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: Good Comes From Pain and Suffering [2021]

This next Shabbat the Torah reading is Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23, from the prophets: Amos 2:6-3:8, New Testament: Matthew 1:18-25.

The Torah portion of Vayeshev is the beginning of the story of Joseph. The story of Joseph is the first full dramatic short novel. It has all the elements of a novel.

In the beginning the theme is from love to hate. Jacob especially loves Joseph and is partial toward Joseph. Jacob singles out Joseph by giving him a coat of many colors. Jacob’s act makes Joseph’s brothers dislike Joseph even more, they hate Joseph.

As fathers we ought to learn that preferring one child over our other children is never wise or beneficial. It creates a rift between our children, and between us parents and our children. One can understand Jacob at the end of the story how the Lord used the mistakes of Jacob and those of Joseph and the evil intentions of the brothers of Joseph.

Probably the greatest lesson from this Torah portion is that God can use what seems like mistakes, jealousy, hate, problems, even injustice, and get good out of these problems and tribulations. Of course, during the period that you are going through the hard times, you are miserable, maybe bitterly hopeless, and angry.

I am sure that when Joseph was in the well and his future was so unsure, his condition was not so cheerful. I am sure that when he was sold to Potiphar as a slave he couldn’t see much hope of fulfilling the dreams that God gave him in his youth.

What was the power that enabled Joseph to excel in every situation and float above the dim reality of his present situation? Here are the points that I believe Joseph took into account to be able to raise above his present reality and come under the blessings of God.

  1. Stop! Look around for an opportunity to excel.
  2. Seek always to become needed and useful even under the most difficult circumstances, like being put in prison falsely accused of sexual abuse of the wife of your boss!
  3. When you don’t feel blessed look for ways to serve and bless others and make them happy.

The story of Joseph starts with Jacob making Joseph a coat of many colors. The Lord God adds and complicates Joseph’s situation with dreams of grandeur.

Joseph dreams that his brothers will worship him, and bow down to him. Here, like all the great dreams of the Bible, they appear in two versions that have the same meaning.

This pattern is repeated with Pharaoh’s dreams. The same dream in two versions, one with cows and the other with sheaves of wheat.

There is one thing that is very noticeable in the story of Joseph. Joseph never complains. He accepts the situation and no matter where he is placed his service is noticed and He is upgraded and raised to high positions in every circumstance.

This attitude and force in Joseph’s character, I attribute to the faith that Joseph had received through his dreams. He believed that he will be great and his brothers will worship him.

This faith in God’s promises was the force that kept Joseph sane, and allowed him to focus on his work and to be successful and to display excellence through his service. Joseph understood the principle that Paul so wonderfully states in Romans 8:28:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 [NKJV]

This verse speaks in the plural, “We know…” I propose to you, my dear brothers and sisters ,the following proposal: We now, in this generation, still don’t know this truth. But, we must learn it and do so quickly.

The future of this world, and especially of us in Israel, does not seem to be an easy future. The challenges that we have as a people, and as the state of Israel, seem great and difficult and there might be some that we might not be able to pass through or overcome easily.

We need to believe these words of the apostle Paul and see the reflection of this truth in the story of Joseph. Joseph believed the promises of God, to the point that even during his slavery in the house of Potiphar, in Egypt, and even in the Egyptian prison, he maintained his desire to serve and excel in all the things that he did, and that created an opportunity for him to be raised from the jail and to be the second in Egypt, only to the great Pharaoh.

I have read a few books of self-improvement, and a few books on management. However, none of these modern books of self-improvement had the force or influence on me that the story of Joseph and his brothers did.

Here is a short list of what we can learn from the story of Joseph in the Torah – Joseph went:

  1. From riches to poverty.
  2. From being loved by his father to be hated by his brothers.
  3. From poverty and jail in the Egyptian prison (for a false accusation, while being totally innocent) to becoming second to the great Pharaoh.
  4. Joseph did not return evil for the evil that his brothers did him.

Joseph understood the principle that the apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:28:

“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]

If we could understand this principle that is so prevailing in the whole Bible, and in our Jewish history as well, even until this very day, we would be so much more secure and so much more convicted and encouraged even through the days of stressful events. Our insecurities and doubts come from the fact that we don’t understand that somethings don’t happen without pain, and without suffering.

The best example of this principle is a woman who is giving birth. There is no birth without at least some pain and suffering.

Every time that we want to change and improve something in our own lives and in our world it involves stress, pain, suffering, sometimes mocking and ridicule, and other times physical abuse and beating, 49 stripes with a whip, like the apostle Paul experienced more than once in his life as he says in the second letter to the church in Corinth:

“From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.” – 2 Corinthians 11:24 [NKJV]

I personally have experienced three times attempts on my life. The first time was on Mount Zion coming out of the Yeshiva in the mid 1970’s.

The second time was when at 3:00 a.m. two Molotov cocktails penetrated our big bay window in the living room. One of the bottles actually exploded and burned our new leather sofa.

