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: You Meant Evil Against Me; But God Meant It for Good [2020]

This Shabbat’s reading is called “Vayechi”, in English the meaning is “and He lived”. The story is about the last words of Jacob to his sons just before Jacob dies. This concludes the reading of the book of Genesis.

We started reading Genesis on Sukkot last year (October), and now we are already at the end of Genesis reading about Jacob’s death. Jacob blesses first the two sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe, and then he blesses some of his sons and curses two of his sons, Levi and Simon.

Netivyah | Parashat Vayigash | Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, Rembrandt (1656)
Jacob blessing Ephraim and Manasseh, Rembrandt (1656)

I am nearly 74 years old, and have been teaching the Bible for more than 58 years, and every time I read it I the Lord shows me something new. It is something that I really need at this moment, something that is relevant for my life, something that will bless me and bless all those lives that the Lord has used me to influence and touch through His Word.

I can’t emphasize enough that everyone ought to read the Bible every day. Not all the day long, just 15-20 minutes of reading the Bible. Today you don’t even have to take with you a heavy book, you can just use your smartphone and read the Bible while you are riding the subway or train, and spend your time wisely.

I would like for you to just consider one passage from this Shabbat’s reading. To contemplate and meditate on this one key passage. If you invest a little time on meditation on this passage, you might gain strength and insight to be able to take the problems and issues and challenges of this life with a totally different attitude:

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.’ So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, ‘Before your father died he commanded, saying, “Thus you shall say to Joseph: ‘I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.’” Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.’” – Genesis 50:15–20 [NKJV]

Not everyone is able to look at the hardships and tribulations that he has experienced and say to those who have persecuted him the sentence that Joseph tells his brothers. But before I respond to this statement, let me speak a little about the psychology of guilt.

Joseph’s brothers are aware that what they did to their brother was bad, wrong, sinful, and that they deserve punishment. They were under the impression that Joseph is not revenging their sins against him because of the respect that Joseph had for his father Jacob. Like Esau wanted to wait for Isaac to die and kill his brother Jacob later.

Now the brothers of Joseph are actually thinking the same thing: Joseph is waiting for Jacob to die, and after Jacob dies, he will have a free range to give his brothers what they deserved. The important thing is that they were aware and fully expecting that Joseph will actually pay them back for what they have done to him.

This, in my opinion, ought to stop many sinners from actually doing their sins. They will always carry with them the sense of guilt and shame, and they will always look over their shoulder, waiting for their punishment to meet them around the corner.

But, here is someone who understands how the Lord works, and how the Lord uses human failure to the accomplishment of His plan and purpose. Joseph understood that, if the brothers where not so bad to him, and if they would not sell him and only kill him, and if he was not sold to Potiphar, and if Potiphar’s wife was not attracted to Joseph, he would not be in the Egyptian prison, and he would not have had an opportunity to meet the two ministers of Pharaoh, and would not interpret their dreams, and he would not be invited by Pharaoh to interpret his dream, and on and on and on… until now.

Now he makes this major biblical truth, that is a must for every one of us to understand, because every one of us had the “Chad Gadya” of his own life. The statement is so classically true:

“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” – Genesis 50:20 [NKJV]

I am asking each and every one of you to take this statement and ask yourself the following question: “Do I have in my life horrible events that cause me suffering and grief and bad feelings? That in the end they turned for my good and for my success?”

If your answer to yourself is “yes”, then the days of your affliction, and the evil done to you by others, caused you to work hard, and in the end, those days of suffering equipped you for success and happiness.

If your answer is “no”, my prediction is that those days of suffering and sorrow are still waiting for you, and you will have to brace yourself to experience those days in your life, and then you must remember these words of Joseph to his brothers, and encourage yourself that those bad days might equip you and train you and present for you the opportunities to be successful and joyful and full of opportunities that are going to make you great.

Joseph Shulam: Our Connection With the Land [2018]

This Shabbat the reading will be the last parasha of Genesis, Vayechi, from Genesis 47:28 – 50:26. Next Shabbat we will start with the first chapters of Exodus.

The reading starts with Jacob in bed, old and sick, and about to die. Jacob asks Joseph his son to not bury him in the land of Egypt but to take him “home” to the land of Canaan, to be buried with his fathers, Isaac and Abraham.

This attachment to this land of Israel is already so strong that Jacob, at the very high moment of his life, living with his family in the finest part of Egypt, right in the delta of the Nile rivers, still wants to be buried in the land that God gave Abraham and Isaac.

