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 Lord Keeps His Promises [2020]

Our father Abraham is known for his faith, but also for his hospitality. The reading this Shabbat is from Vayera; Genesis 18:1 – 22:24. This text that is read around the world in every synagogue, like the portion of Genesis, and Noah and Lech Lecha, is another very significant reading in God’s Word.

The reading from the prophets, the Haftarah reading, is from 2 Kings 4:1-37. The reading from the New Testament is from Luke 1:26-38, and 24:36-53. I continue to be amazed and inspired every time that I read any significant portion of the Word of God. The key to being amazed and inspired reading the Word of God is not to read like a dummy.

When you read the Bible you are not reading for your pleasure. You need to read as if you were in a dialogue with the writer. You are reading to argue and to try to understand. You are reading to ask questions and possibly to argue and dig deep into the text in order to answer the questions that the text opens up in your mind.

You are in the arena and you are there to wave the red cape and to challenge the big bull that is snorting challenges at you. The challenges are to act, to argue, to get out of your comfort zone.

So, here we are, Parashat Vayera, starting in Genesis chapter 18:1:

“Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day.” – Genesis 18:1 [NKJV]

This opening statement is already of great impact. Up until now God had talked to and had revealed Himself to Abraham in a dream, in a vision, and in a conversation, but this is so much more than any previous occasion in which the Lord had communicated with Abraham.

In this appearance, the Lord together with two angels simply appears unannounced and so to speak just knocks on Abraham’s door! There was no previous announcement, and under normal circumstances, this would not be appropriate.

For a king, for the Lord, for the creator of the Universe, to just drop in without fanfare, or to at least have hundreds of angels preceding the entourage of the King of kings and welcome Him with flowers and a red carpet, is highly unusual, and I would say shocking!

If I read this text carefully and also consider the reference to this event in the book of Hebrews 13:2:

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” – Hebrews 13:2 [NKJV]

The teaching on hospitality and the requirement of hospitality for those who are elders in the church comes from the example of Abraham in this Torah portion.

Let us consider the basics of hospitality from this story of Abraham and the guests that he receives:

“So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant. They said, ‘Do as you have said.’” – Genesis 18:2-5 [NKJV]

  1. Welcoming the guests and honoring them humbly and bowing to the ground as a sign that they are more noble.
  2. They were strangers and Abraham didn’t know what they wanted. As a part of his welcome, he begs them to stay.
  3. Abraham immediately follows the protocol of the Middle East and offers to wash his guests’ feet. They have been walking on the road and washing their feet is like the gesture of taking your shoes off when you are in the Far East. It is the welcoming convention and in the Far East they offer you slippers to wear.
  4. The next thing that Abraham did was to immediately offer the guests food.

We are commanded in the New Testament to be hospitable, and this is even a requirement for people who are elders (pastors) in the church. If your elders and pastors are not hospitable they are not qualified to be in the position of elder or pastor (in the Bible these are identical offices – one is an elder and the other serves as a shepherd of the congregation – that is to say, in the New Testament, the two positions are interchangeable).

This story also amazes by the detail by which Abraham asks Sarah his wife to prepare bread for the guests, while he himself runs to the flock and picks out a calf to be prepared for them. It bears mentioning that meat was not eaten every day in this part of the world. Meat was only eaten on holidays and on special occasions like weddings and feasts (this custom is described in the first chapter of 1 Samuel).

We must remember that Abraham still doesn’t know who these three men are! He is treating strangers, just passersby, with such hospitality.

We should remember that Abraham was a very powerful sheik whose camp must have included hundreds of soldiers and their families. He must have had many servants as well as those who had followed him from Haran to the land of Canaan! Yet, he takes it upon himself to personally select a calf and tells Sarah to make cakes from fine meal, the best flour for baking the bread.

There is so much for us to learn here about biblical practices and to ask ourselves what part of this biblical paradigm should serve us as an example.