I was able to put the fire out because we had fire extinguishers at home. The other, thank God, didn’t explode and remained intact because it fell on top of the sofa.

The third time was when someone at 5:00 am removed the lug nuts and cotter pin of the right front wheel of my car. Fortunately the right front wheel broke when I was a few yards from a red light. The damage to the car was minimal. I was not hurt, the car was repaired and a police report was filed against those whom we suspected had done it.

In my case, every time the opposition intended horrible evil, the Lord turned it around and created great opportunities for sharing the Good News. In the case of the two Molotov Cocktails (fire bombs) it happened at 3:00 a.m., and at 6:00 a.m. all the Israeli Television and News networks were in my apartment interviewing me, and they broadcasted the news of the attempted bombing every hour on the hour throughout the whole day.

I had 3.5 minutes of time to share who I am, why I think that the Molotov cocktails were lobbed into my living room, and how long I thought these attacks might continue. Yes, even the most horrible things that happen to us create opportunities for great things to happen for the Kingdom of God.

I could use macro-historical events like World War II and the great evils that occurred and the many important technological developments that resulted that have benefited the whole world. The highways that exist in the world and in Europe were built just prior to and during the beginning of the war.

The principle is that events take place and create a situation that could be very unpleasant and sometimes painful, but the aftermath of these kinds of events could be a wonderful streak of publications, and personal interviews, and even support from groups that believe in religious freedom and freedom to express your faith without the fear of persecution.

Joseph is a great example of this principle, and the story of Joseph and his attitude toward his brothers, who wouldn’t even say “shalom” to him and hated him, is one of these wonderful demonstrations of the power of God to turn difficult and hard events in our lives around 180 degrees, to the point where our lives are changed for good.

Joseph is my hero and his story has so many parallels with the story of the Messiah that on another occasion Netivyah will republish Elchanan Ben Abraham’s small booklet about Joseph son of Jacob and Yeshua son of God!

Joseph Shulam: Brad TV Video Teaching – Vayeshev [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 continuing the reading of the Shabbat portions from the five books of Moses. And this week, we have arrived to a brand new saga, story, that is one of the most important and influential stories in the whole five books of Moses.

It begins the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel. And we start reading from Genesis 37 verse one, to Genesis 40, verse 23, from the Law of Moses. The accompanying passage in the prophecy is from the prophet Amos, chapter two, verse eight. To three, verse eight. Chapter three, verse eight. And from the Book of Acts, it’s chapter seven, verse nine to verse 16.

At the beginning of a new story, Jacob returned from the land of his mother’s family, of Assyria. And from the city of Haran, which was one of the great cities of the ancient, Fertile Crescent. He arrived, be made reconciliation with his brother Esau. who actually wanted to killed him, but he doesn’t kill him, he falls on his neck and they kiss each other, and they basically make a kind of peace, at least between that first generation of Jacob and Esau, a kind of peace.

And Jacob settles in the land, in the land that God gave Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The land of Canaan. And he becomes a wealthy man. He’s got lots of flocks. And he’s got 12 sons, and Joseph is one of them. He is the son that was born to Rachel, his beloved wife. And Jacob and his whole family survive by being shepherds. Jacob and his family survive, with his family, by being shepherds.

They were shepherds, and being shepherds, they have large flocks, they have to have a lot of people that are shepherding these flocks. And he was one of the boys, a younger boy, that was with his older brothers, shepherding the flocks. The text says, opening statement, “This is the history of Jacob.” The next word, “Joseph, being 17 years old, was feeding the flocks with his brothers.”

And his brothers that he was feeding the flocks with, are the sons of two concubines of Jacob, Bilhah and Zilpah. His father’s concubines. Wives, it says in the text, in the English translation. And Joseph brought a bad report of his brothers. In other words, he was the younger brother, and he was tattle-tale.

Joseph is a Snitch

He was telling his father all the bad things that his older brothers were doing. In any family, that wouldn’t settle very well, would it? I don’t think so. Not only in the family, but in any neighborhood. If you havea bunch of boys playing together and doing foolish things, and one of the boys goes and rats, snitches, stooges against his friends, what’s going to happen? They’re going to dislike him, even hate him, maybe even ostracize him, maybe even ignore him, maybe even not want to play with him and not want to be around him.

Nobody likes a snitch. But that’s what Joseph did. The question always rises up in rabbinical commentaries; why did Joseph do that? Was it because he cared so much about what is right and what is wrong and what is fair and what is unfair? Was it because his brothers, or half-brothers, were doing some things that are bad and terrible and damaging the reputation of Jacob and his whole clan, his whole encampment? Or was it just because that was his character, to be a snitch?

Israel Not Jacob

The text doesn’t tell us. But the next verse, verse three of chapter 37, tells us something else. Israel, that’s the other name of Jacob. Jacob’s name was changed by the angel that he wrestled with at the River Jabbok, crossing the River Jabbok, crossing the Jordan to enter the land of Canaan, and the angel changed his name from Jacob to Israel.

