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: If All Is Well, Why Am I Like This? [2020]

Parashat Vayetze, Genesis 28:10 – 32:3, this text is the Torah reading for this Shabbat. The reading from the prophets is from the prophet Hosea 12:13 – 14:10. The reading from the New Testament is from John 1:41-51.

The readings this Shabbat are some of the more exciting texts in the book of Genesis and maybe in the whole five Books of Moses. You have here in these texts the makings of a major Hollywood movie that has intrigue, deception, love, exploitation, a journey of destiny, and the presence of the hand of God, acting behind the scenes, as Deus Ex Machina.

In order to understand the story we have to go back to last week’s portion of the Torah reading. Rebecca the mother of Esau and Jacob, right from the birth of these two men, has to deal with the most existential and modern question. At the very birth of these two men, Rebecca asks the following question: In the New King James Version the text is like this:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord.” – Genesis 25:22 [NKJV]

In the JPS, the Jewish Publication Society translation of Genesis, the text reads like this:

“And the children struggled together within her; and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the Lord.” – Genesis 25:22 [JPS]

The question was understood by the Jewish Publication Society translators, but it was not understood in the early 17th century by the Christian translators of the King James Version. This question of Rebecca reveals to us two things.

First, her life with Isaac received meaning only at the birth of her two sons, Esau and Jacob.

Her very existence was deeply affected by the birth of these two sons, knowing that even before they saw light outside of Rebecca’s womb, they were already struggling with each other.

And second, The struggle between these two babies in their mother’s womb and Jacob’s holding on to the foot, to his brother Esau’s heel, during the birth process, was an indication that something was happening between these two babies that was of deep existential consequence. For this reason Rebecca, in my opinion was seeking the divinely ordained destiny of her only two children.

Her question is:

“If it be so, wherefore do I live?”

Which ought to be spelled out in the following way:

“If these, my only children, have started to fight with each other, already in my womb, what will be their future, and my future, living with these two?”

Will my whole life be spent trying to referee between these two and in the end one will kill the other and our family’s future and the promises that God gave to Abraham and to Isaac, will not they be totally ruined?

This existential question of Rebecca is, in my opinion, the reason that she acted the way she did until, according to my opinion, she saw that the pre-birth ordained destiny of Jacob would be played out to the end.

When Rebecca received a divine revelation following Jacob’s receiving his father’s blessing that Esau was planning to murder Jacob after Isaac’s death, she took the right and righteous steps to save her son from the murderous intents of his brother Esau.

So, she helped Jacob to deceive Isaac and to receive Isaac’s blessing, and helped convince Isaac that their son Jacob needed to leave the country and to go to the north, to Haran, to her brother Laban.

Isaac would have understood this because his father Abraham had also sent Eliezer his servant up north to Haran, to find a bride for him. So, it would have made sense to him to send Jacob up north.

How did Rebecca know that Esau had decided in his heart to kill his brother Jacob? The answer that Jewish tradition gives is simple, Rebecca was a prophetess. She received revelation.

Esau didn’t share the decision that he decided in his heart. He didn’t share with Rebecca and say to his mother, “As soon as my father dies I will kill the little weasel Jacob.”

He decided in his heart, and the texts says:

“So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, ‘The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.’” – Genesis 21:41 [NKJV]

How did Rebecca know what Esau’s plan was? The next verse gives us the answer:

“And the words of Esau her older sons were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said to him, ‘Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you.’” – Genesis 27:42 [NKJV]

Who could report to Rebecca what Esau had said to himself in his heart? Only the Holy Spirit that knows what we have in our hearts could have heard the sound of Esau’s decision in his heart and reported to Rebecca that Esau was planning to kill Jacob after his father Isaac’s death. So, it is clear to me, like it is recorded in the Rabbinical tradition, that Rebecca was a prophetess.

Now we can see that Rebecca was not an unfair and manipulative woman that was partial to her son Jacob. She had good reasons for her behavior with Isaac, and with Jacob. She knew from the birth of these two boys, Esau and Jacob, that there was unfairness and an unfair competition between them from her womb.

Esau’s physical strength dominated in the birth and then there is his lack of appreciation for his position as the first born son of Isaac, and for his own inheritance. He showed a lack of interest for and dedication to, the family tradition and for his position in the family, and even for Isaac their father, and disdain for the promises of God to Abraham and to Isaac their father. So Rebecca decided to help God’s plan come together, and I love it when God’s plans are fulfilled!

There is another major biblical principle that comes into play in this narrative. The principle of “mida k’neged mida” – by the measure that you measure you will be measured.