Egypt at that time was like the United States. It was the wealthiest empire, and their tombs were the best in the world, the pyramids or the mastabas. Jacob’s son Joseph is the highest civil servant in Egypt. With all the wealth of Egypt at his disposal, Joseph wants to be buried in the land of Canaan at the tomb that Abraham purchased from Ephron in the city of Hebron. Joseph has a strong attachment to the land that God gave to Abraham and to his seed forever (see Genesis 13:15,16).

This attachment of the children of Israel to this land is really not a natural attachment. The Jews have been living in the diaspora for near 2000 years. They were spread around the whole world.

There are Jews living in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the USA, Australia, and Switzerland, Germany, France, and around the whole world. Israel is a beautiful land, but not one of the most beautiful lands of the world. Switzerland, Norway, parts of the United States of America, and many other parts of the world are physically more beautiful than this small land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The neighborhood of the land of Israel is also not one of the better neighborhoods in the world. We have neighbors who for more than 2500 years have hated us and have done their best to have us killed, and take the land that God gave to our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The problem in the Middle East and in the land of Israel is not new, and we see this same irrational hate and desire to kill us today just as strong as it was in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.

“Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry…” – Nehemiah 4:7 [NKJV]

“Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates)…” – Nehemiah 6:1 [NKJV]

These same neighbors resisted the Jews returning from the Persian diaspora, and immediately started to war and hate and desire to stop the Aliyah back to the land of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

One of the most striking parts of the parasha is the blessings of Jacob to his children. These blessings are all prophetic and even in our days they are still in the process of being fulfilled.

In the case of Simeon and Levi, Jacob does not really bless these two brothers. He actually curses them.

His “blessing” was fulfilled many years later. The tribe of Levi did not receive a territory in the land of Canaan, and was actually spread throughout the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Simeon was given a territory deep in the Negev desert, and could not survive there, and actually disappeared from history rather early.

I have said many times how important it is for fathers to bless their children. My father never blessed me. He loved me and was generous with gifts, but he also cursed me very often.

I am glad that none of my father’s curses were fulfilled, and the reason for this is that I have changed my life. I became a disciple of Yeshua, and died with Yeshua in the waters of baptism, and was resurrected to a new life when I came out of the water and became a servant of God, a New Man, a New Creature. Not the same Joseph that went into the water, but a new Joseph born not only of the flesh, but also of the Spirit of God.

Muriel Stern: Our Parents Sometimes Know Better Than Us [2018]

“Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” – Genesis 48:9b [ESV]

The portion begins with Jacob blessing Joseph and his grandsons, then the rest of his own sons. When Joseph brought his sons Menashe and Ephraim to Jacob, he positioned them so that Jacob’s right hand would fall upon Menashe, the elder, and his left hand on Ephraim the younger. But Jacob, who we are told had poor vision (like his father Isaac), crossed his hands and put his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Menashe. Joseph was displeased by the act and tried to correct his aged father.

“And Joseph said to his father, ‘Not this way, my father; since this one is the firstborn, put your right hand on his head.’” – Genesis 48:18 [ESV]

Sometimes when I am interacting with my parents and others of their generation, it is frustrating to keep explaining things to them over and over. “Double click” or “scroll down” when helping them on the computer. Or when helping them with bureaucracy like the bank or taxes. I often don’t have patience with them and just tell them to sign. I don’t bother reading it to them or explaining what they are signing… because I know better.

Joseph is very worried, after all, Jacob got in trouble over stealing the birthright and blessings from Esau. Joseph himself had a world of trouble because of his position among his brothers. He is legitimately worried to pass down this “generational curse” of troubles to his own children.

“But his father refused and said, ‘I know, my son, I know.’” – Genesis 48:19a [ESV]

Jacob responded saying, “Relax son, everything will be ok, I know what I am doing.” And he goes on to prophetically explain that, while Menashe will grow to be a great nation, Ephraim will become even greater. This eventually came true, as the ten tribes left the united rule by the king of Judah and instead were led by kings from the tribe of Ephraim. We don’t get an explanation for Jacob’s actions, just a reply that he is making a conscious decision and not a mistake.

While our elders might seem clumsy and confused, and be slow learners when new technology is involved, we must remember that often they know exactly what they are doing when they resist our “instructions”. After all, it was our parents who taught us how to use a spoon…

It’s surprising to me that, even after Joseph’s miraculous life, he is still worried about passing down this “curse”. The course of his life was so clearly guided by God, with many strange and unexpected turns. All in order to save his family, the people of Egypt, and to eventually bring salvation to the world.

