and to his seed as an everlasting inheritance.

God answers Moses with these words:

“But the LORD was angry with me on your account and would not listen to me. So, the LORD said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.” (Deuteronomy 3:26)

The reason that this Torah portion is so important for me, and I believe for all of us is that I don’t like to get a “No!” answer from anyone if I really want something bad enough.  Especially If I beg someone for something that is very important for me, and I think that that person is my friend getting a “NO!” answer makes me upset.  In fact, I think that most people would feel upset if a close friend or even just a good acquaintance with whom I have had good relationship and a backlog of time spent together and cooperation.  If I need or want something that would not cost the person anything and he just flat rejects my request and doesn’t give me a good reason why he tells me, “I don’t want to!” It would make me angry and may cause me deep unhappiness.

What makes this more complex is the style of the answer that God gives Moses: In the vernacular God tells Moses His servant, “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear more of this request from you!  The text makes it ever more sad and difficult, God tells Moses, “Shut your mount” and go up the mountain and die there…”  Can you imagine Moses 120-year-old man, servant of the Lord of whom God Himself said:

“Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the LORD.” (Numbers 12:6–8 NKJV)

Here comes the question that ought to help us all understand God just a little better: “Why didn’t God allow Moses to cross the Jordan River together with the children of Israel and with Joshua the Son of Nun leading them into the conquest of the land of Canaan?”   I really believe that God was thinking only of what is best for Moses himself and what is also best for Joshua the son of Nun and the children of Israel.

Leaders must know when to step down and pass that baton to the next generation of leaders.  In this case, it was by the grace of God that Moses was not allowed by God to cross the Jordan River with the children of Israel.  Moses was the greatest leader of the children of Israel in the history of Israel, but also in the history of both Christianity and Islam.  But he would have been both in the way and unhappy with the much-needed totally different style and mode of leadership need to lead the children of Israel in the conquest of the land of Canaan.

How do I know that God took into consideration only what is good for Moses when He told Moses, “Shut your mouth, I don’t want to hear from you on this issue anymore! Just go up the mountain and die there!”  Look at the first verses of the book of Joshua:

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: “Moses My servant is dead. Now, therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all these people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel.” (Joshua 1:1–2 NKJV)

God didn’t want Moses standing on the banks of the river Jordan and watching the hordes of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River and He, Moses, staying behind.  He sent Moses up to the mountain of Nebo (Mizpah) to die first before He gave Joshua the marching orders to cross the Jordan River with the children of Israel.  It was out of pure mercy and consideration for the feelings of His servant Moses.

We must remember that Holy Principle that is often forgotten by us when things in our lives don’t go the way we wanted or wished them to go:

“Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:26–30 NKJV)

When we quote Romans 8:28, and say:

“And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

We often take the words of their natural context and make them have a card-blanche for all occasions and for all people.  But the more correct meaning would be that the LORD makes all things that are fit and equip us for our own good because we love the Lord and because we are called to live and serve according to His purpose.

This was the case with Moses, God took into consideration what is good for Moses first and postponed the whole nation of Israel from crossing the Jordan River to save Moses’ feeling bad to see the children of Israel crossing the river and Moses standing on the banks of the river feeling really bad that he has to stay behind.  Let us all, dear brothers realize that central truth that God really loves us, and sometimes He says “NO!” to us because of that Love and because He knows what is best for us.

Our ambitions and desires and appetites are not always good for us and each adult person that is a good father does the same to his children and tells them “NO!” As children, we don’t understand this when it happens but years later, we see the wisdom and love that our family had for us when they told us, “NO!”  Thank God for His wisdom and for His love when He tells you “NO!” Just as much as when He tells you, “Yes, my good and faithful servant!”. 

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Va’etchanan [2022]

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

Shalom, my name is Joseph Shulam, and together with Brad TV in partnership, we are doing the Torah portions that are being read every week, every Sabbath, in every synagogue around the world. Starting in Genesis ending at the end of Deuteronomy, that takes the whole year to go through the Torah portions.

And we are now entering the second portion of the book of Deuteronomy, and it’s called in Hebrew, Va’etchanan. The whole book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech. He’s giving his last speech before the children of Israel cross the Jordan River to the land of Canaan, and he goes up to Mount Mizpah, across the Jordan River, a high mountain which he can look at most of the land of Israel on a clear day from that mountain.

I certainly hope God gave him a clear day the day that he went up there to Mount Pisgah. And now we are starting in chapter three verse 23, and the word Va’etchanan means pleading, pleading.

Moses had to plead with God, “Please God, please let me cross the Jordan. I’ve worked so hard 80 years to bring these people to this land and I don’t get to cross the Jordan River into the promised land that You gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God, please, I am pleading (‘va’etchanan’), I am pleading, let me cross.”

I’m reading the text now from Deuteronomy 3:23-25:

“Then I pleaded with the Lord at that time saying, ‘oh Lord God, You have begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand for what God is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like your works and your mighty deeds. I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains and the Lebanon.’”

Well, God, in chapter 34 of the book of Exodus, described Himself as Lord, merciful and mighty with everlasting grace, gracious, that shows grace to the generations. That’s the nature of God when God describes himself to Moses in chapter 34 of Exodus. And Moses goes up on the rock and God reveals himself to Moses. He said these words, I’m gonna repeat them.

“Now, the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with Moses, with Him there and proclaimed the name of the Lord.” [The Tetragrammaton means the four letters.] “Lord, and the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, the Lord, God merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for the thousands, forgiving inequity and transgression and sin. By no means declaring guilty, visiting the inequity of the fathers upon the children, the children children to the third and the fourth generation.”