Very different names. Totally different meanings. Jacob means somebody who follows you, you know? Who is a follower. Israel is somebody who is a hero, who fought with God and won the battle. Fought with that angel at the river and won the battle during the night. And verse three tells us, “Israel loved Joseph more than all his children.” So it’s not enough that Joseph was a snitch, was telling his father all the bad things that his older brothers were doing. Now, his father Jacob loves him more than he loves the other boys. In any situation like that, we are talking about trouble.

Not Normal Behavior

We’re talking about scandal in the family. It’s not natural, not the normal thing to happen. In any family, if you have a child, younger child, who is telling his father what his older brothers are doing wrong, and trying to get them in trouble, it is going to cause problems. And the fact that it says that his father loves him more than all his brothers, it’s no wonder that , his brothers hated Joseph, and would not speak with him, would not play with him, would not associate with him. Would not keep peace with him. They didn’t want him around.

God Intervenes

He was somebody who’s telling the bad things that his brothers are doing to his father, getting them in trouble, and that never works out right. But in addition to all this sociological behavior, another element comes in, in verse five of chapter 37, another element comes in. God intervenes in the situation. God gives Joseph a dream.

And he, being a snitch, goes and tells his brothers, “I saw a dream last night.” If you have a dream like that, don’t go telling it to the object that is involved in that dream, to the people that are involved in that dream. And he said, “Oh, brothers, come here, hear the dream I have. Here is my dream. We were all binding sheaves.” Harvest time, spring time. Let’s say after Passover. Between Passover and Pentecost, and they’re harvesting the wheat, and they’re all harvesting the wheat and tying them together into sheaves. “And behold, my sheaf, the one I harvested, the one that I packed, stood upright, and all your sheaves were around me, and they were bent over, bowing down to me, your younger brother.”

Points Against Joseph

We’ve got already four points that are against Joseph. First, his father loved him the best. Second, he was tattle-tale, a snitch, reporting to his father what his brothers are doing. Third, he saw a dream in which his sheaf was standing upright, and his brothers’ sheaves were bowing down to him, giving him honor and homage. And the fourth point, that he was not wise enough to keep his mouth shut. And he goes and tells his brothers about his dream.

In any society, in any neighborhood, in Jerusalem at least, where you have a kid that does these kinds of things, what’s going to happen to him? He’s going to be, as we say in Hebrew, He’s going to be a kid that is going to get smacked from here and from there in the neighborhood. At best, if he is lucky, he’ll be ignored. But not in my neighborhood, he wouldn’t have been ignored.

So, the brothers are not happy. They get angry. They say, “Are we going to let this little boy, our young brother rule over us? We’re going to let him tell us that he’s going to be the big sheaf standing up, and we’re going to be bending over worshiping him? No, sir. That’s not going to happen.” That was the brothers’ reaction. And it is a normal reaction. You know, people say, “Oh, look how bad his brothers were.” No, they were normal. The un-normal thing was Joseph. Joseph was not the normal guy, because he wanted his brothers to bend down and worship him. That doesn’t work in any society.

More Dreams

But that’s not the only dream. He has more dreams. Another dream, he is the sun, and his brothers are the stars. And the stars are going around the sun, and paying the sun honor and homage. And the brothers and his father rebuke Joseph and say, “What do you think? Who do you think you are? Do you think that I and your older brothers, your father, your mother and your older brothers are going to bow down and worship you?

Dreams Cause Blowback

Isn’t going to happen. No way. The level of hate and the level of alienation in the family is growing. That’s the normal, sociological pattern that would happen anywhere, in any society, and in any family of that kind. Now, don’t let your minds wander. “Oh, look at these Israelis. Look at these Jews. They hate their own brother.” No. If it would happen in Korea, or in Japan, or in China, or in the United States, or in France, or in any community, that somebody behaved like Joseph, the same thing would happen. They would hate him.

Brothers Wander With the Sheep

They would alienate him. So, as we continue the story, because of time, I have to go faster a little bit. His father says to Joseph, “Your brothers have gone to Dothan.” In the land of Israel, watching sheep and flocks and cows and goats has to be kind of a Bedouin situation. You move where the grass is. They were living there near Rasheva, near Hebron in the South. A semi-desert land, or desert land. So he says, “Your brothers have gone North, up the main road to the crest of the mountains, from Hebron to the Jezreel Valley, and they’ve gone to Shechem, a mountainous green area, a fertile area, a cooler area, to feed the flocks.” He says, “Go check on your brothers.” He had been staying at home, because his father loved him, but now, his father’s sending him on a mission. “Go check on your brothers.”

Joseph Looks for His Brothers

So he goes to Shechem and he looks for his brothers, and he can’t find his brothers. And an old man meets him. I don’t know who this old man is. His name is not in the Bible. But it’s an interesting story. And the old man asks him, “Young man, what are you doing here? What are you looking for?” He says, in these words, “For my brothers, I am looking.”