Jacob took advantage of Esau’s weakness and eventually Laban takes advantage of Jacob’s weakness. By the end of the story Jacob will have paid in full for usurping Esau’s inheritance. He pays in cash. This we will learn from next Shabbat’s Torah reading.

Joseph Shulam: Jacob’s Departure and God’s Service to Him [2019]

The reading this next Shabbat is one of my favorite portions of the Torah. It starts with Jacob’s dream, and continues with one of the most romantic stories in the Bible; Jacob falling in love with Rachel near the well in Haran. This parasha is named “Vayetze” (“and he left” or “he went out”). The reading starts in Genesis 28:10 and ends in Genesis 32:3.

Rebecca received information that her son Esau has made up his mind in his heart to kill his brother Jacob after his father Isaac dies. Esau has murderous intent, but still has respect for his father Isaac. He does not want to cause sorrow and grief to his old father.

Netivyah | Parashat Vayetze | Isaac blessing Jacob. Govert Flinck (1615–1660)
Isaac blessing Jacob. Govert Flinck (1615–1660)

You could learn something from this story. Even murderous criminals have some humanity and respect and love for people whom they revere.

Rebecca speedily shares with Isaac that she does not want her son to take a wife from the local Canaanite women. She organizes Jacob to leave quickly from Beersheba and go to her brother Laban in Haran, in Northern Syria. Jacob quickly packs his bag and leaves for Haran alone.

Now all of God’s promises to Abraham and to Isaac are in the balance. Jacob is alone on a long journey out of the land of Canaan, that was given to Abraham his grandfather, and his future is insecure.

He arrives in Bethel (“the house of God”). Actually, the name of the place was Luz before Jacob renames it Bethel:

“And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.” – Genesis 28:19 [NKJV]

What is interesting is that when Jacob arrives there, and is tired and wants to sleep, it is written in Genesis 28:11 that he arrived at “the place”.

Well, poor Jacob’s whole life is disrupted now. His future is not secure. He is away from home and alone.

In his sleep, Jacob sees a very tall ladder, and there are angels ascending and descending. You would think that, on a ladder from Heaven, the angels ought to be descending first and then ascending. However, the importance of the story is that the angels are taking Jacob’s situation from the Earth up to Heaven. They are pleading for Jacob’s plight, and there is a response:

“And behold, the Lord stood above it and said: ‘I am the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.’” – Genesis 28:13–15 [NKJV]

God Himself has come to serve Jacob. The phrase, “the Lord stood above it” (could also be read “above him”) means, “I am here to serve you.”

Here is a good example of the very same phrase in the Hebrew:

“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…” – Genesis 18:2 [NKJV]

The three men were “standing by him” – they came to serve Abraham and Sarah.

Another example is from Genesis 45:1,

“Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers.” – Genesis 45:1 [NKJV]

The phrase “all those who stood by him” is referring to his servants.

The Lord Himself comes down to serve Jacob, to reassure him of his future, and affirm that the promises that were given to his grandfather Abraham were still in force. This is in spite of the fact that his present circumstance does not look so good.

Angels went up the ladder, and the Lord Himself came to serve and encourage Jacob in this critical moment of his life. This is a moment in which all of the future of God’s plan of salvation is in the balance. Jacob’s security, his home, his brother who wants to kill him – Jacob needs reassurance in all these matters.

This is the meaning of this ladder from Heaven down to Earth. I say “down to Earth” as a double entendre, because in this story a young man has left home, not of his own choice, but because of the bad circumstance in his family. This young man, unmarried, no job, far from home, needed this reassurance of the Lord’s promises.

This is a critical moment in Jacob’s life. He could easily be discouraged and become like the prodigal son. In the next 21 years of his life he will be deceived, lied to, used, and abused. God knew what was facing Jacob, and now He is meeting him on the way to encourage and give him strength to keep on going.

For me, the most important part of this interesting, mystical, and strange story, is the effect that it has on Jacob’s personality and life. This man, who is described as a nerdy young man,

“So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.” – Genesis 25:27 [NKJV]

I identify with Jacob, leaving his home, alone, facing the world for what it really is, and rising above his fears and insecurities.

The next scene is that Jacob arrives in Haran, he is full of self-confidence and has the “brass” to alone pick up the heavy stone covering the water well in Haran, in order to impress the beautiful young shepherd girl that is bringing the flock of her father to drink from the well. Jacob is no longer the “mild man, dwelling in tents.”

It is because of this revelation of God assuring him of his future and the fulfillment of the promises. In fact, even immediately after the dream, Jacob negotiates with God, a kind of “let’s make a deal”.