The next big thing in this text of Genesis is the revelation that the Lord reveals to Abraham:

“And the Lord said, ‘Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.’” – Genesis 18:17-19 [NKJV]

The Lord shares His plans with His servants and Abraham is God’s servant. See this text in Amos 3:7,

“Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” – Amos 3:7 [NKJV]

This is important to me personally. I want to know what the Lord is doing and what I am to do. When the Lord enlightens me from His Word I always appreciate it. What I don’t think is right is to try to calculate the end times. The Lord has given us enough information to cause us to be vigilant and to be prepared and ready for Yeshua’s return.

The speculations and calculations boarder on false prophecy and even more serious than false prophecy. We have to simply be patient with the prophetic proclamations in the Bible and to neither try to rush or delay the hand of the Lord. His calendar is perfect and He Himself is the only one who knows the dates of the events. Yeshua Himself says that He does not know the day and the hour of His return.

If Yeshua doesn’t know and the angels don’t know, then who knows? I would automatically question anyone who claims he knows, whether he’s a television pastor, or some self-proclaimed television “prophet” who is doing what he does for profit.

Abraham’s concern that he does what is righteous in the eyes of the Lord, also makes an impression on me and teaches me to take it easy and to overcome my fears with regard to what is happening in the world, past, present, and future. Abraham’s question is for me a key issue:

“And Abraham came near and said, ‘Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?’” – Genesis 18:23 [NKJV]

The question that Abraham is asking in simple English is: “Lord can You be unrighteous?”

Is God able to be unrighteous? Is God bound by moral principles? Or is God without limits when it involves His decisions and actions?

These are questions that Abraham has and this gives Abraham the right and the strength to haggle with God like someone buying fish in the Arab market of the Old City of Jerusalem. What amazes me is that God is willing to haggle with Abraham and actually, in spite of the fact that God knows the end before the beginning and knows how many righteous men are in Sodom, God is willing to allow Abraham the privilege of testing His measure of righteousness. The Lord allows this haggling of Abraham, for our benefit.

The Lord wants us to know that He is a righteous God. The Lord wants us to know that when it is necessary to punish cities, countries, or individuals for their sins, there will be divine consideration for God’s righteous servants and they will not be ignored. (The question is asked about the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. The answer that I can give you is that only the Lord knows who is righteous and who is not. He is the only one who can see into people’s hearts. We don’t have the ability to know or to evaluate who is righteous.)

In Sodom, in the end, there were not even 10 people who were righteous. Sodom had to fall and be destroyed. Until this very day Sodom has not been rebuilt as a city. Until this day, Capernaum, Beit Saida, and Korazim, the three cities that Yeshua cursed, have not been rebuilt and are archaeological monuments and tourist sights.

Yes, the Lord keeps His promises! He keeps His promises to Abraham, and to Israel, and to the world. If we learn anything from the story of Abraham there are two things that must be taken seriously:

  1. The Lord keeps His promises!
  2. Each promise of the Lord puts the burden on us as humans and as disciples to keep the faith and to do His will and to serve Him by serving and caring for His children.

These above reasons my dear brothers and sisters are why it is so important to pray for each other and to pray for people whom we don’t even know personally, since by praying for them we confirm that we are members of a kingdom that is much greater than us and our small fellowships and small worlds.

When we pray for people, for brothers who are in need of healing or a job, and other needs for their life and comfort, we partner with the Creator in the care and protection and provision of His creatures and creation.

Keep praying and keep caring and keep doing everything you can to partner and participate with God’s people anywhere and everywhere you know, and anywhere you are faced with someone’s need. Like the song says, “I say a little prayer for you!”

Joseph Shulam: What Would You Do if You Were Abraham? [2019]

Anti-Semitism is on the rise the whole world over, and the USA is no exception. So, here is what I propose to you, my Christian brothers and sisters. Please keep reading the Bible.

You can start from this week’s Torah portion, Genesis 18:1 – 22. This reading has some of the most important texts in Genesis.

In chapter 18, Abraham is interceding for Sodom, a city in which God could not find even 10 righteous people. Just consider this, my brothers and sisters, if there were 10 righteous men in Sodom, God would have spared this city.