And this statement is significant, because it shows, especially as the Hebrew text presents it, that Joseph didn’t hate… His brothers hated him. He didn’t hate his brothers. He loved his brothers. He loved his brothers, and he’s not responsible for the dreams that God gave him. I want you to understand this point, what they’re up against . Joseph didn’t make up his own dreams. Joseph did not invent those dreams. They were revelations from God. They were prophetic revelations from God. If he was wiser and understood more his family situation and his brothers, maybe he would have been wiser and kept them a secret, kept them to himself. But he loved his brothers and he wanted to share his dreams with his brothers, which caused his brothers to hate him more.

So he says, the old man says, “Your brothers were here, but they’ve gone up to Dothan.” Dothan was, I would say, about 10 to 15 miles North of Shechem. A fertile valley, very fertile, a green valley in the springtime, a beautiful place. In the time of the Patriarchs, there was a city there, called Dothan.

Joseph’s Brothers Kidnap Him and Sell Him

So, Joseph goes there to see how his brothers are doing, so he can bring a report to his father, but his brothers see Joseph alone, away from home, quite far from home, maybe a couple of hundred miles, between 150 and 200 miles away from home. On foot, alone. And they say to themselves, “Here comes that tattle-tale. Let’s take care of him.” And they start debating among themselves. One says, “Let’s kill him.” Another one says, “Let’s not kill him.” Judah says, “You know what? Let’s sell him. Sell him as a slave. He’ll be away from us, taken away from us, and not with us, and we’re going to make some money out of it.”

They all agree to do that. They put him in a well. I don’t know if the well had water or not. Either way, a well is a dangerous place to be, not only because of the water, but because sometimes poisonous gases gather low. Poisonous gases usually are heavier than the air, and they stay close to the ground, so if you have a well, these gases fall into the well, and they are at the bottom of the well. Very dangerous. And they put him in the well, and they decide to sell him, and they’re waiting for a customer to come and buy him.

They were hoping that, you know, travelers would come and buy Joseph from them. They’re on the route from the North to the South, and caravans are passing along the Via Maris, which is not far from Dothan by the seashore, coast, between the low hill country and the sea coast of the Mediterranean. Where are they going usually? They’re going either from Egypt North, or from North down to the South, to Egypt.

Judah Wants to Save Him

It was his brother Judah who said, “Let’s not kill him. Let’s sell him.” Is Judah doing it to save Joseph or to make money? I say that Judah is doing it to save his brother from dying. That’s why he wants to sell him, and is playing on his brothers’ greed. How do I know that? Because toward the end of the story, Judah is willing to take the place of Benjamin and be imprisoned in Egypt, in order to save his brother. He’s got a good heart. Yeah, he may be a good businessman, but he’s got a good heart, and he’s doing it maybe for both reasons, to make some money and to save from killing Joseph.

Now, they want to sell him to the Ishmaelites. They put him in the well. While he’s in the well, another group comes. A group of Midianites, another nation, also from the other side of the Jordan River. And they hear Joseph probably screaming from the well. They pick him up, they pay nothing, and they take him, and they take him to Egypt, to sell him to Potiphar, a minister in Pharaoh’s government. And the brothers don’t make any money, and Joseph disappears from the well. And the Midianites take Joseph to Egypt to the slave market and they sell him to a minister named Potiphar, an Egyptian minister in Pharaoh’s court, and Joseph is in Potiphar’s house, and very quickly, out of his excellence, Joseph becomes the economus in the house .

Joseph Head of Potiphar’s House

He becomes the master servant of the house, the maître d’, in French, of the house of Potiphar. He was a good-looking young man, a young man. Potiphar’s wife kind of liked him, not for adopting him as a child, but for sexual reasons, and the story rolls on from there. Joseph refuses to have sex with her, with Potiphar’s wife. She screams and claims that he sexually harassed her. The other servants arrest him and he ends up in jail.

Joseph in Prison

The man that had these dreams that all of his brothers are going to bow down to him now is a prisoner in a strange country, in Egypt. And I have to cut the story short for Brad TV, now, but I suggest that you read the whole Torah section, from chapter 37:1 until chapter 40, verse 23.

Read Torah Reading Yourself

Read it, because what happens is this: wherever Joseph goes, he excels. That’s the secret of Joseph. Wherever he goes, he excels, but in his own house, he didn’t excel. In his own house, he was hated by his own brothers, but among the gentiles, Joseph excels. And in prison, he serves everybody, he helps everybody. He becomes kind of like a foreman in the prison. And if people have problems, they come to Joseph to ask him to help them solve the problems. This character of Joseph will carry on to the end of the stories of Joseph, and actually to the end of the Book of Genesis.

