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: The Intertestamental Period [2021]

The Torah portion for this Shabbat, December 18, 2021, is the last Torah reading from the book of Genesis, Vayechi, Genesis 47:28 – 50:26. From the prophets (the Haftarah) the reading is from 1 Kings 2:1 – 2:12, and from the New Testament it is from Hebrews 11:21-22, and 1 Peter 1:3-9.

This portion of the Torah was very popular and powerful in the intertestamental period, that is the period between the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the establishment of the royal house of Herod, i.e., the beginning of the 1st Century A.D., or as it is counted by Jews and others, the 1st Century C.E.

The reason that this Torah reading was so popular and important is because Jews from the 3rd Century B.C. started to think that the blessings that Jacob gave his sons that are a major part of this Torah portion (Vayechi, “and he lived” in Hebrew) is prophetic and it has to do with the far future or the Messianic Period of the last days.

There are important books written during that period called “intertestamental,” books that are based on Jacob’s blessings to his sons. The major one that has some important “messianic” elements is the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Here are some examples of the use of this book in the New Testament.

A quotation from the testament of Levi 6:10-11 is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:16:

“…forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; ‘but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.’” – 1 Thessalonians 2:16

A quotation from the Testament of Gad 6:10 is found in Romans 12:19:

“Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19

A quotation from the Testament of Benjamin 4:3 is found in Romans 12:21:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

A quotation from the Testament of Gad 5:7 is found in 2 Corinthians 7:10:

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – 2 Corinthians 7:10

A quotation from the Testament of Naphtali 3:1 is found in Ephesians 5:6:

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” – Ephesians 5:6

I realize that this is not common knowledge in some Christian circles but for me it is important. This does not mean that the New Testament writers or the Holy Spirit is implying that this Pseudepigraphic Hellenistic Jewish literature is inspired, but, like Paul in Acts 17 used a quotation from a Greek poet, he also used literature that was very popular in his days among Pharisaic rabbis.

Fragments of similar writings were found at Qumran, but opinions are divided as to whether these are the same texts from this book.

What I am trying to share with you is that these last chapters of the book of Genesis were considered to be prophetic pointing to the last days, speaking about the eschatological events that will have an impact for the last days. The basis for these Jewish Hellenistic texts are the following words in Jacob’s blessings for the tribes:

“And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days.’” – Genesis 49:1

When the New Testament writers use quotations from this Jewish literature that was so popular in the time of the apostles it does not indicate that these outside books are all inspired by God, but it does indicate that they were popular and known in the days of the apostles.

Here are some of Jacob’s blessings that have messianic implications in the Jewish Pharisaic circles of the Jewish communities of the time and also among the apostolic leaders. Although many of them were Galilean fisherman and not great Torah scholars in Jerusalem. They too were familiar and could quote from this outside literature.

That is actually an indication that these Galilean fishermen were not ignorant from the spiritual literature that influenced the Jewish world in the land of Israel.

Here is the commentary of Ramban (this is commentary on Genesis 49:1, by one of the greatest rabbis who lived in Spain, and later Egypt, in the 14th Century A.D.):

“In the end of days. These are the days of the Messiah, for Jacob alludes to him in his words, even as he said, Until Shiloh come, and his be the obedience of peoples. Now our Rabbis have said that Jacob wished to reveal the end of Israel’s exile, but the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) departed from him. Thus, in the opinion of all scholars, the end of days is a reference to the days of the Messiah.”

Genesis 49:9 – 12:

“Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; And as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes; And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, And his clothes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, And his teeth whiter than milk.” – Genesis 49:9-12 [NKJV]

This prophecy is one that is rather obscure, but it is interesting how rabbinical commentators stay with the tradition that there is a messianic promise and prediction in these words of Jacob that affirm that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah and the word “Shiloh” is interpreted in the following ways by some of the greatest medieval Jewish commentators:

“…rabbinical and later interpreters, as a Messianic allusion to David, who never had much to do with Shiloh. There is even less of an excuse to import for the same purpose the rare Akk. noun šēlu ‘counselor,’ when Hebrew (and Akkadian) had various direct terms for ‘ruler.’ Now is the situation improved if šylh/w is emended to mšlh/w ‘his ruler’…” – Taken from the Anchor Bible Commentary on Genesis 49:9-10

The connection of Yeshua the Messiah with the tribe of Judah and the house of David is clearly confirmed in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and this stress that Yeshua is from the house of David is already made clear by Matthew in the very first verse of the Gospel:

“This is the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah son of David son of Abraham.” – Matthew 1:1

It is good for us to know that this revelation is in concert and based on this text of Genesis as the rabbis (Pharisees) of the days of Yeshua saw it from their point of view, and may be revelation.