This puts a great big burden on every one of us, disciples of Yeshua (Jesus). We love our countries and our nations, and we want only blessings and only good to befall our countries and nations. We want to be those people whom God can look down on this earth and say what He said about Noah, “Noah is a righteous men in his generation.”

We can be faithful and we can be righteous in Yeshua, with Yeshua, and by virtue of His righteousness. We can be salt and light and a blessing to our communities and our nations, and our brothers and sisters, those near and those far.

It is a wrong reading of the Word of God to give up and say, “There is no one righteous not even one!” And give up on doing our best to do what is right and what is good and what is not selfish and self-serving.

Read the Torah portion this week, and put yourselves in Abraham and Sarah’s shoes, and ask yourselves what you would do and where you would be today if you were in Abraham’s shoes (or maybe his sandals).

Remember the words of God to Abraham, and ask yourselves if God means what He promises, and are His promises still active and with the same power:

“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:3 [NKJV]

Joseph Shulam: We Must Not Forget How Much God Loves Us [2017]

This week’s reading of the Torah is Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24). Vayera is one of the most dramatic sections of the whole Hebrew Bible. There are two events in this reading that actually have changed our view of God and His character.

The first event is the interesting meeting of three “angels” with Abraham at the oaks of Mamre. The Oak of Mamre is near the city of Hebron. The city of Hebron is the place where Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah as a burial place for Sarah, his wife. In fact, our patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Joseph, are all buried in the same cave in Hebron.

The second, even more dramatic, event is when Abraham, in obedience to God’s command, takes his son Isaac to be sacrificed on the top of the hill of Moriah. This is the same hill where Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, and today the Dome of the Rock stands.

The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Le Dominiquin (1581–1641) | Netivyah | Parashat Vayera
The Sacrifice of Isaac, by Le Dominiquin (1581–1641)

I would like to share with you a little about both of these events. The meeting between Abraham and the three angles has some very important teachings for us all, Jews, Christians, and Muslims, if we wish to learn from the Torah. Here are some of the important things we can all learn from Abraham!

  1. Men, especially righteous men, can face God and have a conversation with the Almighty.
  2. God is willing to have a conversation with righteous men, and I would add that at times the Lord is willing to have a conversation even with evil men, like Balaam, and Cain.
  3. The righteous men (of course including women) can change the course of history. God is willing to take into consideration the righteousness of men and withdraw His Hand from punishing a city, if there is a significant number of righteous people in that city.
  4. The Lord is a willing to accept logic and is sensitive to His reputation among men. Like in Jerusalem’s Old City today, merchants give you a high price, but they are willing to reason with you, and oftentimes come down in price up to 70%, and still make a good profit.

About Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac his son I have written before, and the only thing that I would like to say about it now is that we are all in need of the key word in this story in Hebrew – “hineni”, which in English means, “here I am Lord, ready to obey and do your will.”

This word appears more than one time in Genesis 24:1,7,11. It is a key word that many of the servants of God have used – Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, and David.

Now some people would doubt these foundational observations about the Lord God our Creator. They might see God as an ogre, full of wrath and anger. However, the Lord defined Himself and gave us His characteristic qualities more than once. The place that I like to quote is from Exodus 34:

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” – Exodus 34:6,7 [NKJV]

A note about the last part of this text. In the 8th Century B.C., the Lord changed this principle, and we have two fine records of this change:

“Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But everyone shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” – Jeremiah 31:27–30 [NKJV]

Ezekiel also pronounces this change in the way that God deals with the sinners:

“The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, ‘What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.’” – Ezekiel 18:1–4 [NKJV]

Here too it is clear that God can change His mind about something that He declared many centuries earlier, when He gave the Torah to Moses. To understand this is very crucial for those of us who believe in the revelation of God through Yeshua our Messiah.

The story of Abraham and the three angels at the oaks of Mamre is a monumental example of God’s understanding and consideration of the top of His creation – the human being, the Homo sapiens. We must always remember how much God loves us, that He gave us two of His most pronounced characteristics – image and likeness.

