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: 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.

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