Joseph a Kind of Yeshua

And I’m going to end here in our portion, with Joseph in the house of Potiphar as a slave, being accused of sexual harassment of the mistress of the house, of the wife of Potiphar, being put in jail, an Egyptian jail, and he has all kinds of escapades in that jail. You read it. We’re going to continue with the next section in the Torah next week. It gets more interesting and more fascinating, and I’ll tell you a secret. The story of Joseph has many parallels, similarities to the story of Yeshua, of Jesus, and the Gospels.

His own brothers hate him. The gentiles take him from the well, they sell him to a gentile kingdom, empire. Egypt was a huge empire in that period, and in the end, he turns out to be the savior, of Egypt, of the gentiles, and of his own brothers. In the end, they recognize him as who he really is, Joseph, our brother. We’re going to continue this saga, this story next week. God bless all of you. Please read the texts. Shalom from Jerusalem.

Joseph Shulam: All Things Work Together for Good [2020]

The reading for this Shabbat is from Genesis, Parashat Vayeshev, from Genesis 37:1- 40:23, and from the prophets, Amos 2:6-3:8, and from the New Testament, Matthew 1:18-25.

Of course, the Torah portion is the beginning of the story of Joseph, the son of Rachel, the beloved wife of Jacob. This story of Joseph is one of the most fully developed and complete novelettes (mini-novels) in the Bible. It is almost a complete script for making a Hollywood movie.

The narrative and plot of the story of Joseph has a beginning that is dramatic and a middle that is enchanting and an end that is a happy ending. I want us to see the full picture of this Shabbat’s Torah reading.

Here is the key: If you cut into any part of this story and separate it and analyze it you probably will come up with the opinion that this is a terrible tragedy of a family that is falling apart and an old father that is not able to take care of his own family and make peace and order among his own sons.

It would be considered as being a totally dysfunctional family. However, if you back up and look at the whole story the whole narrative of the story of Joseph you see that each picture in the story, each scene in the plot is like a freight train where each car is hooked to the next and is pulling the other cars, with each car connected to the other, and even though each car is full of sadness and horrible events the train itself is headed in a happy direction toward a happy ending.

There is much similarity between the story of Joseph and the story of Yeshua (Jesus). Everything in his life is one tragedy after another. Yeshua is neglected and rejected by His own brothers, and rejected by the people of Nazareth, where He was raised.

He is a person that one might identify today as being “homeless.” Like Superman, He came from another world, and has to live as a stranger in His own land. Joseph, the son of Jacob, is very much the same.

He is misunderstood, by his brothers, and even by his father and mother. He is hated by his brothers because of the revelation and prophecy that he received from God. They want to kill him and they end up selling him to a caravan of merchants. Later, in Egypt where Joseph serves as a slave, the head steward of the house of Potiphar, the chief warden of Pharaoh’s prison, he is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of rape, and ends up in jail.

One could easily end the story there and see it as a kind of Greek tragedy. However, this is not the end of the story. What I would like to show you from this Shabbat’s reading is that just as this week’s reading contains one tragedy after the other, that is not the end of the story.

The same is true with Yeshua, our Lord and Messiah: Where we stand today is not the end of the story, the cross is not the end of the story, the resurrection of Yeshua from the grave is not the end of the story. The end of the story has not yet happened. Yeshua is now in Heaven, like Joseph was in Egypt, serving as the prime minister.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh himself, leading the world’s most powerful empire, the foremost civilization of the world of his day. Egypt, in the days of Joseph, ruled from Tunisia in North Africa, to the Arabian Peninsula in the east and to Somalia in the south east of Africa, all the way to the south of Lake Victoria. The riches and power of ancient Egypt can still be viewed in Egypt today, and in every major historical museum in the world.

Please read this Shabbat’s reading yourselves, take some time to enjoy God’s word. Read it like a novel, not like some holy book. Imagine that you are reading a Tolstoy or Hemingway novel, and you will find the story both fascinating and inspiring, as well as encouraging. Because the story of Joseph is the quintessential proof that, “all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord!”

When the Apostle Paul wrote this in Romans chapter 8, he really meant that “all things,” the good the bad and the ugly, work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Of course, remember my dear brothers “all things don’t always work together for the good of those who don’t really love the Lord!”

Just make sure that you and your family truly love the Lord and you will see that all things work together for you who love the Lord and that while the interest is collected in this life, the principal is collected in eternity.

Joseph Shulam: Turning the Other Cheek [2019]

The reading this next Shabbat is from Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23. It is the beginning of the one of the most complete novels in the Bible.

This story of Joseph and his brothers, all the sons of Jacob, has a dramatic ending and a dramatic beginning. The story has every element of a good novel – hate, love, sex, evil intent, and plotting to murder, the “from rags to riches” motif, nobility of character, the lowest values and rejection of family members, poverty, wealth, power, intrigue… all of the above and then some is included in this story of Jacob’s family, and the relationship between Joseph and his brothers.

Netivyah | Parashat Vayeshev | Joseph sold by his brothers, Giovanni Maria Bottala (1636-1642)
Joseph sold by his brothers, Giovanni Maria Bottala (1636-1642)

The portion read this next Shabbat from the prophets is from Amos 2:6 – 3:8.

