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: Following the Cloud by Day and the Pillar of Fire by Night [2019]

The highest value of Western civilization in these years of the 21st century is freedom! Freedom of everything that puts a demand on you! This is one reason that today couples move to live together long before marriage. They want to have a life of marriage without making the commitment of marriage.

This “Now Generation” wants to live free from obligation, free from commitments, and to enjoy the privilege of marriage and not have the obligation and limitations of marriage! Many want to enjoy the privilege of being disciples of Yeshua and sometimes go to church, but they are perpetual visitors in the church and not willing to make commitments and follow.

The end of the Book of Exodus is God’s instruction to Israel to follow His guides through the wilderness. Do you need a guide to guide you through the desert of modern life realities?

I can honestly say that I need a guide daily, and I want a guide through life. I want to have a map of where and when I need to be each day, and what I need to do each day. I feel much less secure when I have to make big choices without guidance from God.

You might ask today, Joseph, where do you get the guidance by day and by night? Do you see a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night? No, dear brothers, I wish I did have a physical cloud by day and the fire by night. I don’t have these physical reminders today, but maybe I have something better.

I have the book of instruction and a map of where the pitfalls and the dangers are, and where God wants me to be every day. And if there is a change in the curriculum, there is the Holy Spirit that is there for me and for you.

You have to ask for guidance and you will get it and receive it from the Word of God and from the Spirit of the Lord that is in you! You need to read and study and pray for this revelation and guidance – it is there waiting for you, but you have to take it and work it out for yourself.

Let me review the last three parashot (weekly portions) of the Torah: Terumah, Tetzaveh, Vayakhel. These are sections of the Torah that deal with the collection of things (gold, silver, wood, and leather) for the building of the Tabernacle in the desert. Much of it is about inventory and technical issues – the collection of the half shekel and the census, the counting of the people of Israel in the wilderness, etc.

The Book of Exodus ends with the instruction of how to travel in the wilderness, and to follow the Lord as a guide through the harsh land of Sinai that will lead them to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their seed forever.

When I was a young believer in the USA, away from my family, long before there were messianic Jewish congregations in the world, one of the worship songs they sang often in the churches was, “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow”:

I can hear my Savior calling,
“Take thy cross and follow, follow me.”

Where he leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with him, with him all the way.

I’ll go with him thro’ the garden,
I’ll go with him, with him all the way.

Where he leads me I will follow,
I’ll go with him thro’ the judgment,

Where he leads me I will follow,
He will give me grace and glory,

Where he leads me I will follow,
Where he leads me I will follow.

This spirit of a disciple that will follow his teacher all the way is just about lost in the teaching of the evangelical Protestant churches. Today the message is ofen very different. The idea that I have to give my freedom, my personal desires and habits, in order to follow the Lord is rare and missing.

Just put yourself in the place of these stiff-necked Israelites that were just liberated from slavery a few months earlier. During slavery, they had to do what their Egyptian masters demanded from them. Now they are free, and yet the Lord commands them, “you need to follow where I will lead you, by day and by night. Don’t wander off and go where you want, stay with Me children of Israel, stay with Me if you know what is wise and good for you, your safety, and your wellbeing.”

The result of their following the Lord is the following:

  1. The Lord fought their wars and gave them victory over enemies that were much better trained, bigger, and stronger.
  2. The Lord provided them with daily food from heaven, manna by day and quail for dinner.
  3. Their shoes did not wear out and their garments did not get worn down.
  4. They have divine judgment, arbitration, and intervention for their good – all the way to the changing of the Torah for the sake of individuals and families. In other words, the Lord heard their desires and requests and answered their capricious demands.

What more could anyone want from a leader?

What do we have today to guide us and give us the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night?

What a great privilege would it be for me, and I hope for you, for the presence of the Lord to be always with me, by day and night. For me it would be wonderful to know that God is so very close to me that He sees and hears and guides me day after day.

