In our desire to provide you with the teaching of Messiah Yeshua in a Jewish context, we provide in-depth teachings of the Jewish holidays throughout the year. Below are various perspectives from various teachers and staff members from Netivyah Bible Instruction ministry.

Yehuda Bachana: Where is the Fruit? [2020]

Shavuot is the third of the three biblical holy days, or the Three Pilgrimage Festivals. It is called “Shavuot”, or “weeks”, because it is celebrated at the end of the seven-week count from the beginning of Passover:

“You shall count seven weeks for yourself; begin to count the seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 16:9-10 [NKJV]

The Torah has other names for the holiday: “Yom HaBikurim” (Day of the First Fruits), as it appears in Numbers 28:26, and “Hag HaKatzir” (the Feast of Harvest), as it appears in Exodus 23:16.

According to tradition, this is the day on which the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai, so most of the customs of the holiday relate to Torah teaching, its acceptance, and Torah study.

It is customary to view Shavuot as the day on which the people of Israel were married to God on Mt. Sinai – and the Torah as the “Ketuvah”, or marriage agreement, which establishes our relationship with God.
We stand today together with all of the nation of Israel and try to imagine the electrifying atmosphere that encompassed Mt. Sinai as we too stood before God, saying, “we have heard and we will do.”

But the holiday of Shavuot is not only the “holiday of the giving of the Torah”, it is also, and perhaps most importantly, “the Holiday of the First Fruits.” In our faith life we mostly concentrate on the concept of receiving the Torah. We read the Torah every week, this is the day on which we think about the place that Mt. Sinai has in our life, we try to understand how to apply the Word of God, the Torah, into our lives.

While the other issue: “Bikurim” (First Fruits) remains ignored and mostly unexplained. Holiday pilgrimages no longer exist, and activities regarding the fulfillment of the “Bikurim” commandments are no longer relevant. We no longer live in an agricultural environment and none of us present “Bikurim” (First Fruits).

Therefore, today it is necessary to give to the holiday of Shavuot a Messianic flavor. We all have skills, gifts, and abilities. And there is the obligation for everyone to contribute their share and to give their “Bikurim” to the body of Messiah, or to the local congregation.

The First Fruits are identified in the Torah, and they are:

“…the first of all the produce of the ground…” – Deuteronomy 26:2

…and of them each resident of the Land of Israel will bring to the Temple. Also, the bringer of the First Fruits declares more or less: it was bad for us, we were slaves, but God intervened and saved us, and now it is well with us. And behold, I present the blessing of God, I bring this fruit in gratitude.

Although we are not part of the Land of Israel, and indeed there is no temple, we do have a “little temple” which is our house of prayer, and God did intercede and save us, and in any case, the essence of this holiday is “gratitude toward God” for all the goodness and blessings with which He has blessed us:

“So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you.” – Deuteronomy 26:11

This gratitude toward God is not a matter of courtesy, it is a duty to fulfill. As we learn the holiday commandments, the lessons and morals of the holiday, we learn that we need to feel great joy that we are able to give thanks for the good in our lives.

I would like to argue that the commandment of the Bikurim is not “just” to bring the First Fruits, the main principle of the commandment is to lead us to express gratitude toward God for all that He provides us with, including bringing us, as He promised, to the Land of Israel in which we live and the fruit of the land that we enjoy (being financially successful).

The Lord says:

“…when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it…” – Deuteronomy 26:1

And one answers:

“I declare today to the lord your God that I have come to the country which the Lord swore to our fathers to give us.” – Deuteronomy 26:3

So the commandment of the offering of the Bikurim is based on the bringing of the First Fruits to the Temple. But at its basis it is not just expressing gratitude for agricultural produce, but perhaps it is especially expressing gratitude for the good land that God swore to our forefathers.

This holiday reminds every student of the Bible that our dwelling, of the people of Israel, in the Land of Israel, is due to this promise.

If the bringing of the First Fruits is to thank God for the good that He gives us, for His grace, then we can still do that today. We can give God the First Fruits of our talents, income, time, and effort.

Yeshua, throughout the Scriptures, compares us to fruit trees, and as such, Yeshua requires of us, of our lives, fruit. God blessed us with many talents, the New Testament gives us a number of lists of gifts, talents, abilities, etc., be they gifts of physical help or spiritual help.

Every person has a role, every person has a gift. And so every believer should have a role in the congregation. We must all contribute our part to the congregation, and to society.

How do we perceive the congregation? Do we imagine the congregation to be a place that we come to, sit for a while, sing a little, pray a little, and a for a little while listen to a sermon and then go home?

And in so doing have I fulfilled my obligation of faith? Is God now happy with me, simply because I went to God’s house?

The greater question that the Scriptures ask, that Yeshua asks is: Where is the fruit?