On Sunday, December 22, is the lighting of the first candle of Hannukah. Hannukah means dedication, and it is mentioned in the Gospel of John 10:22:

“Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter.” – John 10:22 [NKJV]

This is especially interesting for me because this mention of Hanukkah as the feast of dedication is one of the first mentions of this holiday/feast in literature anywhere outside the Book of Maccabees. I am happy that Hanukkah is mentioned in the New Testament, and the time of the year is also mentioned just in order not to leave any room for doubt.

Just as a side comment – Christmas is not mentioned. Neither are Rudolph, Prancer, and Dancer and the other reindeers that are pulling on Santa’s sleigh.

The story of Joseph is one of the longest stories in the Bible. I would like to analyze the dynamics of hate and criminal intentions on one side, and the dynamics of success and wisdom on the other side.

Revelation from God, true revelation from God, will almost always cause people to hate and reject you. It is what happened to the great prophets of the Bible. Let us see some examples from the biblical prophets:

“‘But never again prophesy at Bethel, For it is the king’s sanctuary, And it is the royal residence.’ Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: ‘I was no prophet, Nor was I a son of a prophet, But I was a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, And the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to My people Israel.” Now therefore, hear the word of the Lord: You say, “Do not prophesy against Israel, And do not spout against the house of Isaac.”’” – Amos 7:13–16 [NKJV]

Amos is not the exception of this rejection. Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, and all the other prophets were rejected, and at times physically beaten and imprisoned. Today people report that they had a vision or a revelation, and they become big-time preachers and pastors, and even call themselves apostles and patriarchs, and I venture to say that most of the ones that I have heard claim to have seen visions and revelations have seen them in the movie theater or on TV.

Joseph was hated by his brothers, and even his father and mother had serious doubts that his vision was really from God. Joseph knew for sure that it was from God, and the proof of this is that he didn’t doubt God’s promises, and was willing to appropriate the vision with faith that did not waver at all, and was not lost even when he was in jail in Egypt.

This reminds me of the song with this refrain: “But I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

Joseph knew one thing to be sure. The vision that he saw in his dreams was from God and it is true, and no matter what kind of roads and difficulties he will have to travel through and experience, he is putting his faith and his trust in the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his forefathers.

People sometimes concentrate on the behavior of Joseph’s brother, or on the wife of Potipher, who tried to seduce Joseph, or on the suffering of Joseph in the Egyptian jail. The bottom line, my dear brothers, is that Joseph knew well that all this suffering and rejection and pain that he has experienced was not less or more than going to school and learning the lessons that he will need in order to accomplish his and God’s final purpose.

The ultimate narcissism is the faith that one needs to walk through the vision and revelation of God. Some can get the vision and the revelation in dreams, others get it from the study of God’s Word and the appropriation of God’s Word as a life-giving and life-changing and life-training course.

The biblical Joseph received the vision of what God wants him to do and to be, and he believed it, and his faith gave him the strength to walk it through without losing courage or seeking to run away from God’s plan for his life. The road is hard, and it would be easy to have second thoughts, “Did the dream I saw come from God?” “Was that dream only a result of my narcissistic disorder of thinking that I am great and divinely chosen?”

There could be so many different ideas and suggestions that could come through our minds when we really do hear from God or see dreams from God. However, Joseph had the resolve to walk the dream through, to stand by the promises of God at all cost, to be willing to be rejected or even sold as a slave initiated by some of the closest family members.

Joseph was not only faithful to the Lord. He was also faithful to his father Jacob, and to his brothers, the same brothers who hated him so much that they could not even say “shalom” to him.

When Jacob sent Joseph on a mission to check and see how his older brothers are doing, Joseph immediately, without any argument or discussion, packed up his bag and went from the south side of Canaan up above the city of Shechem (which today is called Nablus). For a young man like Joseph, it would take around seven days of hard walking.

When Joseph arrived in Shechem, his brothers were no longer there. Since Joseph was well aware that his brothers hated him he could return home and tell his father Jacob, “I went to Shechem just as you sent me to look for my brothers, but they were not there and I have no idea where they have wandered off to!”

This would have been the normal behavior of a person who is sent on a mission that is not pleasant or profitable or interesting for him. However, not Joseph. When a man in Shechem asked him what he was looking for, Joseph answered:

“Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, ‘What are you seeking?’ So he said, ‘I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.’” – Genesis 37:15,16 [NKJV]

Joseph took the high road, not the low road of doing the minimum required to just get by. Joseph walked the second mile when he could have walked the first mile and had a good excuse to just get by.

This attitude of Joseph is a winning attitude. It is the same attitude that Yeshua our Messiah instructed us to have. It is the attitude that has enough self-confidence not to allow the enemy to dictate behavior, but to make the noble his daily bread.