I would love to know that I have the Lord so near that His presence is visible and guiding me every day. I would know where the Creator of the universe wants me to be, where he wants me to go, and when I should stop and rest in one place.

This is what the Lord says to Jeremiah:

“Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the Lord: ‘I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.’ Israel was holiness to the Lord, The firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; Disaster will come upon them,” says the Lord.’” – Jeremiah 2:1–4 [NKJV]

And:

“‘At the same time,’ says the Lord, ‘I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness— Israel, when I went to give him rest.’” – Jeremiah 31:1,2 [NKJV]

Being close to the Lord and the Lord close to us, guiding us, instructing us, protecting us, being dependent on Him is what I want for myself and for my family. I know that God can take care of me and my family much better than I can take care of myself.

What do you think? What would you like for yourself and your family to have God guiding you daily? Why don’t you make your choice today!

Joseph Shulam: God is a God of Details [2019]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is the portion Vayakhel (He Assembled) from Exodus 35:1-38:20. The portion of the Prophets that will be read this Shabbat is from 1 Kings 7:40-50, and we will be reading from the New Testament from Hebrews 9:1-14.

This parasha (portion) starts with a kind of shopping list that Moses gives the people of Israel in a kind of general assembly. He assembled the people, and is giving them a list of things that they ought to do: keeping the Shabbat, giving the donations (contributions) for the work of the  Lord in the Tabernacle.

A list that is almost the same was given to the officials, to Aaron and his sons the priests. Now Moses repeats the list, with minor changes, to all of Israel, the whole community. The Torah in general, and the whole Bible, is very concise and doesn’t waste words.

What can we learn from this reading?

  1. We can learn that, as leaders, we must be patient with our disciples and not assume that they understood or received the instruction. Therefore, the teacher must repeat his instruction with patience, and even repeat more than one time.
  2. We learn that the God of Israel is a God of details. If you pay attention to the text you will see that these commands (and not recommendations) are detailed. When it comes to the Lord’s demands (commands) – He is specific and detailed. The attitude of so many Christians is that God is liberal. He is a little deaf and a little blind and a little retarded. God does not care about the way that we do things as long as we have faith. Well, from this reading I learn that God does care how we do things. I see that when God gives instructions, He cares not only that we keep these instructions (commands), but how and why we keep them.
  3. The miracle is that in chapter 35, we are told that what the people brought, the gold and the silver, and the fur and expensive cloth, was enough, and Moses had to tell them to stop giving. I have not seen in any synagogue or church the leadership say, “It is enough, we don’t need more contributions.” We learn from this the following principles:
    • If the people really believe in God and understand the importance of their contribution – the people will give, and they will give with a sincere heart, and give enough.
    • If the cause is clear and the people understand the benefit that they will have, privately or communally, the people will give.
    • These are people that have just gone through the terrible ordeal of the building of the Golden Calf, and the plague and the death of thousands. They had given for the Golden Calf the jewelry right off their wives’ and daughters’ ears. Now they understand they were wrong in wanting an idol that will lead them. They understand that to correct the wrong that they did, they have to show at least the same dedication and magnanimity as they did in the building of the Golden Calf.
  4. What can we in the 21st century learn from this reading and from this list of inventory that Moses is presenting here? I learn from this that it is always easier to raise funds for physical things, like buildings or some remodeling, or something that will be visible and will give a sense of ownership to the members of a congregation. It is harder to raise money for service to the people, the poor, and the needy. One of the reasons for this is that a physical project has a beginning and an end, but the “poor will always be with us” – the need will not end.

Joseph Shulam: The Box is Less Important Than What is Inside of It [2018]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is a double Torah portion from Exodus 35:1-40:38. Here Moses summarizes all the work and the tools of the Tabernacle that was built under Mount Sinai. It’s a kind of a builder’s catalogue of the parts and tools that will be used for the next few hundred years in the place of worship for the children of Israel.