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.’” – Genesis 28:20–22 [NKJV]

Jacob is no longer naïve. That same business mind that purchased the birthright from his brother Esau is still there. Now he is making a vow with God, “If God will be with me, and keep me in His way, and sustain me, and bring me back to my father’s house…”

This is not doing business with God, this is a vow that means, “when God does these things He promised me, I will surely give a tenth of all I have to God, and this anointed stone is the marker, the memorial, of this vow that I am making with myself.”

You see, dear brothers and sisters, why I love this story. I was 16 years old when I had to leave my home in Jerusalem, leave my father and mother, and spend a few nights sleeping in the abandoned British military barracks of Camp Allenby in Jerusalem. I also prayed to God the following prayer: “If you give me a chance and if I survive, I promise to serve You, God of Israel, and Yeshua, Your Son and our Savior, till the last day of my life.”

This is the reason that identify with this parasha, even to the detail of my marriage. All I can say is, thank You Lord for your faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. Thank you Lord for keeping Your promises to our forefathers, and to us as individuals, and to Your nation Israel.

The most important thing that I must repeat is, that if you make a promise to God, or a vow, you must keep it at all cost. The only excuse for not keeping your vows and promises to God are “force majeure” things that God has done to keep you from keeping your vows.

However, when you can keep them, you must keep them, if you want God to honor His promises to you as an individual, or His promises in general to all His children in the scriptures. This is a reason why Yeshua was teaching in the Gospels that we should not make vows, but Paul made a vow and kept it even, if it was costly.

He said that he would go to Jerusalem at all costs, even if it meant that he would die. He made the vow in Acts 18, and kept it in Acts 20. God used even the hardships that Paul faced for His glory and the glory of His Kingdom.

Joseph Shulam: How to Deal With Brotherly Conflict [2018]

The Torah reading this Shabbat is Vayetze, from Genesis 28:1 – 32:2. This part of the book of Genesis is actually the story of Jacob, after he runs away from the murderous intentions of his brother Esau.

This is the second story of brothers in conflict, hate, and murderous intentions. The first case was with Cain, who killed his brother Abel out of envy and religious competition. In Jacob and Esau’s case, the two brothers actually started to compete in the womb of their mother Rebecca:

“But the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her: ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two peoples shall be separated from your body; One people shall be stronger than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’” – Genesis 25:22,23 [NKJV]

This conflict between these two brothers is lasting for more than 3500 years, and it is not over yet. It is wishful thinking that it will be over soon.

In the Lord’s economy all things are possible, and we pray daily, and more than one time daily, for the Lord to bring peace between the descendants of these two twin brothers. However, if you believe in the prophets of Israel, you must realize that this battle of the titans is going to last until the return of the Messiah, who will vindicate Jacob and his descendants.

Esau had murderous intents against his brother Jacob. This is the very reason that Jacob has to run away from his brother, and leave the land of promise for Northern Syria. Esau has some good characteristics, and this becomes evident in next week’s reading of the Torah.

Esau is sentimental, and when he meets his brother Jacob and sees that the Lord has blessed him and that he is not hostile toward him, Esau too hugs his brother and kisses him, and in a magnanimous way seems to forgive his brother Jacob.

However, not for long did this reconciliation last – the sons of Esau carried their father’s grievance for many generations. What can we learn from this story of Vayetze?

  1. Don’t take advantage of your fellowman’s weakness! You might get a good business deal for a moment but pay for it for the rest of your life.
  2. Good advertisement works, but if the intent of the seller is to deceive and cheat, it backfires in the long run.
  3. It is always better to make peace, but for peace you have to be willing to pay a high price. The price is worth it to make peace, but you can’t make peace with someone who intends to kill you until the murderous intent is eliminated.
  4. Always be ready to confess and apologize for wrongdoing, even to your enemy.
  5. Never trust your enemy, even if there is a process of negotiation.
  6. Always keep an ace in the hole – like Jacob did when he went to encounter Esau his brother.
  7. In marriage, always make sure that the woman under the veil is Rachael and not Leah. At times it has happened that before marriage she is Rachel and after marriage she turns into Leah, in that case make as many children as you can to keep Leah busy at home. (Please take this as Joseph’s morbid sense of humor. Marcia was Rachel, and is still after 50 years of marriage, my Rachel.)

Joseph Shulam: Jacob’s Dream [2016]

The reading of the Torah on this Shabbat is Vayetze – Genesis 28:1-31:3. The reading starts with Jacob running north to Laban, his uncle, because his mother Rebecca warned him that Esau his brother is looking to kill him after the death of Isaac his father.