Every man of God who has succeeded in his mission has had to take this same high road, and not allow his feelings and what others have done to him dictate his behavior. Hormones and anger and hurt and pain can’t and must not be allowed to rule over our faith and reason, and the love of our brothers and friends.

This cleaning up of the bitterness that so easily can, and sometimes does, nest in our souls is an essential both Old and New Testament principle. The teaching of Yeshua to turn the other cheek to those who slap us on the one side is not original with Yeshua (Jesus), it is a principle that already Jeremiah had, and before Jeremiah King David had.

David had two opportunities to kill his enemy, the one who was seeking to kill him, King Saul. David didn’t kill King Saul in both opportunities. He demonstrated his ability to kill Saul in front of the army of King Saul, by showing the corner of Saul’s outer garment, and on the other occasion David waved King Saul’s sword and water basin that was right inside Saul’s tent, in order to show that he could have killed him, but didn’t.

This behavior is not only the right one but it is also the wise one, and the divinely ordained one for the disciples of Yeshua. I wish in my life I had always behaved this way, and I regret that sometimes I didn’t, and I paid the price.

So, now to end this section, where did Yeshua learn the principle of turning the other cheek? Here it is:

“Let him give his cheek to the one who strikes him, And be full of reproach. For the Lord will not cast off forever.” – Lamentations 3:30,31 [NKJV]

The book of Lamentation was written by Baruch the son of Neryah. Baruch was the personal secretary of Jeremiah, or I could say, Jeremiah’s scribe. Jeremiah suffered terrible abuse from the royal house, and also from the false prophets and priests. He is the one who was beaten, put in jail, and cast into a well, and kept on speaking the truth of the Lord against all odds.

The interesting thing is that, in Jerusalem, in the city of David, the personal seal of Baruch son of Neryah was found as an indisputable witness, a physical witness, that Baruch the son of Neryah was a real person, and that he had deposited a document in the royal archive that was in the King’s palace.

Joseph Shulam: Are You Called to be a Prophet? [2017]

This Shabbat’s portion (parasha) reading from the Torah is Vayeshev. It starts with Genesis 37:1 and ends in Genesis 40:23. The reading from the prophets, the Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8.

This Shabbat is the beginning of one of the most intriguing short novels in the bible – The story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. In this story there is everything that Hollywood could have imagined. There is love and hate, from riches to rags, and from rags to riches, there is sex drama, there are social issues, there are religious issues, there is selfish ambition, and guilt that makes people live with fear and insecurity for years of their lives, political intrigue. You name it, and it is in this story of Joseph.

The Torah is not vegetarian or puritan. The Torah is a picture of real life. Each one of us can find himself in the story of Joseph. Some will find themselves as people who have received revelation and are now ridiculed by their closest friends and relatives. Others will find themselves on the side of those who are very religious and can’t believe that God reveals Himself to individuals today. Still others will find themselves praising the main characters, and others will criticize the main characters.

In fact, the story of Joseph, from beginning to end, is a fully-packaged novel, almost a modern novel with all the elements of a successful full-length Hollywood film. The larger things to learn from the story of Joseph and his brothers are these:

  1. Revelation from God does not always mean that you are going to be accepted and received in society – and often not even by your closest family and friends. Get ready to face the music when you declare that you have received a revelation from God. This was true for the prophets of old and true to the fathers of the Israelites.
  2. If you claim to have received a revelation, you better be sure that it is really from God. How to be sure is another question. However, if you reflect deep in your heart and are honest with yourself you will know if it is from God or not. One of the tests that is clearest and shortest to explain is the following: Ask yourself the following question, “Am I about to gain something personal (wealth, honor, position, acceptance, friendship, or spiritual authority) by claiming to have heard from God?” The second test is even simpler – after the persecution and rejection grows, do I still claim to have received a revelation from God or was it my stomach gurgling that I imagined that God is talking to me? If your answer to any of these two questions is positive – you are a false prophet, or a profiteering “prophet” that will pay double in the judgment day.
  3. Even if you are rejected by your friends and family, and persecuted like Joseph, you should know that in the end God’s justice and rewards are never forgotten. The Lord is a just rewarder for all those who diligently seek Him and all those who serve Him.

Like Joseph, the son of Jacob, you will always be amazed by the Lord and His salvation, that sometimes is slow to come, yet is always on time.

Yehuda Bachana: The Power of Words [2017]

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

This Shabbat we are discussing Parashat Vayeshev (“Jacob dwelt”). In this week’s Torah portion, Jacob sought to sit and rest, you might call this retirement. Be that as it may, in reality, this parasha begins another chapter in Jacob’s hectic life full of instability.

First, we come across a very problematic issue, Jacob’s sons’ evil intention and plan to murder their brother Joseph in cold blood. Murder appears in Genesis several times:

Cain killed Abel, Esau planned and intended to murder Jacob… However, these incidences were not initiated by the patriarchs, the heads of the tribes of Israel. In this portion we will discover the darker sides of our forefathers.