You would think that this God that proclaims Himself merciful and mighty would give his faithful servant, Moses, that little bit of grace and allow him to cross the Jordan. What’s the big deal? Well, for Moses, it was certainly a big deal and for God it was a certainly a big deal.

Because look at the answer that God gives to Moses, in Deuteronomy 3:26, “But the Lord was angry with me,” Moses said. “On your account and the account of the people,” Moses like a good Israeli, like a good Jew, says He is not angry with me because of me. You are to blame that God is angry with me.

It’s very Israeli folks. It’s very human. I’m repeating from verse 26 of chapter three of Deuteronomy: “But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not listen to me. So the Lord said to me, enough, enough of that. Speak no more to Me of this matter. Of this subject.”

In other word God said, “Moses, shut up. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. This is the last time I’m gonna listen to you begging Me to let you in across the Jordan River to the promised land.”

Pretty, pretty harsh. It’s pretty harsh. And it’s hard for us to understand it because many times we ask things from God, and God either doesn’t answer us, which can happen. Or he answers us and says, “No, not right now, maybe later, maybe never.”

I’ve asked so many things from God, like healing my wife and healing my eye and lots of things. Didn’t happen. God said, no. He said no to me, more than one time for things that I thought for Him would be the snap of a finger. But He said, no. Joe, no.

I hope by the end of this lesson today we’ll understand better why God sometimes says no, and what we need to understand is that even the no is grace. Even God says, no, well not right now. Or come later, it’s all for our good. For all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.

And that is a very, very famous, not only biblical principle, Jewish principle. We have a blessing that says, thank you for everything, even for what seems to us a calamity, a disaster. Yes, all things work together. We need to take that deeply into our heart.

But Moses is not the only one that God said no to. Some of the most important people in the Bible got a no from God. Among them, Yeshua Himself. Yeshua Himself.

Here is a text, Matthew 26:39-42. Yeshua is describing what’s happening. “And He went a little further and fell on His face and prayed,” we’re talking about the garden of Gethsemane. And He prayed and said, “Oh My father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”

Again, a second time. Verse 42, a second time He went away and prayed saying, “Oh My father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Yeshua accepts God’s decision, God’s verdict. Even though He is begging God “Let this cup pass away from Me.”

Like Moses, He is begging God twice. And it’s found in all the synoptic gospels. In Mark 9 verse 41, and Mark 10 verse 38, and in Luke 22 verse 42, which means that all the three gospels that are called the synoptic gospels because the order of the stories is the same, have the story.

The writers of the gospels that wrote after the events, all agreed that this story is so important, that this event is so important, that God said to Yeshua, “No, I’m not going to take this cup away from You. I sent You to the world to drink this cup, to be a sacrifice for the salvation of mankind. I sent You to Jerusalem to be crucified. And You know that very well because You Yourself told it to Your disciples and to Your enemies. Yes, You may want to escape this cross, this cruel tool of execution. This tool that could make people suffer days, hanging there by their hands and by their feet, stretched out. Every breath is painful. In the sun.”

Passover. Close to the season we are in now, hot, maybe even dusty with a dust storm. And You are hanging there Yeshua. You are hanging there because the father said, “No, son You’Ve gotta drink that cup. You’ve gotta go through it. That is Your purpose in life. That is Your mission. That is Your calling.”

Seems cruel because we have made an image of God that is not real and it’s not true. Of a gracious old senile man sitting on a cloud, not knowing whether it’s Tuesday or Wednesday, administrating our solar system, the sun, the moon, the stars, and obviously our own ball called earth.

Yeah, but that’s not the God of the Bible. Not the God of the Bible. Every one of us, every human being, a believer in God, not a believer in God, a Muslim, a Shinto, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Messianic Jew, a Christian Jew, a Christian from all the different colors and denominations of Christianity, every single one of us is born with a mission.

Nobody’s here to just catch space and breathe air. Every one of us is born with a mission. The problem is that we don’t all know what our mission is and sometimes it takes a lifetime to discover.

And sometimes it’s too late to carry our mission after we get old and decrepit and sick. But we come into this world with a purpose. We are all created in the image and in the form of God. We all have divine qualities. Every human being has divine qualities that the animal world doesn’t have.

Here are some of them. The ability to imagine things that are not yet in existence and to bring them, to create them into existence. The ability to take two elements from nature and mix them together and make something new that didn’t exist before. Like we’re talking about bronze, like different metallic alloys that are man made. People took copper and they took iron and they mixed them, and made bronze.

And I could give you a lot more examples from chemistry because my degree in university is from chemistry also. Beside Bible and archeology and history of Jewish thought I have a degree in chemistry. So I can give you a lot of examples.

Yes, we have that ability to imagine a divine quality. Imagine what doesn’t exist and with our hands and with our minds and with our talents and with our gift, make it happen. That’s a divine quality.

We have the ability to do things for one another that are above and beyond conception. In Israel, one of the things that is above and beyond conception, is the number of young men and women that sacrificed their life, that jumped on the live grenade to save their buddies instead of running.

That went into the fire of the battle in the Golan Heights when the Syrians attacked on Yom Kippur, 1973. Knowing that if they don’t go, many of their buddies and soldiers will die. And they went and sacrificed themselves to be able to stop a column of Syrian tanks.

I can give you the names of these people. Some of them survived, many didn’t. Yes, that altruistic character that some people have and many more should have, especially disciples of Yeshua, of Jesus. That is a divine quality.

The same quality that motivated God to send His son to the world so that nobody will perish but that everybody will have access to everlasting life. Yes God said to His son, to Yeshua, “No, I am not going to take that cup away from You.”