With these readings the book of Exodus ends. Next Shabbat is the beginning of the reading of Leviticus. Leviticus is my Bar-Mitzvah reading. I am looking forward to it.

The haftarah (the reading from the prophets) this Shabbat is from 1 Kings 7:13-8:21 – King Solomon building and dedicating the Temple in Jerusalem. The Tabernacle is no longer going to be a portable temple in a tent, now Jerusalem becomes the center of Israelite Worship. There is a permanent building from stone, and not a tabernacle.

It was David’s vision and desire to build a permanent building made of the best materials that were available in his day: stone and cedar wood from Lebanon. He asked God to allow him to build Him a house, a temple in Jerusalem. God did not allow King David to build such a place in Jerusalem.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the city of David and to go to places that are still not open for the public. One of these places was way down underground, in the Palace of King David.

Under David’s palace there is a space that has been excavated that is still a question and a puzzle for the scholars and those who are digging in the city of David. There have been some stunning discoveries in the last few years, and even in the last few months.

Just a few weeks ago a small clay seal was found with the name of Yeshayahu HaNavi – Isaiah the prophet. A few months back, another such seal was found with the name of Hezekiah son of Ahaz, king of Judea.

Now there are at least half a dozen of such seals found, with names of people whom we know from the Word of God. But, this discovery of the house of David has under it a small temple. In this private, personal temple of King David, there is an altar that still has signs of fire and some burned animal remains. However, the most striking thing was a kind of “holy of holies” with a standing “stele” (stone) that represented God.

There is no image on it, but it stood erect in the place where in pagan temples there would be a statue of their gods. Such standing stelae were found in more than one Israelite temple. The most complete is in Tel-Arad’s Israelite fortress, where not far from the altar there was a small Holy of Holies, and there were found two small altars and more than one stele (standing stones).

This raises some interesting questions about the use of church buildings and synagogues, and their importance for the Almighty God of Israel. I know that we have a new building in Jerusalem and we appreciate it very much, but we are aware of how it ought to be used and for what it ought to be used, and it is used every day.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, did not have tabernacles or temples. They had a personal God that walked with them wherever they pitched their tents. The God of the Patriarchs was with them everywhere they went, and identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Temple in Jerusalem, with all its beauty and glory, did not bring too much glory to God, or purity of worship and dedication, in the long run. It was condemned by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos, and a few more of the prophets.

The Apostle Paul says to the Athenians, and those of you who have visited Athens know the beautiful buildings up on the Acropolis. The Parthenon was the temple of the goddess Athena, and it is one of the architectural wonders of the world. It would be much more wonderful if the British would return the Elgin marbles that they have stolen back to Athens.

Paul says:

“God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” – Acts 17:24–31 [NKJV]

Israel prostituted after the idols of their pagan neighbors in the very temple that Solomon built. The priesthood was corrupt in the time of Yeshua, but the Temple was beautiful and one of the finest buildings in the Greco-Roman world. Let us remember that the box is much less important than what is inside of it.

Yehuda Bachana: No Generosity Means No Community [2018]

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

Our weekly reading is called Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei; it is a double Torah portion. According to the Hebrew calendar, an additional month is added every leap year, the month of “Adar II”.

This month is added so that Passover will always fall during the month of spring, Rosh Hashanah will always occur during the right time of the year, and the the first rain will be around the time of Sukkot. This additional month is added in order to preserve the order of the feasts and holidays throughout the year.

So if an additional month is added, from where will we bring the additional parashot to read during the additional Sabbath days of this month? For this purpose, we have combined parashot like Vayakhel-Pekudei, Behar-Bechukotai, and Tazria-Metzora. Usually we read each one as a single parasha, however, in a leap year, when there are four extra Sabbaths, we read them separately.

A Quick Review of Exodus

parashat-veyakhel-pekudei

God’s presence with Israel in the desert – the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire – is a beautiful illustration of balance in life.