On the run, all alone by his lonesome, Jacob reaches Bethel (that in former times was called “Luz”). He is tired, and uses a rock for his pillow and falls asleep. In a dream, Jacob sees a ladder reaching from the Earth to Heaven, and the Angels of God are going up and coming down on it.

The first thing that Jewish commentary tradition does is look at the immediate context. Dreams are an outcropping of a person’s reality and needs. They also have a prophetic angle.

So, Jacob needs to be encouraged and his future is up in the air, and so he needs to know that, although he is leaving the Land of Promise, God is still with him and is going to stand by him and continue to protect and bless and keep His promises which he gave to Abraham and Isaac his ancestry.

This is the essential meaning of the dream. The angels of God are mobile, and they are going up from the Earth and coming down from Heaven to serve God’s children, and in fact all of humanity.

Note that the text presents Jacob as escaping the land of Canaan with almost nothing. He has to walk (travel) by himself nearly 1000 miles to Haran, which is right on the northern border of Syria, right next to the border with Turkey.

The vision of this dream is like an assurance that, although his circumstance is not good right now, God is going to continue serving Jacob. Does Jacob realize that he sinned against his brother Esau when he took advantage of his fatigue and hunger and allowed Jacob his brother to buy the birthright, the inheritance, for a bowl of red soup (maybe Borsht, with red beets and cabbage)?

I believe that both Jacob and Rebecca understood that the deed was not so clean, and when Jacob returns to the land of Canaan he was ready to pay Esau his brother a whole lot of money, sheep, goats, gold and silver, camels, and donkeys, in order to pacify his brother Esau.

However, the most significant part of chapter 28 of Genesis is not the dream itself, but the action and result of that dream. Jacob realizes that he must do something for God and he makes a deal. If God will take care of his needs on this trip to Haran, upon his return to the Land of Promise, Canaan, he will build in this place a house of God.

To seal this promise Jacob anoints a stone and makes a stella (a memorial) to commemorate the event and the promise. Here is a very short rendition of this teaching:

  1. We receive from God! The normal thing is when you ask for something and you receive it – you have to show your gratitude by reciprocal action.
  2. God has and still does, in my opinion, reveal Himself in dreams and visions! The idea that some Protestants inherited from the Catholic Church that the Holy Spirit and God’s revelation is imprisoned between the two covers of the Book (the Bible) is not found in the Scriptures, and in fact is not a valid idea. God has always been the same and He has always given individuals dreams and visions, and the text that Peter quotes from the prophet Joel states this unequivocally. Let us not add or subtract from God’s revelation, and not judge those who claim to have seen a dream or heard a word from God. We can judge the dream and interpret it, and we must evaluate those who claim to be prophets and see if their word is standing in the standards of God’s Word and truth. But, God is God and He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is always faithful to His Word and His promises will all be fulfilled in reality.

Yehuda Bachana: We Are All Made of the Same Stuff [2017]

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

In the book of Genesis, Jacob is depicted as being a person of profound character. During his lifetime, he changed his disposition and seemingly matured. He went from being the Jacob that harmed other people, to the one who was given the name Israel. Even more so, Jacob continued to develop from a religious and spiritual aspect. Let’s take a look at some of the previously mentioned patriarchs of the book of Genesis and do a quick comparison amongst them.

We encounter Abraham at age 75, when he leaves his country, people, and father’s household. Indeed, he encountered many trials along the way, but they all pointed to a depth of faith that he already possessed. Likewise, the changing of his name from Abram to Abraham was meant to expand his purpose as the father of many nations.

We do not know many details about Isaac from an emotional or personal perspective. Last week we read Parashat Toldot – the account of Isaac the son of Abraham. This Torah portion was meant to discuss the story of Isaac, but instead we quickly move on from his story and focus on Jacob, his birth, his purchase of the birthright, his stealing of the blessing, and his escape to Harran.

What Does Jacob Represent?

Of these three patriarchs, our focus remains solely on Jacob.

From the Torah portions, we learn of the tumultuous relationship he had with his brother Esau, with his parents, with Laban,as well as with his wives and sons.

Furthermore, we also discover the changing of his name from Jacob to Israel and the significance behind it. The question that preoccupied many Torah commentators was why God specifically chose Jacob to fulfill his promise through. This question arose because Jacob’s name was associated with so many scandals. In fact, neither Jacob nor his sons (the heads of the tribes of Israel) had a moment of rest or peace during their lifetimes. Jacob’s family was the type of family that no one would ever want due to its immense dysfunctionality.

His family life was brimming with quarrels, jealousy, hatred,the selling into slavery of Joseph by his brothers, the bitter rivalry between the wives, inequality, and even the mass murder of the inhabitants of Shechem by his very own sons.