Was it really a curse or was it God’s plan that Jacob and Joseph played a part in?

We are able to look back thousands of years and through the pages of history see the answer to that question. We see the fulfillment of God’s plans through Jacob, Joseph and the rest of their family. Moreover, we see the fulfillment of the ancient biblical prophecies throughout the ages, and even in our lives today.

We face a similar question to the one Joseph faced. Will our lives be part of God’s plan? Will we let God use us to affect change in the world? Do we trust that God knows what He is doing?

“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.” – Psalm 33:11,12 [NIV]

Joseph Shulam: The Promise of the Land of Israel [2017]

In the reading of the Torah portions, we are at the end of Genesis. The parasha is called Vayechi.

Like all the portions of the Torah, and in fact like all the names of the books in the Torah, the name comes from the first word in the reading. The reason for that is that numbers of chapters and verses did not exist until much later.

Chapter numbers were added by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 13th Century and in the 16th Century numbers for verses were added by Robert Estienne. This method spread in the 16th century mainly because of the invention of the printing press.

Parashat Vayechi starts in Genesis 47:28, and ends with the last verse of Genesis. “Vayechi” in Hebrew means “and he lived”. When you examine this biblical formula, you immediately see that any time that the Bible starts a verse with the word “vayechi” it means that he died.

This is true for Genesis. In chapter 5 alone you have this formula repeated numerous times: Genesis 5:3,6,9,12,15… This formula actually is repeated 50 times in the Hebrew Bible.

In this portion, Jacob dies in the land of Goshen in Egypt. Before Jacob dies, he calls Joseph and makes him take an oath not to bury him in the land of Egypt, but take him to Hebron and bury him there in the cave of Machpelah with Isaac, Rebecca, Sarah, and Abraham.

For me this moment has a great significance. My father became a believer in Yeshua as an old man. I had the privilege to baptize him in the Sea of Galilee, and three months later he died. Although he believed in God just a short time before his death, my father made me swear that I will die in the land of Israel and be buried in the land of Israel.

The relationship of the nation of Israel with this land is based on the Word of God. The promise and the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is the promise that God made more times than any other promise He made to Israel and to humanity.

In the book of Genesis alone, the promise of the land given to Israel appears 27 times. In the rest of the Torah it appears 97 more times. That means that only in the five books of Moses the promise is mentioned and repeated 124 times. In the whole Bible it is mentioned and repeated more than 300 times.

Now, who cares what the United Nations says about Israel? The United Nations has been focused against Israel since the day it was born. The Arab and Muslim nations have an automatic majority there, and the hate for Israel in all the United Nations’ history is pathological, it has no reason and it does not need a reason.

We are committed to live and trust the Word of God, and our nation’s decisions ought to be made based on the Word of God and righteousness.

Joseph Shulam: Yeshua the Rabbi [2017]

This Sabbath we will be reading the last parasha of the book of Genesis, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26. The name of this parasha is Vayechi, “and he lived”.

It is interesting, because in this reading Jacob dies and Joseph dies. However, the most important thing that is in this reading is the blessings that Jacob gave to his sons. These blessings spark tons of literature in the inter-testamentary period, and in later midrash literature in Judaism.

I will not jump in now to deal with this major topic, but I want to share one word from this portion of reading:

“The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, Bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them, And the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; And let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” – Genesis 48:16b [NKJV]

The word for “grow into multitude” in Hebrew is a derivative of the word for “fish”, “dag”. And it means they will fish. It is from these words of Jacob that Yeshua commanded His apostles to become fishers of men.

It is interesting that even this special command to share the Good News with men of every nation is based on the Torah. Yeshua our Lord, our Teacher, our Rabbi, our Savior, and our example was a Torah teacher, and for most of the years of his ministry in the Galilee He was considered a great rabbi, and He was invited by all the synagogues in the Galilee to teach there on the Sabbath.

“Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” – Luke 4:14,15 [NKJV]

This aspect of Yeshua’s ministry and persona is often forgotten and neglected. We must not neglect this one of the most impressive aspects of Yeshua’s life and ministry. Yeshua is not only Lord, but also a rabbi and a teacher of God’s wisdom.

Daniel Stern: He Has Removed Our Transgressions [2017]

Read the teaching below, or watch a video of the teaching by Daniel Stern.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about Jacob’s blessings to his sons and grandsons, who are the heads of the tribes of Israel. This was followed by Jacob’s death along with the mourning and burial process.