It is not so wise to simply come to the congregation on Saturday or Sunday and to sit and think: That’s it, I did the will of God, I showed up, I sat, a day is coming when I will receive my wages from the King of Kings. We are all God’s workers, and are required to build up the Body of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven. We each have skills and gifts, and we must use them, and donate them to the congregation! To build up the community!

He also spoke this parable:

“A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’  But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’” – Luke 13:6-9 [NKJV]

As part of the commandments of the bringing of the First Fruits, we must be truly happy, with our rights and ability to do good, to help and to serve others. Once a year it is worth remembering the fruit that we have borne and presented to God. To give an account before God: what I did for the Kingdom of Heaven this year.

The Corona period in particular emphasizes our social responsibility, how we are all connected to one another. And we have witnessed tremendous social giving, countless volunteers, who have not thought of themselves but how to help others who are in crisis or are a part of at-risk groups, with great concern for the elderly, and even purchases and donations of computers to young people in difficult financial situations so that they too could study using Zoom. This represents humanity at its best.

Have a happy holiday!

Joseph Shulam: A Call to Give God Our Best [2019]

There are three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah: Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth (which is the Feast of Tabernacles). On these feasts, Jews and non-Jews from all around the world would gather in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Feast of Shavuot was very special because it ended 50 days of harvest and gathering of God’s wealth in the provisions of the land. One of the main aspects of this Feast of Shavuot was the bringing of the firstfruits to the Lord’s house in Jerusalem, and presenting them to the priests and Levites in a very colorful ceremony.

The giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai is also associated with this feast, and of course this is the reason why the good Lord chose this very day to manifest His Holy Spirit on the apostles, and on the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

shavuot

The Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost) is the occasion of bringing the first fruit that has grown and ripened for the season, the spring season. Deuteronomy chapter 26 is of great importance here, because it is the only chapter that reveals to the reader what the worshiper, who comes to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, must say in front of the priest (the Cohen) who serves the Lord in his day.

This text is important because it gives us a glimpse of what was going on inside the Temple. The worshiper comes with his gifts to God through the auspices of the priest. The priest receives the gift (sacrifice) and the worshiper says the following strange things:

“The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.’ Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” – Deuteronomy 26:4-11 [NKJV]

Here in this grand occasion, when the Israelite worshiper comes to Jerusalem, in his hands are the firstfruits of his labor, the best of the best of his fields and orchards. He hands the basket of the first fruits to the priest and this is what he says: “My father was a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian).”

This worshiper is speaking about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are the fathers of the nation of Israel and he calls Abraham a wandering (lost) Aramian (Syrian). Is this Israelite worshiper minimizing the importance of of Abraham by calling him a lost Syrian? Yes, and no!

Let us look at another document from a period close to the appearance of Book of Deuteronomy on the scene:

“Look down from heaven, And see from Your habitation, holy and glorious. Where are Your zeal and Your strength, The yearning of Your heart and Your mercies toward me? Are they restrained? Doubtless You are our Father, Though Abraham was ignorant of us, And Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Lord, are our Father; Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” – Isaiah 63:15,16 [NKJV]

Here in Isaiah, the worshiper claims the Lord God as the father of Israel, not Abraham. With all of Abraham’s greatness, both in this passage in Isaiah and in Deuteronomy 26, Abraham is not the father of the nation, or the savior of the nation of Israel, or the deliverer of Israel from Egyptian slavery. God Himself is the Savior of Israel, “Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name”!

Here are some of the implications of this short text that allows to look into the words that were spoken by the worshiper during the highest moment of his yearly encounter with the Lord, through the priest and the gift of firstfruits to the Lord:

  1. The worshiper approaches worship with great humility. He is not the benefactor of the Lord. He is the recipient of God’s goodness and mercy. He confesses both his own and his father’s total dependence on God. King David did the same in his last prayer: “Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: ‘Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, The power and the glory, The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, And You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, And You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; In Your hand it is to make great And to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, We thank You And praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You.’” – 1 Chronicles 29:10–14 [NKJV]
  2. The worshiper brings to the Lord the first fruit, the best fruit, and not the leftover fruit of the field and from the fruit trees.
  3. After giving God the best of the best, the worshiper is invited to thank God for the good things that God has given him. This phrase is worded in a special way. The worshiper is not invited to thank God for everything that has happened in his life during the past year. He is invited to thank God for all the good things that happened in his life. The not-so-good-things that happen in our lives have many sources and causes. The good things that happen to us and to our households are all from God and His goodness.