There is one more curiosity in this Torah portion, and it comes from Genesis 48:16, where Jacob is speaking to Joseph and states the following:

“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 48:16

Jacob is telling Joseph and his sons that Abraham and Isaac his fathers were great evangelists and brought many souls to the faith in One God, “they fished for men among the inhabitants of the Earth.”

The translators of the Hebrew Bible in the 17th Century didn’t understand or connect these words of Jacob with the word that is translated as “grew into multitude in the midst of the earth” – and therefore didn’t understand the Hebrew word “dag”.

The root of the Hebrew word is “dag”, that means “fish” in Hebrew, and in this grammatical form it means “fished”. The basis on which Jacob says this to Joseph and his sons is Genesis 12:5:

“Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So they came to the land of Canaan.” – Genesis 12:5 [NKJV]

The words translated into English, “The people (souls) whom they had acquired in Haran” ought to be translated based on the idiom of “acquiring souls” – is to evangelize – like in modern Hebrew today “la’asot nefashot” (“to make souls”).

We know from Genesis 14 that Abraham had 318 men who were also his soldiers that went with Abraham to chase the five kings from the North to recapture Lot and his family and bring them back. So, yes, Jacob says that Abraham and Isaac his father and grandfather were great evangelists among the inhabitants of the land.

There are endless treasures in the word of God from Genesis to Revelation. By diminishing the importance of the Torah and the “Old Testament” and for the most part ignoring it, our Christian brothers are cutting off the very branch that they are sitting upon.

It is tragic, but more than that, it needs to be fixed and understood that the New Testament is not a standalone book. It is a continuation of the same narrative and revelation of the Holy Spirit that starts in Genesis and ends in the book of John’s Revelation. Of course, the knowledge of the original languages helps to understand God’s revelation unfiltered.

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

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, we’re going through the whole Torah, following the readings in all the synagogues of Jewish people in the world, including messianic Jews. Many of them are reading from the Torah, the same order, like the rest of Israel reads. And we are approaching the end of the Book of Genesis. We’re in the last portion that is read in the synagogue, this next Shabbat. And it starts with the word Vayechi, and Jacob lived in the land of Egypt. He lived, but very interesting, in chapter 25, when we did the portion of Chayei Sarah, the life of Sarah, and it’s called Chayei Sarah, the Life of Sarah, Sarah dies and Abraham dies in the same portion. And now we are Vayechi, and he lived and Jacob dies.

There is something prophetic about this reading, but I want to go back a little bit to last week’s portion, which in my opinion, is one of the most dramatic and one of the most interesting Torah portions in the whole Torah. The best Hollywood producer and director and actors could not capture the drama, the intensity, and the importance of last week’s portion. We started talking about the story of Joseph in chapter 37 of Genesis from riches to rags and then from rags to riches in the following portion.

From prison, he becomes the Prime Minister of Egypt, the man next to Pharaoh himself. And in chapters 44, 45, and 46, we see the brothers also go from rags to riches. They thought that if Joseph discovers they are his brothers who sold him, who wanted to kill him, who hated him, who despised him, if he now is this most powerful in Egypt next to Pharaoh, that he’s going to do them great harm. But on the contrary, they were full of fear when Joseph said, “I am Joseph, your brother.” Very dramatic scene. All the Egyptians were driven out of the room. Only Joseph and his brothers are there in that room. And that the steam of their fear and the sweat of their brow filled the room. And then Joseph says, “I am Joseph, your brother,” and they’re full of fear.

God Uses Their Evil for Good

And he says, “Hey, stop fearing “because what you thought was for evil, “God turned it for good.” This principle that says all things work together for the good of those that love the Lord, also appears in Romans 8. The same principle, appears in Proverbs. It appears in Psalms. It appears in many places in the Bible. The principle is that we may think that the horrible things that are happening to us are from evil and for evil’s sake, but actually, God reveals to us and especially in the story of Joseph, that the very evil that the brothers stood for is the very thing that saved them. Oh, this paradigm goes all the way to the Messiah, to Yeshua, to Isaiah 53, that starts the description of despising that root that grew out of parched land, the root of Jesse, the son of David, the Messiah himself.