There are those who explain that the three patriarchs are the pillars on which the people of Israel are built. Abraham represents the great believer who was willing to sacrifice everything – even his son of promise, Isaac. As we’ve discussed before, the symbol of uncompromising faith is illustrated with Abraham.

Isaac symbolizes the son of promise; he was passive and went along with events that he did not initiate. We also tend to follow suit in this way. We flow into the course of life, we are born, and on the eighth day we enter the Jewish life cycle without anyone asking us, we live the promise that was given to us and to our predecessors.

What does Jacob represent? He is the embodiment of our national character – trouble. We are a people, who throughout history, have lived in instability. As a nation, we have gone through wars, went out and returned from exile, and escaped from those who sought to hurt us.

We can easily relate to Jacob’s story because like many of us, he went through many trials and hardships in one aspect or another. Our father Jacob was cheated several times by numerous people. His own brother desired to kill him. In addition, he had a complicated and difficult relationship with his children. Yet despite these trials, Jacob always sought after peace. I believe that this is a profound quality for us to emulate. In amongst the hardships that we all endure, similar to Jacob’s, at the end of the day, we too ought to seek peace and quiet.

How God Speaks Using Dreams

Going back to this week’s Torah portion, it begins with a dream known as “Jacob’s Ladder,” which is one of the notable subjects from this section.

When God uses a dream to convey a message, there are typically two main ways in which He communicates. Sometimes He speaks in the dream, as He did with Laban and with the King of Gerar. Other times, God shows a particular image in a dream, as He did with Pharaoh and Joseph.

One of the most famous dreams in the New Testament is the one that Peter had on a roof in Jaffa, found in Acts 10. Simon Peter was hungry for bread, and while food was being prepared, he fell asleep and dreamt of food. In the dream, a sheet fell from the sky containing all kinds of unclean animals in it. Suddenly, he heard a command from heaven, “Kill and eat!” Peter’s initial answer was, “No way! I’ve never eaten anything unkosher!”

This dream appeared three additional times after that. Today, there are those who interpret this dream as permission to eat anything. As if the biblical kosher laws do not apply to us any longer and that God had made everything clean. However, if we look at these verses carefully, we can see that food is used simply as a metaphor. In this particular lesson, God taught the first believers as well as to us, the importance of receiving Gentiles into our communities and accepting every person equally.

Peter arose from his dream in a daze. He attempted to sort out what it was that he had seen and what God was trying to tell him. The Lord made His message clearer to Peter when he sent him messengers from Cornelius and commanded him to accompany them back to his home.

Peter understood what God had tried to convey, as can be seen in the following verse:

He said to them:“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.“ – Acts 10:28 [NIV]

This often misinterpreted dream about food was not meant to be taken as an authorization for the first believers to eat all unclean things. Rather, the dream’s purpose was to teach them to receive and welcome every individual, whether Jewish or not, because we are all created in God’s image.

After Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, he testified and taught about Yeshua the Messiah. After he finished, the Holy Spirit came and filled the inhabitants of the house and Peter baptized them.

But what happened after that? The story does not end here. When Peter returned to Jerusalem, the believers there complained about him, saying, “We heard that you go to the homes of Gentiles and eat bread there. Why?”

Peter replied, “Wait!” (This appears in Acts 11, from verse 1 onwards.) He went on to explain, “I had a dream and God commanded me not to call unclean what He made clean – then I woke up and God commanded me to go to Cornelius’ house. There I preached the gospel, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, and I baptized them.”

I decided to repeat this story only because the New Testament also tells it twice. This is in order to emphasize the importance of accepting others and that faith is for every person. God is not my God alone and He is not only the God of the people of Israel. God created the world and every man in His perfect image. Man was created as a clean being. I personally prefer not to dwell on the question of original sin and the idea that we were created as sinners. In my opinion, it is not true. God created all of us in His image and in His purity. What we do with our life is another matter.

As human beings, we tend to make a separation between ourselves and others. We put up walls and partitions to keep ourselves safe. But as it is written in Ephesians 2:14, Yeshua broke down the barriers that separated and divided us. The Almighty God is our Lord and Yeshua is the Messiah and King over us all, together as one.

In Conclusion

We discussed the three patriarchs as pillars of our Jewish world, Abraham representing faith, Isaac as the son of the promise and the continuation of the path, and Jacob as a symbol of the instability that we are sometimes met with as well as our yearning for peace and tranquility.

In closing, we are left with the idea that God created us all as equals and that we are all made from the same materials.

Click here to download a pdf version of this teaching.