After that we come to a section that I find particularly interesting. Genesis 50 verses 15 through 21 describe events between the sons of Jacob after his death. Joseph’s brothers, who had been very envious, planned to kill him, and eventually sold him into slavery, were fearful that even after nearly twenty years of living in Egypt, that their brother would finally seek revenge. Joseph had confessed to them in an emotional reunion that he was still alive and had told them that he forgave them, explaining that although they wished him harm, God had used it for good and many lives were saved including their own because of it. He went so far as to bring Jacob their father and their entire households down to Egypt, even after all of that they were fearful that he was still holding a grudge against them and had not taken revenge on them previously only to spare their father pain.

parashat-vayechi
Even after nearly 20 years, Joseph’s brothers still did not accept his forgiveness.

Since Jacob had passed on, however, they thought that he would now execute his master plan and take vengeance upon them. The brothers were so terrified that they sent Joseph a message informing him that Jacob’s last wish was requesting that Joseph not harm his brothers. There is no mention of Jacob ever saying that; in fact, I don’t think that he ever gave such instructions. It never truly happened, but the brothers were so afraid of Joseph’s wrath that they lied to him, suspecting that only his love for their father would save them. When Joseph heard this message from his brothers, the Bible tells us that he wept. The scriptures don’t tell us exactly why, but I think it was because he realized that even after so many years his brothers still couldn’t comprehend his mercy, they couldn’t fathom the fact that he had indeed truly and honestly forgiven them. In their minds, the crimes they committed against him were too great and nothing could ever erase them. They assumed that the time had come for them to pay the price for all their iniquities. Joseph must have realized that his brothers feared him, that the loving family relationship he thought they had didn’t exist, therefore he wept out of sorrow.

Oftentimes, we also think that when we’ve done something unacceptable, that it must be too terrible for God to forgive us. Such sins and feelings can cause us great despair and anguish, resulting in overwhelming, crippling shame which drives us further into darkness. However, what does the bible tell us about situations like these?

Romans 6:23 says,

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23 [NIV]

The punishment for sin is death; capital punishment, for instance, is  given only to the worst of the worst. In Israel, only one man has ever recieved the death penalty.  His name was was Adolf Eichmann and he was one of the chief engineers of the Holocaust, the wages for his sins equaled death. According to Romans, in God’s eyes our sins deserve the death penalty, which is a deep and sobering thought. Although in that very same verse, the Bible also  explains how God gave us eternal life through Yeshua. In Hebrews 9:14 it is written that through the blood of the lamb, God expunges our death penalty. Unfortunately, we are like Joseph’s brothers, who just can’t wrap their heads around the possibility that Joseph had actually forgiven them. In that same way we have a hard time accepting God’s forgiveness because our sins seem too gruesome to bear.

Now don’t get me wrong, our actions still have consequences. If I harmed someone and I apologize, that isn’t the end of it. There are many verses in the Bible that lay down the laws and rules about repayment of damages which can be found in places like Exodus chapter 21. Many passages speak of the spiritual consequences of sins, such as the beginning of Isaiah chapter 59. Repentance is only the first step on the path of reconciliation, Luke 3:8 tells us that repentance must be followed by fruit. Words are not enough, there must be deeds to back-up the words, actions that show true repentance. In the past, the sacrificial system was in place in order to give men a means of expressing the fruit of their repentance. This occurred up until the destruction of the temple and Yeshua’s sacrifice on the cross, who bore all our sins.

I believe this is what was missing in our Torah portion. Joseph was one of the most powerful men in the world, meanwhile his brothers came to him on their knees, begging for food to survive the famine.  What could they have possibly offered him? What could they have done to compensate for the way they treated him? 17 years went by and during which they had not done anything to atone for their crimes, and because of that they were afraid. However, Joseph didn’t seek anything from them, rather he just wanted to be their brother, to be their family.

Joseph told them not to be afraid, he had to repeat that multiple times, he spoke kindly to them and reassured them. He explained that despite their plan to harm him, God’s plan was greater and that He used their actions to save the world.

I want to finish by reassuring you that even if you have a dark sin in your past that you can’t come to terms with, God is able to forgive you. Further, I want to encourage you to remember the words of David in Psalms 103:12:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. – Psalms 103:12 [NIV]

God’s mercy is so vast that if we truly repent of all our sins he will cleanse us. What can mere mortals offer the creator of the universe? Absolutely nothing! God doesn’t need anything from us except our hearts, he simply wants to be our father and family.

Shabbat Shalom