The idea is so prevalent and it’s so important for us today to understand this principle. You know, we may think that what’s happening to us is terrible, but it could be that the best thing that happened to us is the crisis, the difficulties, the strain on our faith and our love and our life that ends up bringing the glory of God down from heaven right on our head. Yup, what we thought was for evil God can, and he does very often turn out for good, especially if we do our best to be righteous and to be holy and to be proud of being disciples of Yeshua, not ashamed of Him, because if we’re ashamed of Him, then we’re going nowhere. And then whatever we thought was for good will turn out for evil, the opposite paradigm.

Again, I’m repeating that. Sometimes we thought the best thing for us, the great victory that we have, maybe in the world, in the finances, maybe in other areas of our life, that can turn out to be the biggest thorn in our flesh.

This paradigm is very important, folks. And I suggest that you read the story of Joseph from chapter 37 on to the end of Genesis. Not very many chapters, an hour of reading, And read it in one piece because it’s a novel. It’s a whole story, one of the few whole stories in the Bible that has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and it’s drama from the beginning to the end. So now we’re in chapter 47, verse 28. And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt. In other words, Joseph made sure that Jacob and Benjamin and all the brothers and their families and their flocks had come to Egypt, and he puts them up in the most lush, beautiful, full of water part of Egypt, the land of Goshen. And they lived there. And Jacob is there with his children, with his grandchildren, and Joseph and his family are not too far away.

Jacob Dies in Goshen

And then Jacob dies. 17 years he lived under the shadow of Joseph in the riches of Egypt. He lived 147 years, but before he dies, verse 29 of chapter 47, when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son, Joseph, and said to him, “Now, if I’ve found favor in your sight, “please put your hand under my thigh”and deal kindly and truly with me. ”Please do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers.” You shall carry me out of the land of Egypt “and bury me in their burial place.” That takes us back many chapters.

When Sarah dies in chapter 25 of Genesis, Abraham buys the cave in Hebron, the cave of Machpelah, he pays for the 400 pieces of silver in front of the Hittite and makes it the family grave, the family grave. Wow. Sarah dies, she’s buried there. Abraham dies, he’s buried there. And now Jacob dies. And he asks from Joseph to make sure that is carried back from Egypt to the land of Canaan, to the city of Hebron, and buried there with his grandfather and his grandmother and his father, Isaac.

I think it’s a very dramatic thing. What’s dramatic about it? That these people who lived in the land of Egypt, let’s compare it to somebody, something that we all know. They lived in New York, in Manhattan, on the 35th floor of a luxury apartment building, overlooking Central Park. That’s what I would compare the land of Goshen to. And when they die, they don’t want to be buried in Manhattan, in the land of Goshen. They want to go back to that small piece of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and be buried together with their fathers and their mothers and their grandmothers and their grandfathers.

This is very unique. This is very Israel, folks, because that is a confirmation of the promises of God and of the prophetic fulfillment of His promises. I wanna go back, be buried in the land that has eternal promises to it. That it’ll be the eternal possession of Abraham’s seed. Joseph himself, when he dies, he’s embalmed like the pharaohs, but he wants to be buried in the land of the Children of Israel, to leave Egypt, and cross the sea on dry land. They are carrying the sarcophagus, the burial box of Joseph to the same tomb, to the same cave, to the same city of Hebron, in which Abraham bought the cave several hundred years earlier.

So Joseph comes, his father invites him, and he comes and he doesn’t come alone. He comes with his two sons. But before that, Jacob wants him to swear, to take an oath, that he is going to be buried in the land of Canaan, in the cave of Machpelah, with his fathers, forefathers. And he makes him, tells him, swear to me, and he swore to him, that Israel bowed himself at the bed, at the head of the bed. Joseph goes on to the city where a Pharaoh is to the city where he lived, probably today.

And he gets a message: “Your father is very sick,” and he takes his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, and he goes to visit his father on his death bed. And Jacob’s messengers tell him, Joseph and his two sons are coming to see you. So Israel with his last strength sits up on the bed, straightens himself up on the bed, and he sits on the bed.

Jacob Blesses Joseph

And Jacob sees Joseph and he starts telling him his story, a short version of the story of Jacob. “God Almighty appeared to me in Luz, “in the land of Canaan “and blessed me.” Where is Luz? Luz is Bethel. That is the ancient Canaanite name of Bethel. The fact that it is called Bethel in the book of Genesis is what is called an anachronism. The writer knew that Bethel’s ancient Canaanite name was Luz, which means that the text was written sometimes after the children of Israel arrived in the land of Canaan and conquered Bethel in the book of Joshua.