He said to Moses, “No, I am not going to let you cross the Jordan.” But He did the same thing to Elijah. Elijah had that magnificent event on top of Mount Carmel where he was alone with his servant against 450 prophets of Baal, and he had victory. God answered his prayer. A prayer of nine words.

Boom, fire came from heaven, burned the altar, burned the water, the ditch dug around the altar, everything burned. Great victory. It took the prophet 450 prophets of Baal, cut their throats in the River Kishon below Mount Carmel.

You would think, oh wow, what a success? Thank you God, what a success I had. I was able to whip my enemies and Your enemies. As they say in Tennessee, whooped them.

Yes, but that wasn’t Elijah’s reaction. Elijah’s reaction was the opposite. He had that big success. What does he do? He goes to the Sinai desert. He goes to Mount Sinai. He enters a cave there and he wants to die.

Look what he says, 1 Kings 19:4:

“But he himself went a day’s journey to the wilderness and came, sat down under a broom tree, and he prayed that he might die. And he said, ‘It’s enough. Now Lord, take my life for I am no better than my fathers.’”

Got clinical depression, post trauma from the victory he had at Mount Carmel, excuse me. He wanted to die. He wanted to starve himself to death in the continuation of the story in the book of Kings.

Well, God sends an angel says, “No, sir, you’re not gonna do it. I’m not going to grant you what you want. I have more for you to do, buddy. I have more for you to do, get up and eat. Wash yourself, wash your face, refresh yourself. You have a mission to go. You have a mission to finish. You’re not finished yet.”

Now what’s interesting is that in the story of the transfiguration, Yeshua is there with some of His disciples, we don’t know which mountain. It’s a mountain set apart. Traditionally it’s Mount Tabor, or the highest mountain in the region, Mount Hermon. But Mount Hermon is a range, not a set-apart mountain. Mount Tabor is, it’s kind of like a half an neck sitting in the middle of the valley of Jezreel.

And there, He goes up by Himself and the disciples are somewhere underneath Him but they can see Him. And they see Elijah and Moses come to meet Yeshua on top of that mountain. And they talk to each other.

We don’t have a recording of what they said. We wish we did. If Yeshua had an iPhone He could have put it on record and recorded what Elijah and Moses said to Him. But we can guess.

They came to encourage him. To say to Him, “Listen, we have been there. We have died and we have gone to heaven and we know what it is like. And don’t worry, You’Ll be okay, go for it, Buddy, go die on the cross for the sake of Your people, Israel and for the sake of humanity. Go for it.”

But they may have told Him, “Listen, God knows what He is doing.” “When we ask God,” Moses says, “When I asked God to let me cross the Jordan, He said to me, no. I was very sore, I was very angry, I was upset, but I knew that God knows best. What’s for me best, what’s for His people best, and what’s for the world best. So I had to submit when He told me you’re not crossing the Jordan, and that’s that, my anger dissipated, ended, because I knew God knows what He is doing.”

Elijah the same way said, “Yeshua, don’t worry. I wanted to die, God didn’t let me. I’m glad He didn’t let me die because I continued my mission and it became international. Not only dealing with Ahab and with his wife Jezebel and with their sin. Yeshua, don’t worry. It’ll be short. It’ll be quick. In 40 days, You’ll be going back to the Father sitting on His right hand. The pain that you’re going to suffer is worth it. Not to You, but it’s worth it for Israel and the rest of the world.”

Now we think that we are here put in this world arbitrarily, but nobody is here arbitrarily. Not Yasser Arafat, not Saddam Hussein, not Adolf Hitler, not Boris Johnson or our prime minister, former prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, or our present prime minister, Bennett, Naftali Bennett.

Everybody that is born here, whether you are a king, a prince or a pauper, whether you are sitting in jail for a crime you committed, everybody’s here for a purpose. And God has use of everybody because we are all His children.

Even the Adam that was put in the garden of Eden wasn’t put there to be sitting there all under the juniper tree on a big, easy chair, rocking chair, listening to Louis Armstrong. Oh, what a wonderful world.

No, that wasn’t why Adam was put in this world. We read from the book of Genesis 2:15-17.

“And the Lord God took the men, took Adam, and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.”

English translation is weak. The Hebrew says:

“To work the land and to preserve the land already in the garden of Eden, and to protect the land and to bring fruit out of the land and vegetables out of the land. To make you go to work and you make the land work for you.”

That’s what this text says in Genesis 2:15.

“And the Lord God commanded Adam saying, ‘Of every three of the garden you shall freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in that day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

What do you think happened? Here is our human nature. Here is our human nature, folks. The tree, that was said, “Don’t eat,” that’s the tree that Adam and Eve ate from. That’s our nature, but God’s nature also doesn’t change. God’s nature also doesn’t change. And He knows what we don’t know securely yet. That really all things.

And when it says all things, it means the good, the bad, and the ugly things that happen to us in our life they work for the good of those that love the Lord. Not only for our good, the implication is those that us. No, that text implies more than us, for all those that love the Lord.

If you benefit in God’s kingdom, the people around you will benefit too. If you are blessed by God, the people around you will be blessed by God too, through you. You become a tool in God’s hand.

So yes, God can tell us no. God will tell us no, but in our portion of the Torah toward the end in Deuteronomy 4:29, we find the following verse. God is talking to Moses: “But from there you will seek the Lord your God.” No, I’m sorry, mistake. God is talking to all of Israel through Moses. Not to Moses, but through Moses. Verse 29 of chapter four of Deuteronomy:

“But from there, you will seek the Lord, your God and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Now, if you read Acts chapter 17, Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, you’ll see that this becomes a central motive that God’s purpose for us is to seek Him and verily to find Him, even if we grope for Him in the dark like blind. ‘Cause if we seek Him, we will find Him.