There is a question that I am sure many will ask, “What are the other sources in our lives that cause us some hardships and grief?” I will answer this question in brief:

  1. Our own stupidity and mistakes. This is probably one of the main sources of grief and sometimes suffering in our own lives. There is no one else that we can blame other than our mistakes and stupidity. If we drive too fast around a curve and the physics of the centrifugal forces throw us off the road and we have a bad accident – it is not the devil, it is not a demon, it is our own stupidity and lack of foresight and wisdom that has caused the accident.
  2. Sin in our lives can have painful consequences that can cause pain and grief and even illness.
  3. Nature – the very nature of all flesh is to grow old and decay.
  4. God at times wants to educate us and equip us for a higher challenge, and like a boot camp, He takes us through a series of obstacle courses in order to build our abilities, train our minds, and prepare us through suffering for a greater task and success in life.

This last one is one of the most difficult for us to understand, and at times we think that our whole world is collapsing and we can’t take it even one more day. The sun comes up the next day, and we understand that, despite the great hardships and difficulties, in the end it is like what the apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 8: “all thing work together for the good of those who love the Lord.”

Paul is basing this statement on several passages in the Psalms and in the prophets. The main passage is from Psalm 145:14-20:

“The Lord upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. The Lord preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy.” – Psalms 145:14–20 [NKJV]

The Key phrase is in Psalm 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” In other words, if you separate one of God’s actions (in the Bible, or in history, or in your own life) you might think that He is unrighteous, but if you look at the big picture you will see that He is righteous and all His ways are righteous.

Joseph Shulam: A Holiday for Jews and Non-Jews [2009]

In just a few hours, right at sunset, the Feast of Shavuot, or Weeks, or Greek Pentecost, is going to enter. The Feast of Shavuot is one of the three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah. There are three pilgrimage feasts in the Torah: Passover, Shavuot, and Succoth (which is Tabernacles). On these feasts, Jews and non-Jews from all around the world would gather in Jerusalem to worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The Feast of Shavuot was very special because it ended 50 days of harvest and gathering of God’s wealth in the provisions of the land. One of the main aspects of this Feast of Shavuot was the bringing of the First Fruits to the Lord’s House in Jerusalem, and presenting them to the priests and Levites in a very colorful ceremony.

The giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai is also associated with this feast, and of course this is the reason why the good Lord chose this very day to manifest His Holy Spirit on the apostles, and on the people of Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.

In our congregation tonight we have an all-night study, food and worship, and if there is going to be time, we will watch the Hollywood film “The Ten Commandments” with Charleston Heston as Moses. This is a very ancient custom of spending all night in the study of God’s word and in eating milk products and reading the book of Ruth.

Shavuot is also the holiday of the proselytes and god-fearers. Although the apostle Paul was very much against Judaizing the Gentiles and forcing them to circumcise and convert to Judaism. He was also very much for the Gentiles to accept and receive the God of Israel as their God, and to abandon their idols and the demons that they worshipped.

In other words, Paul did not preach a “Lawless Gospel”, and he did not allow the Gentiles to continue in their ways and worship their old gods that were idols. But he wanted them to leave the idols behind and to turn to the God of Israel.

Essentially what Paul wanted is for the Gentiles to be converted from idolatry to the faith in One God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and His Son Yeshua the King of the Jews. The idea is that we are together but different, the Jew remains a Jew and the Gentile does not convert to Judaism, but he does abandon the idols and turns to the God of Abraham, the God of Israel. This is really what it means to be grafted into the natural olive tree (Romans 11).

So, in a way, every non-Jew who gave his life to God and to Yeshua the Messiah is a semi-proselyte. He left the idols of his fathers and turned to the God of Abraham, he left the many gods of Greece and Rome and associated with the God of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.

I realize that I am putting things in a different light than many of my readers are used to, but if you think about it in biblical terms, you will see that this is really what Paul was preaching. This is why Paul came back to Jerusalem with the seven non-Jewish young men and with the contribution that the churches in Asia Minor and Greece gave for the Saints in Jerusalem.

Truly what Paul was doing was fulfilling the promises that God gave to Israel in the prophets, that non-Jews will come and join Israel in the worship of God:

“And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.’ For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” – Isaiah 2:3

Shavuot is, I believe, the holiday of both Jews and non-Jews who are disciples of Yeshua, and that is why it is on this very day that the Holy Spirit filled the apostles of Yeshua who were gathered on Mt. Zion in an upper room.

You might be interested to know that when the Pope was here ten days ago, he asked the State of Israel to give the Catholic Church the place that is now being shown to tourists as the “upper room” on Mt. Zion. I don’t think that the State of Israel has yet given an answer to the Pope about this issue.

At any rate, the so-called “upper room” could not have been the upper room in which Yeshua and His disciples took the Passover. The whole building was built during the Crusader period, and if one looks more carefully on the walls he will see the “fleur-de-lis”, and also Crusader crests were painted on the wall nearly 1000 years ago, and they are still there.

But, what could we say, if the Pope wants the “upper room”, maybe the State of Israel will consider giving it to him. Politics is often an exercise in ignoring the facts.