And God said to me, “Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you. “And will make you a multitude of people and give this land “to your descendants after you “as an everlasting possession.” This is the third time that this promise of God is given, only in the book of Genesis. Chapter 13, verse 15 is the first time. Chapter 15 is the second time. And now Jacob repeats this promise that was given to Abraham.

Very interesting. He’s telling Joseph, Joseph, the prime minister of Egypt. The man’s second to none, except Pharaoh himself is telling him, “Look, you may be Joseph the second to Pharaoh in Egypt,”but you should know that God is faithful “to keep his promises.”He will make you fruitful and multiply you” and will make you multitude of people “and give this land to your descendants “as an everlasting possession forever.”

Jacob Adopts Joseph’s Sons

Ho, we’re now in the land of Israel. We’re returned in our congregation with people that came from Russia and people who came from Bulgaria like myself and people who came from Iraq and people who came from Georgia, Russian Georgia, and people who came from United States, and people who came from other parts of the world. Returning home, folks, to the land that was promised to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.

And Jacob is repeating that promise right here in chapter 28 of Genesis. “And now to your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, “who were born to you in the land of Egypt “before I came to Egypt, they are my sons. “They’re just as much my sons as Reuben and Simeon.” What is Jacob telling Joseph? I’m adopting your children, who are my grandchildren, and giving them the status of my children. Why is this important? Because they will inherit the land. Not only will they inherit the land, Ephraim and Manasseh inherit the bulk of the land, some of the best parts of the land, right in the middle of the land from the sea, almost from the sea to the Jordan River and across the Jordan, they have a tribe of Manasseh, a huge part of the land.

The other tribes, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Asher got smaller pieces, but the children of Joseph got the bulk of the land. So that gives us the kosher stamp for what happens in later history, Israelite history where Ephraim becomes one of the most powerful tribes, the leading tribe of the 10 northern tribes of Israel that separated from Judah in the days of the son of Solomon.

It’s interesting that we see the principle that is called in Hebrew, Whatever our fathers did became the sign, the direction, the vision, and the future of their children. Ah, what a principle this is for us today in the 20th century. We’re talking about educating our children. We’re talking about raising our next generation as believers like we are. We’re talking about, you know, overcoming the strains and the pulls and the influences of the world in our life.

And here in the Book of Genesis, in the words of Jacob, we see that whatever the fathers did became the path or the sign for his children, ha. I wish I knew that when I was younger and my children were babies. My children are good. They’re believers, they’re strong believers, and my grandchildren, but eh, they’re brothers. This a principle that we need to all assume.

What We Do Affects Our Children and Grandchildren

We’re worried about our next generation. We worried about our children, our grandchildren, but a worry’s not enough. We should take in advance this teaching of the Torah before we make the children and before we have grandchildren. Then we’ll save ourselves a lot of pain and heartache and problems in the future. And Jacob continues to bless Joseph, to bless Joseph, and to bless his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh. And then he switches in verse seven of chapter 28.

He said, “I came from Paddan. “Rachel died beside me in the land of Canaan on the way. “And there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, “and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath, “which is Bethlehem.” I think that this is a beautiful situation. Jacob’s love for Rachel didn’t stop, even after she died. And it tells Joseph where his mother is buried. And until today, that tomb of Rachel is considered a holy place.

But I want to skip a little bit and go to some interesting things that we have here in this text. And that is the 12 tribes are getting blessed. No, most of them are getting blessed, but Levi and Manasseh… No, Levi and Simeon, not Manasseh, sorry. Levi and Simeon are not getting blessed. They’re getting cursed. Jacob doesn’t bless them, he curses him.

Why? Because they embarrassed him in front of the people of the land in Shechem. And they went and tricked the men of Shechem, and then forcibly circumcised them all. I don’t know with what kinda knife, but it must’ve hurt a lot to circumcise all the adult men of Shechem, not only the babies. And then verse 16 of chapter 28. Jacob tells Joseph something amazing.

He says, “And the angel has redeemed me from all evil.” The angel revealed himself to Jacob at Bethel. “Redeemed me from all evil.” And he blessed the lads, the boys. And he said, “Let my name be upon them “in the name of Abraham and Isaac “and let them grow into a multitude “in the midst of the earth.” Here we are. What do you mean, let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth? Well, the word multitude is not in the text.

What’s in the text is, I’m gonna read it from the English text, but with the Hebrew meaning. “Let my name be upon them.” In other words, I adopt them. “In the name of my father, Abraham and Isaac, “and let them grow into fishers “in the earth.” The word in Hebrew is, let them fish, multitude, much fish among the inhabitants of the land, in the midst of the earth. Doesn’t say anything.