I want to encourage you brothers and sisters in Korea and around the world, seek the Lord, find Him, you’ll find your joy, your happiness, and the very purpose of your existence in the Lord. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Joseph Shulam: God’s Unique Kindness to Moses [2021]

This Shabbat we are starting seven weeks in which the Shabbat reading is special. This is the first Shabbat of the seven weeks before the High Holidays.

This Shabbat of July 24, 2021 is called Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of Comfort Ye My People. The reason for this name is that the reading from the Haftarah (the prophets) is from Isaiah 40:1-26. We are also reading from the Torah from Deuteronomy 3:23 to 7:11.

The name of this Torah portion in Hebrew is Va’etchanan, “and I begged”. Moses is begging the Lord to allow him to cross the Jordan River into the promised land… From the New Testament we read this Sabbath from Mark 8:23-28.

We are entering a very solemn period of contemplation in our lives in which we measure ourselves against the standards that the Lord has set before us His instructions in the Torah and the prophets and the writings, and the apostolic writings.

The beginning of the Torah reading starts with the words of Moses:

“Then I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying: ‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’” – Deuteronomy 3:23–25 [NKJV]

These are the words of Moses begging God for a small favor: “let me cross the Jordan River.” We all remember the revelation of God to Moses after Moses argued with the Lord and said that he would not lead the people of Israel unless the Lord Himself went along with the people of Israel.

In Exodus 34:6, Lord showed Moses His back side and revealed His nature to Moses in person:

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…’” – Exodus 34:6 [NKJV]

This same God, the Lord Himself that has on his name plate, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” now is refusing to allow Moses, the same Moses that stood before the burning bush on Mount Sinai and spoke to God. The same Moses who told Pharaoh, “let my people go!” The same Moses whom God said about him:

“Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” – Numbers 12:3 [NKJV]

This is what intrigued me most in this Shabbat’s reading of the Torah. God refusing Moses the small favor that Moses begged for, a seemingly insignificant favor for such a great servant of God, like Moses.

What is it for God to allow the great leader that gave up the position of Prince of Egypt, to join and save his people, the people of Israel, and to bring them from slavery into freedom. Why does God have such a stubborn attitude and not bend a little for Moses and just allow him to cross the Jordan and step into the promised Land?

In my opinion it is important for our understanding of God. Yes, we know that “God is love.” We also know that God is merciful and gracious and full of loving kindness. We also know that:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” – John 3:16,17 [NKJV]

With all this in mind the question still lingers why did the Almighty refuse Moses this small favor and essentially Moses dies outside of the borders of the promised land, he dies across the Jordan River. He does not even receive a proper burial and no one knows his tomb.

Here is my idea why God is seemingly so hard on Moses: God has promised Israel that those who sinned against Him in the wilderness will not enter into His rest:

“For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘they shall not enter My rest.’” – Psalm 95:10,11 [NKJV]

We see that the generation that left Egypt and experienced the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land is not entering the land of promise. The question that needs to be asked is this: Is God being cruel toward Moses or doing Moses a big favor?

Here is why I think that God was being wise and kind to Moses:

First, every leader needs to know when it is time to step down and allow the young leaders to take responsibility without interference. God had instructed Moses to pass the baton to Joshua the son of Nun. Moses did it right and Joshua accepted the challenge.

Second, Moses had sinned and ignored God’s instruction and allowed his emotions and anger to be the best of him and in place of talking to the rock he struck the rock. This does not seem a big sin, but under the circumstances we see that the Lord took it very seriously especially because of Moses’ issue with his speech.

Did Moses in his old age again lose his confidence in his ability to speak? Not sure, but it is clear that God who knew well the limitation of speaking that Moses had, still commanded him to speak to the rock. The mistake of Moses was not banging the rock with his staff, it was returning in his old age to being the old Moses that lost his temper and killed the Egyptian (Exodus 2). It was a consequential act that sent Moses to the school of hard knocks for 40 years as a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks in the wilderness of Sinai.

The other thing that happened on that occasion is that Moses took credit for bringing the water from the rock for the people to drink. This was a much more serious issue that gave the Lord the final decision, that in spite of all of the greatness and humility and leadership of Moses, it was time to pass the leadership to the younger and more dynamic leadership of Joshua the son of Nun. Joshua was already a seasoned leader and it was not someone who was new or strange to the people of Israel.

Third, allowing Moses to cross the Jordan with the children of Israel would be a sign to the people that Moses was not really comfortable and fully trusting in the new leadership of Joshua and the other men like Caleb. These men had proven their faithfulness to God and their faith and trust in the Lord’s leadership of this nation of slaves that was ready to enter into the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Finally, Moses ought to have expressed his gratitude to God for his being allowed to go to the top of Mount Pisga, Nebo, and see the land of promise.

In our Torah portion it seems like Moses is still upset that God didn’t allow him to cross the Jordan. He also blames the nation of Israel for this refusal of the Lord to allow him to cross.

I don’t hold the attitude of Moses in this Torah portion against him. On the contrary, I hold his sorrow and mild anger against the Lord and the people as being one of the wonderful and divine revelations that added to the greatness and humanity of this great man of God, Moses!

He was not a perfect man. He was 100% human with all of his human greatnesses and also with all of his human weaknesses. How wonderful that the Lord can use normal human beings and make them great leaders and great humble servants of the Lord and of His people.