He gave us dominion over His creation, land and sea, and in the 20th Century, also a little bit of His sky. We can fly in iron birds and even go out to of the atmosphere into space (see Genesis 1:26,27).

Yehuda Bachana: Abraham’s Greatest Challenge [2017]

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

Parashat Vayera

Shabbat Shalom, Parashat Vayera is a difficult passage that raises many questions, for example:

  • When the angels visited Abraham, they ate food, in other places in the Bible and in Jewish tradition angels cannot eat. What made the angels who visited Abraham different? Why could they eat?
  • Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt.
  • Lot’s daughters rape their father and bear him children.
  • Abraham claims before the king of Gerar that Sarah is his sister and not his wife, after making the same mistake in Egypt.
  • Hagar is sent by Abraham to die in the desert.

These are all very challenging stories. If we stop and think about them for a moment, we can see that they’re not simple at all. We must find an explanation for them, for without an explanation these stories are unacceptable.

And the most challenging of all the stories from this weekly Torah portion is the binding of Isaac. No matter which angle we take on this story, we are met with difficulty:

  • A father who travels with his son for three days just to die, and that father’s handling of his son’s question: “…but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” – Genesis 22:7b [NIV]
  • And God’s demand for human sacrifice.

This Shabbat I want to touch on the subject of faith. Abraham has become the symbol of faith, and today we stand as people of faith. What can we learn from Abraham’s faith today?

Abraham had Doubts

Abraham’s passing of the test of the binding of Isaac is considered to be a divine expression of Abraham’s strong and genuine faith. This is shown in Jewish tradition and in the New Testament. It is referred to extensively in the New Testament, for example:

Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham… So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. – Galatians 3:7,9 [NIV]

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. – Hebrews 11:17-19 [NIV]

James also presents Abraham as an example of true and ideal faith, in which is found works and good deeds.

Faith has many advantages, such as better coping with pain and loss. Faith helps us in maintaining and strengthening the family unit, and faith encourages us to mutually support one another. To care for one another is indeed one of the foundations of the community. Furthermore, it is statistically proven that people of faith are less dependent on medicinal treatment.

Today I want to examine Abraham’s faith from another angle.

The meaning of the name “Isaac” is “laughter” – Sarah’s laughter, the laughter of embarrassment. Sarah fears what her neighbor will say. And Abraham’s laughter. Yes, Abraham laughed as well. We read in this portion that Abraham speaks to God, and he does not really believe that a child will be born to him from Sarah.

Our father Abraham was a normal person, and like any normal person, even Abraham had moments of doubt and lack of faith. This is important for me to note, because we all tend to attribute the heroes of the Bible with superhero status. And I’d like to point out that our father Abraham was made from the same material as you and I.

It is written of Abraham:

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety? – Genesis 17:17 [NIV]

And about Sarah it is written:

So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?” – Genesis 18:12 [NIV]

Further evidence of Abraham’s skepticism can be found in the continuation of the conversation between him and God:

And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son…” – Genesis 17:18,19a [NIV]

According to these verses, Abraham has already accepted the fact that he will never have a son from Sarah, and only Ishmael will be his successor. (“If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”) In response, God persuades Abraham not to despair by saying, ” …but your wife Sarah will bear you a son.”

My point is that sometimes all of us, including the heroes of the Bible, have doubts and questions of faith. We are all in a journey of faith. The idea that from the moment we come to faith we’ve finished the journey is simply not true.

It is precisely as believers that we bury the old man and rise up as a new creation. As believers, we are headed in a certain direction, upwards. A direction that honors our Father in heaven. Sometimes we deviate from the path, to the right or to the left. But we can always correct the course of our lives and get back on the path.

Abraham was Quick to Obey

If I return to Abraham, my understanding is that the question isn’t about blind, constant, unquestioning faith. For Scripture tells us that Abraham had given up hope that a son would come to him from Sarah his wife.

The question is what action we take in regards to God’s commandment. What you think in your heart is one thing. You can ponder in your heart, you can question in your heart, you can doubt in your heart. But what matters is our actions, as Yeshua tells us in the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-30).