Abraham Was an Evangelist

Means among the inhabitants of the earth. And he gives that title to Abraham and Isaac. And how do we know about Abraham? What do we know about Abraham? Right in the beginning of the story of Abraham in chapter 12 of Genesis, dear brothers and sisters, it says that Abraham took Sarah, his wife and lot of his family, and the souls, which he had made in Harran to make souls in Hebrew, to do mission work, evangelism and Abraham brought with him, you know, probably a thousand people in his camp, 318 men between the age of 12, 20, and 50.

They had wives, they had children. He evangelized. And this is where Yeshua gets the idea, “I will make you fishers of men,” like who? Like Abraham, your father. Hallelujah. My time is up, folks, but keep reading, and I will touch the highlights for the next portions, which is going to be the beginning of the Book of Exodus. God bless all of you. Keep studying.

Joseph Shulam: Fishers of Men [2020]

The portion of the Torah that is called Vayechi (“and he lived”) means that Jacob lived. However, it is in this portion of the Torah, the last portion of Genesis, that Jacob dies. There are some very important issues in this reading.

Jacob blesses his sons, including Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Joseph inherits a double portion of the land of Israel. Each of the brothers of Joseph except Levi – inherit one portion, Joseph, through his sons, inherits two of the largest parts of the land of Canaan!

Jacob reveals to his sons that Abraham and Isaac, where fishers of men, great evangelists who won hundreds of souls and converted them and their families to know and worship the one God who revealed Himself to Abraham in Haran and called him to leave the rich and fertile crescent and come to Canaan a land of little fertility and much desert.

Here is the verse:

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

The “multitude” is in the Hebrew text “yidgu”. The root of this word that is translated in English as “multitude” is “dag” (“fish”). The grammatical form of the word in Genesis is “and they fished” among the people of the land.

It is from this text that Yeshua said to His disciples:

“Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’” – Matthew 4:19 [NKJV]

You might ask, when and how did Abraham and Isaac, “fish” and evangelized. The key text is:

“Then Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the (souls) people whom they had acquired in Haran, and they departed to go to the land of Canaan. So, they came to the land of Canaan.” – Genesis 12:5 [NKJV]

To “acquire souls” is to evangelize. This is true in ancient Hebrew and it is also true in modern Hebrew. Abraham had 318 men between the age of 20 and 50 who were mighty men of war and helped him in Genesis 14 to chase after the five kings of the north and to retrieve Lot and his family and the loot that those kings had taken.

On his way back from this military campaign Abraham stopped at Salem, (Jerusalem) and met with Melchizedek. Abraham was not alone with only his wife Sarah, and his nephew Lot, and his family.

He had a large camp with many people and those 318 men had families and children. These people followed Abraham because they too understood that there is but one God, who created the Heavens and the Earth. The same God who loves the world and who sacrificed His Son so that we can all know Him and leave the idols of this world behind, and follow Him, and do His will.

When you are an evangelist, a soul-winner, you must want those who follow you to keep following the same Lord that you follow. As Paul said to his disciples:

“And Paul said, ‘I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.’” – Acts 26:29 [NKJV]

“‘And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do.’” – 1 Corinthians. 16:10 [NKJV]

“‘Brethren, I urge you to become like me, for I became like you. You have not injured me at all.’” – Galatians 4:12 [NKJV]

This might seem strange to you, but the object of sharing the Gospel with people is that they follow you into the kingdom of God and make you their example and model. This is one reason that so many of the so-called “discipleship” programs in the world are not really successful long term.

A person who is giving his life now as well as his eternal life, has to trust you, you and not something abstract. He has to follow you and do as you do. When the person sees you following – He will follow. Every child follows his father and mother and often your child will display the same good and bad and ugly traits that he learned from you, his father, and you might be upset and angry that he is following you.

Stop being a bad example! Take hold of your son and yourself and change together. It is never too late. Or, I have seen the opposite occur, sons who have taken charge of their fathers and they have changed together. I know sons who took over from their fathers and led them to the Lord! Return dear brothers and sisters and become fishers of men!

Learn from the true fishermen what it takes to fish in a stormy sea or river.

One last note on this Torah reading! Jacob, and later also Joseph, asked that their body be taken and buried in the same place as Abraham in the land of Canaan, the Land that God gave to Abraham and to his seed as an everlasting possession! Don’t forget this important truth! Everlasting means eternal.

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.

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