Just imagine what would happen to a pastor or a rabbi that was 40 days and nights in the presence of God Almighty on top of Mount Sinai. Just imagine a pastor who saved his congregation from a sure death at the hands of the enemy.

The normal pastor would be puffed up like a 100-pound turkey and think that he deserves service and a bigger salary and a new fancy car and people’s praise and even worship. I know pastors who have done very little for their people, but they are great motivational speakers, and speak without a stutter, who have become millionaires and have greater demands for perks than Queen Victoria.

Not Moses. He did understand his place in God’s array of servants, and although he was raised for his first 40 years as the prince of Egypt, he remained humble, but with a little normal human bitterness when the Lord told him, “No Moses you are not going to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of promise.”

I am also happy that no one knows the grave of Moses! It was a grand and divine scheme of the Creator Himself to keep the grave of Moses hidden and a secret.

You can imagine what would happen if the children of Israel knew where Moses was buried! There would be shrines and monuments and places of worship and museums built in honor of Moses. No, God did the wise thing and didn’t destroy the humanity and humility of Moses, and kept it even after his death.

There are so many great lessons that we can all learn from Moses and his relationship to the Almighty God of Israel, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Keep reading the Torah!

Joseph Shulam: The Call to Comfort Israel [2020]

This Shabbat the reading will be from Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11. From the prophets the reading is from Isaiah chapter 40. It is considered as a special Shabbat that is called “Shabbat Nachamu” – The Shabbat of comforting. The reading of Isaiah 40 starts with the words:

“‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God.” – Isaiah 40:1 [NKJV]

The Lord is inviting the nations of the world to comfort Israel. The Torah portion starts with Moses pleading before the Lord to allow him to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. The Lord answers Moses and his pleading, begging, asking, crying, to enter the land with these words:

“‘But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So, the Lord said to me: “Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.”’” – Deuteronomy 3:26 [NKJV]

The Lord that in Exodus revealed Himself to Moses as:

“‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth.’” – Exodus 34:6,7 [NKJV]

Now is telling His servant Moses, be quiet, I do not want to hear you speak on this topic again. What do we learn from this exchange between Moses and the Lord? God has limits to his patience and when He has made up His mind even Moses to whom God spoke face to face and mouth to mouth, the answer is – no you are not going to cross the Jordan River and pleading will not help you.

I personally feel for Moses. There were not that many occasions when Moses begged God for something, and in this last request, the only place that Moses wanted a personal favor from the Almighty, the answer was “No!”

I have a personal lesson to learn from this parasha. I am a person who hates to ask for something but when I do ask something from God or from men, I hate to get a negative answer. It does not go well with me to get a “No” answer.

From this reading of the Torah I am comforted that even Moses himself didn’t get what he wanted that much and had to live with God’s refusal to allow him to cross the Jordan River into the promised land of Canaan. At the end of Moses life, it turns out that Moses is a very tragic figure.

He does not enter the land of promise, and at the end of the Book of Deuteronomy God drops an atomic bomb on Moses This is what God tells Moses before he climbs up Mount Nebo (Har Pisgah):

“And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Behold, you will rest with your fathers; and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.’” – Deuteronomy 31:16 [NKJV]

What terrible news God shares with Moses, just before he goes to die. In simple words, God is saying to Moses, this nation that you have raised up in the 40 years of wilderness will play the harlot and worship the idols of the neighboring nations and I will hide my face from them.

This is what Moses must take with him to the next life. “My life was a waste. I failed to influence this nation with the Torah that I have brought down from Mt. Sinai, and all my life is a waste.”

I do not really know if this is how Moses felt, but if I had been in Moses’ position this is how I would have felt. All the pyrotechnics of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai did not help to change the hearts of these people. But the end will be good if you keep reading.

The portion of Isaiah chapter 40 for the Haftarah (The reading from the Prophets) is also extremely powerful. God’s promises to Israel are so great in that chapter, and verse 3 is used to describe John the Baptizer:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” – Isaiah 40:3–5 [NKJV]

I love the presentation of these verses in Handel’s Messiah. Often when I hear the singing of these verses in Handel’s Messiah tears come to my eyes from the power of these words.

Especially for my generation, the generation after the Nazi Holocaust that lives in Israel and enjoys the land of Israel and the blessings of the state of Israel. It is especially for me as a disciple of Yeshua, this call that the Lord is calling the nations to comfort Israel.

What can be more significant after the Nazi Holocaust than to see the nations comfort the Jewish people? There are so many Christians who have made this verse their motto and are doing what they can and above and beyond of what they can to be a blessings to Israel and some also a blessing to the local Jewish disciples of Yeshua in this land that God gave to Abraham and to his seed forever.

Joseph Shulam: Comfort Ye My People [2019]

The Torah reading this next Shabbat (August 17th, 2019) is Parashat Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11, and from the Prophets Isaiah 40:1-26. From the New Testament the reading is from Mark 12:28-34.

This Shabbat is very special because of the reading of Isaiah 40:1-26. The name of this special Shabbat is “Nachamu”. In Hebrew Nachamu is translated as “comfort ye!” As Isaiah the prophet says:

“‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.’” – Isaiah 40:1,2 [NKJV]

I shall never forget when Marcia, and many other disciples of Yeshua in the land of Israel, performed Handel’s Messiah in the big national concert hall of Jerusalem. David Loden was the organizer and the conductor of the Handel’s Messiah concert in Jerusalem.