The Dark Side of Our Forefathers

The Bible points to a possible cause of this abysmal hatred seen in the following verse:

But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. ‘Here comes that dreamer!’ they said to each other. ‘Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.’ – Genesis 37:18-20 [NIV]

Any reasonable person might ask, is having one or two dreams a worthy cause for murder? Clearly in this situation there was more going on than what meets the eye. The sons of Jacob knew and understood that there were two types of classes in their house, there were the beloved sons of Rachel and then there was the rest of them. There was nothing to be done about it, and in truth, it wasn’t even Joseph’s fault. (Although it was Joseph’s dreams that started to open the eyes of his brothers towards the inequality in their household.)

Joseph’s dreams came from the ruminations of his heart. They revealed the fact that his father Jacob favored him, and also showed how Joseph was aware of it. He dreamt that his brothers started bowing down to him and he quickly informed his family of this revelation.

In the wake of these dreams, the brothers’ frustration turned into a deeply-rooted hatred, and this loathing eventually led to their plan for murder. After discussing the matter, they decided to compromise and instead of killing Joseph, they would sell him into slavery.

Today I would like to focus on the meaning of the spoken word. Speaking comes as naturally as breathing. Furthermore, we need speech as much as we need air to breathe. We use language in every step of our daily lives, which goes to show its vast importance. Many verses in the Old and New Testaments warn us to be careful about what we say, as it is written:

…keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. – Psalms 34:13 [NIV]

Words can build or destroy us. For instance, if we are told that we look bad, our mood drastically drops. In fact, it can actually ruin our entire day. When we are told how negative we are, it automatically drags us down. The attitude of the environment affects us as well as our behavior.

With speech, we have great power and great responsibility. If we emphasize only the bad and negative aspects, it will gain momentum. With our words, we have the ability and power to cast people into dark pits.

Positive words can also penetrate deeply. They have the power to elevate a person out of a negative self-image and empower them. Emphasizing goodness is a life-saving remedy.

If we honestly examine the reasons why we speak evil, we will find that this is often due to our need to elevate ourselves and to feel good about who we are. We have a tendency to diminish the other, because we are egotistical beings and it is within our nature to compare ourselves to those around us.

Here is an example of what the Jewish Sages had to say about this matter:

He who wants to lift himself up should build a hill for his neighbor, and not dig a pit.

We often speak badly about those we envy, out of the need to bring them down and elevate ourselves.

The Power of Words

James Chapter 3 focuses on the tongue and our communication with the environment. I think verse 2 in Chapter 3 is a key verse:

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. – James 3:2 [NIV]

James goes on to expand this picture and gives us images from the natural world – such as a horse, a ship, and even fire:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. – James 3:3,4 [NIV]

James began with the bridle and the rudder as excellent examples of guidance and direction, the rudder and the bridle are both relatively small, but control the direction of a large body. He used these examples to illustrate the power of the tongue. With speech we can influence others for better or worse:

…Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. – James 3:5b,6 [NIV]

James continued by comparing the tongue to fire. Everyone knows how important and how beneficial fire is. In fact, none of us would be able to go a day without it. At the same time, we also know how dangerous fire can be and how we must be cautious with it. Likewise, with the tongue, we can see its beneficial daily use while at the same time the need for caution.

In this example, James explains to us that no matter how big the forest, the smallest flame can burn it down completely. So too the tongue is a very dangerous organ, especially because we typically underestimate it’s importance. The unbridled tongue can cause death and even plan murder, as is the case in this week’s parasha:

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. – Genesis 37:5-8 [NIV]

Why in the world does Joseph tell his brothers, who are already jealous of him, such a dream? Furthermore, what reason did he have to continue telling them about his dreams?

At the beginning of this week’s portion, the Torah tells us that Joseph was an informer who liked to tattle on his brothers to his father. This can be seen in the following text:

…and he brought their father a bad report about them. – Genesis 37:2b [NIV]

There are commentators who try to explain this verse by saying that Joseph cared for his brothers and therefore told his father about their negative behavior. In this way he supposedly had his brothers’ best interest in mind. However, as a result, his brothers hated him all the more, threw him into a pit, and sold him as a slave.

Talking about doing evil made their actions turn into evil as well. This serves as an important reminder to us to be wise when we use our tongues. It is not always sensible to speak, even if we try to help or have good intentions. The results are what matter in the end.

In Conclusion

Consider this example: You telling someone that they gained weight. This does not help. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Such a comment, even if it comes from a place of good intentions, will cause strife and will certainly not lead to positive results in the relationship.

The Old and New Testaments require of us to have wisdom and judgment in the words we utter from our mouths. So much so that Yeshua came out with a dramatic statement by saying the following:

But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. – Matthew 12:36,37 [NIV]

As James teaches, let us decide to be springs of living water:

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both freshwater and saltwater flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. – James 3:10-12 [NIV]

At some point we will have to decide, are we going to be a spring of life – a source of living water, a hope, an encouragement, and speaking the truth with love? We must strive to answer yes to this question.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.