This parasha is the final portion of the book of Exodus, because of this I will summarize the book and the long path that Israel took. In the beginning of Exodus, an extended family went down to Egypt due to the harsh conditions of drought and famine. Eventually, this family grows and becomes a great nation. To remind you, the people of Israel were in Egypt for 400 years. In the beginning of the book we met Moses, we fled with him to Midian, and we witnessed God’s appearance in the burning bush.

Later on, we saw the mighty hand of God, how He brought Israel out of Egypt mightily with the ten severe plagues – ending with the parting of the Red Sea and the passing of an entire nation through it.

The Book of Exodus can not be summed up without the mention of the revelation at Mount Sinai and the giving of the tablets of the covenant. After the giving of the Torah, the collection of contributions for building the Tabernacle began. We also have the unfortunate incident of the Golden Calf. After the Golden Calf, we reach the end of Exodus, which is our parasha. After summarizing this series of events, we can see a collection of great, wonderful, and amazing stories. After such stories, it’s a bit difficult to read this week’s relatively mundane Torah portion.

Once again, we’re discussing the materials for the Tabernacle, the labor, and the contributions. At the end of all the tedious detailed work, God came and dwelt in His glory amongst the people of Israel in the Tabernacle that the people had built, sculpted, sewed, and contributed towards.

The long, hard, and meticulous path that they took entitled us to the Divine Presence among us.

The Power of Generosity

The Book of Exodus ends in a powerful way:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” – Exodus 40:34,35 [NIV]

What was the Tabernacle in which God dwelt made from? As we read a few weeks ago in Parashat Terumah:

“Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.” – Exodus 25:2 [NIV]

This generosity is also mentioned in this parasha (Exodus 35:5).

The most precious thing that was given for the construction of the Tabernacle was not gold nor expensive stones, the most valuable aspect of it was the heart of man. Generosity was the most essential part and it is what truly built the Tabernacle of God.

Did the people of Israel actually build the Tabernacle out of their own generosity? Yes, in fact, this parasha teaches us that the people of Israel gave so much towards the project that Moses had to forcefully stop the giving:

“…and [the skilled workers] said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.’ Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: ‘No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.’ And so the people were restrained from bringing more…” – Exodus 36:5,6 [NIV] (amended)

Giving to the community is one of the cornerstones of human society, it is an act of taking responsibility and leading towards change. Our contribution connects us to each other and to God.

The Consequences of False Appearances

I would like to turn to the incident of the donation of Ananias’ estate in the New Testament:

“Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” – Acts 5:1-10 [NIV]

This is a very challenging story to comprehend. Even before it started, it was not made clear whether or not contribution was mandatory. Did the early believers have to sell their property and share everything? What sin had been committed in this instance?

It’s my understanding that contribution was not mandatory, it was optional. As a result, there are two main explanations for Ananias’ sin.

It could have been a sin of disbelief and doubt, that he did not trust God to provide for him and his family. In other words, he gave up his property, but he was afraid he would be in financial need, so he kept a portion for himself just in case.

Perhaps it could be that he took for himself credit, prestige, and honor that were not his. Meaning that Ananias decided to donate his property, just as the people of Israel gave out of their own free will for the building of the Tabernacle. Ananias could have given any amount he wanted, as we can see from Peter’s own words:

“Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” – Acts 5:4a [NIV]

That is to say, Ananias could have given much or little, according to the calling of his heart and his own desire to contribute.

The problem started when he kept some of the money for himself and lied about it as a result. It was as if he sold all of his estate and gave everything, all he had, to the Messianic community. The real problem here is one of false appearances. He took the credit for himself, more honor than he deserved, he tried to appear in everyone’s eyes as a great saint who sold all his property for the common good. When in fact, he secretly kept some for himself.

This incident should raise a red flag for us and cause us to think about our own actions at work, at home, or within our community. We must be careful not to take for ourselves more credit than we actually deserve. For instance, our manager at work praises us for some accomplishment that we only played a small part in – we must be careful not to take honor that we do not deserve or that we only partially deserve. Especially if we spend most of the day browsing the web and using office equipment for our personal needs.