Hearing Handel’s Messiah for the first time, and hearing the singers, most of whom are disciples of Yeshua, singing “nachamu, nachamu, ami”, the tears just welled up in my eyes. Even my left eye that is blind teared up, and water started to flow down my face. Isaiah’s prediction and command to the nations to comfort Israel, and to a comfort Jerusalem, and to say to Jerusalem, “her warfare has ended and her iniquity is pardoned…”, was a major milestone in my appreciation of classical music in general, and Handel specifically.

The main thing that I want to share from the text in Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11, is that God did not show any favoritism to Moses. The great Moses, the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian slavery, the giver of the Torah, begged God to allow him this small favor, and just let him cross the Jordan river and step into the land of Canaan, that was promised to Abraham and to his seed forever.

God answered Moses very simply, “NO.” Moses will not enter into the promised land. Moses can beg and ask, and demand a favor from God. The God who said about Moses that He spoke to him face to face, mouth to mouth, didn’t bend to allow Moses this favor of entering the land of promise.

So, let us not be surprised sometimes when God tells us “NO.” Let us understand that although we are servants of God and we have given Him our lives, and He has saved our souls from perdition and brought us from Egyptian darkness to the light of His Torah, yet, He can for His own reasons say NO to us, and refuse our question and our request.

This is an important lesson to learn from an early age. God is not working at our service for our requests and whims.

The second thing that we ought to learn from this reading is that Moses, being 120 years old, has not lost his memory. But Moses forgot a little about the 10 commandments, and added some comments that don’t exist in Exodus 20. It is OK. 80 years passed, and a person can’t remember every word, even if it was spoken by God directly.

Moses just made some new commentary about the Shabbat. If you ask me why did the Holy Spirit allow this to happen, my answer would be the same as when people criticize the Gospels when there are synoptic problems. If there are some not-so-honest orthodox rabbis who use the different accounts in the Gospel and teach that you can’t trust the New Testament, you can always point to Moses and the 10 commandments, and to the problems between the books Samuel and Kings, and 1st and 2nd Chronicles.

This parasha is very rich and there is much important information. I urge you to read it and study it in person.

The other big thing on this Shabbat is the reading from Isaiah chapter 40. The Nachamu is a request or a command for the Gentiles to comfort Israel. I don’t believe that this is a request or a command to the pagans, but to those Gentiles, like the Christians, who honor the Bible as God’s Word, and believe in the word of God from Genesis to Revelation, and claim to believe in the God of Israel and in Yeshua the Messiah.

This makes sense to me that these Gentiles, who have received the grace of God and the forgiveness of sins from Yeshua the King of the Jews, ought to now comfort the people of God, the brothers and cousins of Yeshua, and encourage the Jewish people to do good and live and develop and farm and build the land of Israel. The land that God gave to Abraham and his decedents forever (see Genesis 13:15 and manly other texts in the Torah and in the Prophets).

Joseph Shulam: When God Says “NO!” [2018]

This coming Shabbat all the Jewish synagogues in the world, including the Synagogues of the Jewish disciples of Yeshua around the world, will read Parashot Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11. It is a long Torah portion, nearly four chapters. The reading starts with Moses begging God to allow him to cross the Jordan River and just see the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as an eternal possession.

To a man like Moses, who has spoken to God face to face, who had the inside track to communicate with the Almighty Creator of the Universe, this request at the end of his life to just go across the Jordan River and see the good land of Canaan does not seem like an exaggerated request. The all-merciful and gracious God could have just allowed Moses this small favor.

If I was God, I would for sure tell Moses, “OK buddy, go ahead and cross the Jordan River and see the land and then return to Mount Nebo and climb to Pisgah and I will meet you up there to take your soul to Paradise.” But, No! God says to Moses in very strong language:

“But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not listen to me. So the Lord said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah, and lift your eyes toward the west, the north, the south, and the east; behold it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan.’” – Deuteronomy 3:26–27 [NKJV]

If I analyze this text, and the harsh way that God answered Moses, I see that God actually gave Moses a quarter of what Moses asked to receive. Moses asked:

“I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’” – Deuteronomy 3:25 [NKJV]

God said to Moses, “OK you will get to see the land from the top of Pisgah [this Hebrew word means the top of the mountain, the peak] but your foot will not stand on that land.” Actually, later Moses did cross the Jordan River at least one time. Moses came with Elijah to have a parley with Yeshua on top of a high mountain in the land of Canaan, the land of Israel. But this does not count regarding our reading in Deuteronomy.

What I would like to discuss shortly is the following question: what happens when God answers our prayers with “NO!” Here are some principles that we ought to accept:

  1. “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.” (Acts 10:34 NIV)
  2. King David said: “Now what more can David say to You? For You, Lord God, know Your servant.” (2 Samuel 7:20 NKJV)
  3. “Be of good courage and let us be strong for our people and for the cities of our God. And may the Lord do what is good in His sight.” (1 Chronicles 19:13 NKJV) God knows what is good for us much more than we know what is good for us. At times when God answers our prayers, like He did Moses, with a great big “NO!” we must remember this principle. If you believe that God really loves you, the wise thing to do is understand that the “NO!” that we received is out of God’s love for us. In the life of my family, I wish that I had accepted the “NO!” that God had given me. But, I pushed a head and nagged God so much that in the end He allowed me to do what I regret doing for the rest of my life. Had I the wisdom to say to the Lord, “OK Lord I accept your refusal to allow me to do…” Today I would be far ahead of where I am now! This point is the point where our true confidence and trust in the Lord’s love and mercy must be demonstrated. It is easy to be faithful and happy and satisfied and very spiritual when God says to us: “Yes, my son, here is what you desire, I am giving it to you on a silver platter.” Not so easy when God say to us: “No, my son, this time I know what is best for you and I will not allow you to have what you want!”
  4. In our life when we look back we can understand the wisdom and the love of God for us even when He said to us, “NO!” Even when He did not answer our prayers in the way that we really wanted and believed that we deserve for God to say “YES!” to us. The best demonstration of this point is in the story of Joseph. Can you imagine how depressed Joseph must have been when he was put in the well in the valley of Dothan and sold as a slave to the Amalekites and Midianites, and to Egypt? If he would have known the end of the story at that moment, Joseph would have been happy and glad that his brothers rejected him, and that they wanted to sell him as a slave. He would have gladly jumped into the well, he would have been happy to be sold to an Egyptian master, and he would have been happy to go to jail…
  5. Let us build up our confidence in the Lord even when we get the “NO!” answer from Him: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NKJV)