What is the purpose of the commandment of the binding of Isaac? The answer is explicitly written in the Torah:

Some time later God tested Abraham… – Genesis 22:1a [NIV]

In other words, it was a test to see if Abraham would obey the commandment. Why did God specifically choose this test?

I do not think that this test comes down to the simple question of whether Abraham was willing to sacrifice to God his firstborn son. For all those people who sacrificed their sons to Molech were prepared to do such things.

Another example we have in the Bible is the story of Jephthah the Gileadite. He, before going out to battle, made a vow to God. He vowed that if he would win the battle, he would sacrifice to God whatever came to out greet him. Jephthah ended up sacrificing his daughter, who came out to meet him with tambourines and dancing (Judges 11). Yet he is not considered a symbol of faith for that action.

Many people throughout history have sacrificed their loved ones, for the sake of faith, ideology, or their country. I believe that Abraham’s testing was much deeper and more complex than merely to see whether Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son to God.

In almost all the conversations between God and Abraham, there is one central recurring theme. It is God’s promise of the continuation and transformation of Abraham into a great nation, like the sand of the seashore and the stars of the heavens.

And after years of waiting and patience on the part of Abraham, the miracle takes place – a son is born to Abraham and Sarah. Isaac’s birth foretells the continuation of the family, the birth heralds God’s promises to make Abraham into a great nation. The faith and expectation of Abraham throughout these years was not in vain.

And now comes the most terrible commandment – to sacrifice Isaac, the promised son, to God. This means that God’s promises will not be fulfilled. All these years God has given promise after promise, and now it turns out it was all false.

Isaac’s death will reveal that God does not keep His promises – and this is Abraham’s real test: What will Abraham’s reaction be? Will he cry out about the personal wrongdoing? The promises that will not be fulfilled? The long years of waiting?

In addition, the unique wording of the commandment enhances the test:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” – Genesis 22:2 [NIV]

Doubt gnaws at his heart: Did Abraham correctly understand the Word of God? Or was he about to lose his son, the thing most dear to him, due to a misunderstanding? Abraham has three days to consider this matter, to back out, to disobey.

Today the answer is known to all. Our father Abraham was willing to fulfill God’s commandment without hesitation, without crying out to heaven in protest, and without resenting the immorality of this terrible commandment.

This may be the true meaning of faith in God. When we do not understand the commandments, and yet hurry to obey them. And therefore, in a number of books and epistles in the New Testament, Abraham is considered to be the ideal believer.

In conclusion

In the believing world today, the emphasis is on coming to faith. And the main question I will raise is this: what are our goals? Is coming to faith the end of the story? Is it the supreme goal for everyone to come to faith, and thus be saved?

I think we have a higher goal than “the salvation of all Israel”, in which coming to faith is only the first step. Our coming to faith is not the end of the journey, but rather the beginning. From this important step onward, we must turn our faith in the word of God into a way of life. Into actions that are life-changing, life-improving, and life-giving.

The concept behind Netivyah is to show that you can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and remain faithful to God, to the Bible, to the people of Israel, and to the Jewish traditions.

Our work is particularly important because we are the example, we are a representative sample.

The question is, how we will fare on the test?

The outcome must be success. We are committed to preserving our Jewish identity, as an authentic identity. We must be the proof that one can believe in Yeshua as the Messiah and at the same time remain faithful to Israel.

We are promised that all Israel will be saved (Romans 11). We believe that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Yeshua is the Messiah, the son of the living God.

This week’s Torah portion teaches me that I must trust and believe that this is indeed what will happen. And I must work towards this goal without any question or doubt, without asking, “will this happen?” But rather, “how can I help?”

The answer is to translate faith into reality, into everyday life. To rise up and grasp that we are the representative sample, and people are looking at us. Our neighbors are examining us, they want to know what the meaning of our faith is, and where it leads us.

This test is in every aspect of our lives, from the way we behave towards each other, to our relationship to the Word of God and the Jewish tradition.

May we have a peaceful Shabbat, and may we grow stronger in our faith and in the righteousness of our path.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.