As another example, let’s say I decided to stay at home to take care of my small children and I put them in front of the TV in their room, while I go off and watch TV in another room. A few minutes before my wife gets home, I take them outside and play with them, as if I invested hours with my children. Now that my wife gets home, it’s her turn to take care of the kids, because I was a good father and played with them earlier and now I’m tired; this is an instance of false appearances as well as a lying.

We are also guilty of presenting false appearances within the community, and when this happens, it causes harm in a number of ways. On one hand, it’s the honor that we deceitfully take from our brothers and sisters in the community. Even if the honor is deserved, receiving it from man comes at the expense of receiving it from God, at the price of a blessing from God in our lives.

If we put up false appearances or try to appear more righteous than we really are, we are setting a high standard. However, when the truth comes out, and it always does, the fake high standard is broken, and this may harm many others in the process.

Trust Begins With the Smallest Things

We must be able to trust one another, and when it turns out we were lied to, it immediately leads to brokenness, pain, insecurity, and even despair.

Remember, trust is necessary not just with important matters, in fact it must begin with the smallest things first. If we cannot be trusted in the small things, at work, in the home, or with family, we cannot be trusted by God.

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For example, someone pretends that he can heal others and people follow that person. But when it turns out that it’s just an illusion, innocent people get hurt and something inside of them gets broken.

Another example can be seen with people who claim that they’re prophets who hear from God. Innocent people follow them, and they don’t understand why they’re not getting a revelation from God. These desperate individuals might try fasting and praying for hours, trying with all their might to hear directly from the Almighty.

However, to their dismay, it turns out in the end that these people who claimed to be prophets never truly were.

In this instance, I believe that Peter is giving a warning to believers: if Ananias and Sapphira put up false appearances, they are actually lying to the Holy Spirit, to the Lord, and to the community. They cannot be trusted and should not be part of the community. We see in this story an extreme case of God ousting the impostors from the community by using death as the punishment.

Should Your Foot be on the Gas Pedal or on the Brakes?

My favorite part of this parasha and favorite part of the Torah is the verse that closes and seals the Book of Exodus:

“So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.” – Exodus 40:38 [NIV]

I really love this verse because it taught me about the importance of balance in life.

Everything in life is based on pressing the gas pedal and pressing on the brakes.

When we burn with enthusiasm, we let out a lot of energy and our engine may catch fire – we should calm down. But when we’re sleepy and running at half capacity, we should drink a strong cup of coffee and wake up. When we’re stretched to the limit, we needed to loosen up a bit, but if we’re too loose, it’s hard for us to snap back into action and do what is required of us. When we’re too happy and in the clouds, our warning lights don’t work, so we should land back on Earth. However, if we sink into depression, we need to rise up a bit, we need to strive to transcend.

The Israelites were accompanied by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, fire gives light and heat in the cold, dark night of the desert. The pillar of cloud however, gives shade, hiding the bright desert sun. Life is a series of contradictions; the point is to develop a heightened sense in order to know when to press on the brakes and when to press on the gas pedal.

I also relate this to our spiritual lives – we cannot be so connected with the spiritual side, so as to neglect the physical side. It’s not healthy to neglect your life. On the other hand, we cannot neglect the spiritual side in caring for this world.

In Conclusion

The grandiose ending of the Book of Exodus tells of God descending to dwell in a house that the people of Israel built for Him. God Almighty, Creator of everything, coming to dwell with humans.

This ending teaches me, that after the hard and meticulous work, when we work from our hearts, God comes and dwells amongst us. Even in the congregation, we must attend to the smallest details, beginning with the chairs, the kitchen utensils, general cleaning, greeting one another, and not to mention mutual respect and good manners. If we attend to the small and the big things – God will dwell among us.

Be strengthened and encouraged, next week we will begin the Book of Leviticus.

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