From my own personal experience with the Lord, I am a witness that this biblical truth is true in reality, and that I have paid a very high price when I was stubborn and did not accept the “NO!” that God gave me. I forged ahead to do what my stubbornness dictated in place of graciously accepting and submitting to the Lord’s “NO!”

Moses submitted to the Lord’s “NO!” and climbed up to the top of the mountain of Nebo, and the Lord must have arranged for Moses an exceptionally clear day to see the land of Canaan! Not too long ago I was with a group of students on top of Mount Nebo, at the Pisgah (the peak), and the Lord did not smile on us. That afternoon was cloudy and hazy, and we could not see very far into the land of Canaan, and we could not see Jerusalem from the other side of the Jordan! I am sure that for Moses the air was crisp and clear, and Moses could see the promised land all the way to Jerusalem, and maybe all the way to Lebanon.

Yehuda Bachana: The Secret to the Success of the Jewish People” [2018]

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

This Shabbat we learn about Parashat Va’etchanan. Parashat Va’etchanan is a Torah portion that is very rich in content. It talks about a wide range of topics centered on the Ten Commandments and the Shema Yisrael prayer. This is a very central and profound parasha.

Also, this week is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av. In it, we read the haftara, the weekly reading from the prophets, from Isaiah chapter 40. In this reading, the prophet informs us, as a people, that we have paid double for our sins and it is now time for comfort:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:1,2 [NIV]

The Plea of Moses

parashat-vaetchanan
Despite Moses’ please, he received a “No” from God. Sometimes we need to learn to receive the same.

I would like to begin with the first word of the parasha in Hebrew – “va’etchanan,” which means “I pleaded”:

“At that time I pleaded with the Lord: ‘Sovereign Lord, you have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do? Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan—that fine hill country and Lebanon.’” – Deuteronomy 3:23-25 [NIV]

Who was pleading? It was Moses, the great, honorable, and beloved prophet, the same man who spoke to God face to face. That very same prophet succeeded in saving the people of Israel from destruction on numerous occasions when the people sinned, and God sought to destroy them. During these events, Moses would speak with God and change the severity of the decree.

What was happening here at the beginning of the reading? Moses was pleading, he wanted to see the Land of Israel, however, God’s answer was a firm “no.”

The Difficulty of Accepting the Answer “No”

It’s hard for us to accept the answer “no,” especially today. We live in a generation in which we think we deserve everything. No matter what, if we make an effort and work hard enough, we can receive all of our heart’s desires.

This is a tremendous lesson for me. All of us, myself included, should be prepared to accept the answer “no” from God. For instance, no to healing, to success, to our various requests and pleas.It is not pleasant, but in our prayer, there must be a willingness to accept the refusal of God.

We can and should continue to plead for the members of our community, our family, our health, but in the end, our prayer should be, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We will continue to serve God in sickness and in health. We are vessels in the hands of God. We are faithful servants, instruments of blessing, vessels of honor in the hands of God.

If God wants us to continue to serve Him in sickness, so be it; we will serve Him to the best of our ability.

The Dangers of Forgetting God

Moses’ many pleas were not enough, he begged to enter, touch, and taste the Land of Promise, but God answered negatively. The same person who gave his life to the people of Israel, whose prayers for the common good had been accepted time after time, was now rejected. Despite this, Moses accepted this answer humbly.

We have much to learn from this week’s parasha.

Moses continued his speech, speaking of wealth, success, fruit, peace, and strength. Here is where the danger lies. Moses said that the people were to enter into the Land of Promise, a land that is good, but he warned against the danger of forgetting God, the source of abundance.

When I talked about it at home, with my wife, Lydia, she raised the possibility that as believers, on a global scale, we have forgotten our source of abundance, we take God’s blessings for granted. What’s more is that we take life for granted, we have lost our first love and our zeal for God as well as our uniqueness as believers.

Perhaps it’s time to wake up and remember that everything comes from above. Furthermore, God wants more of our lives, more of our gratitude and appreciation, of our actions, more of our caring for each other. God wants more of our love.

The Jews’ Secret to Success

Moses continued and touched on another interesting and profound point. Our wisdom, and our wisdom as Jews.

More and more people are asking in the world, “What is the secret of the Jews? Why and how do they succeed?”

We try to analyze all the reasons for our knowledge, such as our education, languages, mathematics, money management, music, and a thousand different studies that try to put our finger on our best-kept secret as Jews.

Our Torah portion cracks open this secret and reveals it to everyone:

“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’” – Deuteronomy 4:5,6 [NIV]

The secret of wisdom is the Word of God, the Bible.

God is the Source of Our Prosperity

As a people and as human beings, if we keep and obey the laws, the decrees, and the commandments of God, we will succeed, we will be blessed, and all that we do will succeed:

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” – Psalms 1:1-3 [NIV]

The source of the success, inspiration, and wisdom is the knowledge of God and His Word.

When I was in the army for three years, I had many ups and downs, I was in the paratroopers, and the training and activity were very intensive.

During times when I read the Bible and prayed regularly, I felt the blessing and protection of God on me in a tangible way, “Whatever he does shall prosper.” I would be sitting down, idling, and by chance see that there was some small task that needed to be done. I would get up and do it, and right then the commander would pass by and praise me. I helped out for a moment, and I was caught at the very best moment. All I did, all the exercises, activities, and operations, were a success.

It also worked the other way around. There were times when nothing worked out. I would work hard, and for a moment sit down to rest – and at that precise moment the commander would pass by and ask me why I was sitting, why I was idle. Whatever I did, there was no blessing, and no good came out of it.

Then after a while, I would think – wait, I stopped reading and praying regularly, here lies the problem. I went back to reading, I returned to God, and as you can guess – back to the blessing.

The Lord Chooses the Weak and Powerless

In the army, it is very common that a Messianic Jew is an outstanding soldier, what is his secret? The unequivocal answer is: God, faith, and God’s Word. It’s not me, it’s God living inside of me.

The New Testament teaches us that God actually chooses the weak and the fools. Why? That it will be clear that it is not from our own ability or strength. Indeed, God stands out in the small and weak people, surrounded by 100 million enemies that could not be subdued by a large and powerful army 50 times the size of its own. It is clear beyond any shadow of a doubt – there is a God and He protects us.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” – 1 Corinthians 1:27-31 [NIV]

God did not choose this people, because they were the most powerful, or the most intelligent, or the most successful.

God chose this people because He swore to our forefathers that He would do so. Our God is a faithful God and He does this out of love.This week’s parasha ends with precisely this idea.

Don’t Abandon the Spring of Living Waters

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” – Deuteronomy 7:7-9 [NIV]

We are the least and the weakest of all peoples. This wisdom is not our own, but it is God who lives within us.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” – Proverbs 9:10a [NIV]

Moses asked the people of Israel not to abandon the spring of living waters, not to leave God’s instruction (the Torah), which leads to life.

The heart of this instruction is the Ten Commandments, and in our parasha Moses repeats them. The first time the Ten Commandments were spoken was in Parashat Yitro, in the Book of Exodus, and once more they are repeated in this week’s portion, in the beginning of Deuteronomy.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” – Deuteronomy 5:6,7 [NIV]

Our constitution opens with a declaration of human liberty, who is God? He defeated slavery and enslavement and gave us liberty.

Yeshua is Our Redeemer

I think that this is the heart of faith in Yeshua the Messiah. Yeshua bought us by His blood, He took the curse of sin upon Himself.

A redeemer is someone who pays the debt of someone else, and thereby extricates him from the situation he is in. The redeemer does not forcibly break the prisoner out of prison in order to release him. He pays the debt of the redeemed until the last cent.

In our case it is our debt to God Himself.

“For the wages of sin is death,” I will call sin by another name: the lack of observance of God’s commandments, when we do not put God at the center of our lives, and when we as a people take advantage of the weak amongst us. For example, we mistreat the foreign workers and the elderly, and when we live in an immoral way, when we do not insist on loving our neighbor as ourselves. All of us are in “overdraft” – we are all guilty.

What Yeshua did and continues to do on my behalf, is redeem me from the punishment I deserve, from a commandment that I did not obey, and from my noncompliance.

Who is Yeshua? He defeated slavery and enslavement and gave us liberty.

Yeshua takes us out from slavery to a new beginning. We are born again and given a second chance to do and to keep the will of God. Yeshua gives us the opportunity to be better, more caring, and loving people.

The Word of God Must be Passed Down to Our Children

I would like to end this parasha with perhaps the most well-known sentence in the Hebrew Bible, “Shema Yisrael.” Shema Yisrael became the main tenet of the Jewish people throughout the generations. It appears in our parasha, starting with Deuteronomy 6:4.

One of the central instructions of the Shema is the direction to teach and pass down the Word of God to the children, to have them memorize God’s Word, and to teach them to place the commandments within their hearts.

Again and again Moses’ words convince us, our sons, and our son’s sons, to learn to memorize, and to keep in mind the laws and commandments of God. The Shema ends with a slightly strange phrase:

“Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:8,9 [NIV]

Dedicating Your Entire Being and Household to Serving God

In Judaism there is the outward mark of the tefillin. This is a very strange external sign, there is nothing more noticeable than a black leather box on the forehead.

This box is a statement, it is the same statement that is seen in many houses in the world, in which a verse from the end of the Book of Joshua is framed:

“But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15b [NIV]

I love to seeing this verse, it encourages the members of the house and reminds them that in this house, we serve God.

By that same token, this box on the forehead must declare, “We are holy and consecrated to God.” In Judaism we wear tefillin on a daily basis, and this reminds us that our thoughts throughout the day must be focused on God. Our focus must be positive, for God is in power, “His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The same goes for the works of our hands, as seen with the tefillin. Today, we will do good deeds, these hands will be used for blessing, they will serve God. Also, the doorframes of our houses and gates, our houses are consecrated to God. In this house there will be the fear of God, God’s Word will be studied and discussed. When we enter into a room, or a house, and we see the mezuzah, we are reminded that this house, this room, these hands, and this head are dedicated to God.

Our thoughts, actions, and dwellings are marked with the word “Shema,” the tefillin and the mezuzah. We will serve God faithfully.

Let us have a Shabbat of peace, blessing, and comfort, especially on this Shabbat, Shabbat Nachamu. Let us, our people, families, and our communities, receive consolation and true comfort from God.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.