PARASHAH: Vayechi (He lived)
Torah Teacher Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy
Shabbat, January 13, 2001
B’resheet (Genesis) 47:28 - 50:26

(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)

Let’s begin with the opening blessing for the Torah:

Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher bachar banu m’kol ha-amim,

v’natan lanu eht Torah-to.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

Ameyn."

(Blessed are you, O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have selected us from among all the peoples,

and has given us your Torah.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)

This week, we conclude our study of the book of B’resheet (Genesis) with Parashat Vayechi, he (Ya’akov) lived. Actually, we will read about the death of Ya’akov in this parashah; likewise, our study on Yosef will draw to a close with his death at the end of B’resheet. During this study about the most famous son of Ya’akov, I have attempted to show how the Torah masterfully used his life to portray the life of our Messiah, Yeshua. In no way did I intend to minimize the significance of Yeshua’s divinity by using Yosef as a type and shadow. In fact, what I have done has been done elsewhere, using many other Scriptural characters, including a man of whom we shall quickly become familiar with in our next parashah, by the name of Moshe.

I believe that the Torah was written so that we might attain to the goal that HaShem has set forth for us, namely the righteousness that is found when we place our trusting faithfulness in his Son Yeshua. Remember that according to a proper translation of Romans 10:4, the goal that the Torah is aiming at is (our knowledge of and placing our trust in) the Messiah! Moreover, in defining what "sin" is, in the Hebrew word, its fullest definition is conveyed as "missing the mark". So as we study the pages of God’s Torah, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are to be conformed into the image of his Son (Romans 8:28-29), which is the "righteousness of HaShem"!

The name of the game this week is "blessings". The aging Isra’el (Ya’akov) is nearing his death and rightly calls for his grandsons Efrayim and M’nasheh, in order to bless them. It is significant for us to realize that this formula, employed by Isra’el’s father Yitz’chak, was the method by which ADONAI would prophetically identify the destinies of the offspring of Avraham. In other words, the men were operating under the divine influence of the Ruach (Spirit) when they spoke these verbal blessing onto their children. And to be sure, as we learned in the case of Isra’el and his brother ‘Esav, the verbal blessing was a coveted thing to receive.

Keeping true to the pattern that HaShem had been displaying, the younger of the two brothers (Efrayim) received the preeminent blessing instead of his older brother. This is the third time that this has happened, the first being Yishma’el and Yitz’chak, and the second being Ya’akov’s and his brother ‘Esav. Why does HaShem seem to confuse the issue by circumventing the older brother? I believe that HaShem wants us to realize, as is taught elsewhere in his Torah, that he can and often does use the "weak" things of this world to confuse "that which is wise". In other words, we normally expect the older to be wiser and more suited to become the chosen one, yet HaShem chooses the younger ones to demonstrate his mighty power, displayed through their own weakness and (seeming) less importance. This is also the case with the future king of Isra’el, Dah-vid. In fact it is even more to the point with Dah-vid, for he was not the second oldest, but the youngest of all of his brothers!

So Isra’el blesses Efrayim above his brother M’nasheh, but he does include both of them in his immediate inheritance. This can be observed in his wording to Yosef in verses 5, 6. So we learn from these verses why Efrayim and M’nasheh from this moment on are counted with the other twelve tribes. In fact, they are considered as half-tribes. Isra’el also institutes a well-known formula, used to this very day whenever fathers bless their sons. In 48:20, he predicts that future Isra’el the Nation will bless their sons, asking HaShem to make them like these two boys, in blessing and good favor. Anyone who has attended a conventional synagogue these days knows that this is the blessing spoken specifically for this occasion.

Later on in the parashah, we read of each individual blessing as Isra’el speaks to his twelve sons corporately. The preeminent blessing of Y’hudah, involving the promise of "Shiloh" (say "shee-low") in verses 8-12, is so well known that I don’t want to address it here. I have commented on it in other teachings. Instead, I want to teach on the significance of communal blessing, as taken from the Torah point of view. Perhaps, many of us in the Church are not familiar with the different types of blessings, and how they are meted out to us individually and corporately.

Isra’el’s sons (here in chapter 49) are the recipients of blessings that directly involve their individual actions, but also incorporates their future inheritance and characteristics as tribes. In essence, HaShem, through Isra’el, blesses them according to what they have done, but simultaneously, grants them grace for what they could not achieve on their own. Comparing the above-mentioned blessing of Y‘hudah with, per se, Shim’ on and Levi, we can see this. In the case of the latter, their blessings (or lack thereof) directly point to their prior actions taken during the incident with Dinah their sister, taught in B’resheet chapter 34. In this story, they took matters into their own hands, much to the shame of their father Isra’el (34:30, 31). Yet in the case of the former, nothing is mentioned of his shameful actions in B’resheet chapter 38. Still, HaShem sees fit to bless him abundantly, by promising to send forth the promised ruler from his loins. Amazingly enough, this promise of "Shiloh", a title/name which has no corresponding Hebrew roots or stems relating to it, has been almost universally accepted by rabbis and Christian scholars alike, as referring to the coming Messiah!

So we see that the Torah remains consistent when, several centuries later, a prominent Jewish rabbi named Rav Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) would go on to explain that HaShem will have mercy on whomever he wills to have mercy on, and compassion on whomever he chooses to have compassion on (read Romans 9:13-16). But the Torah is full of blessings and curses, so which ones should we concern ourselves with, and which ones should we "ignore"? Obviously, we needn’t concern ourselves directly with many of the ones found here in these last few chapters of the book of B’resheet. Many of them, for the most part, concern the immediate tribes that would later descend from the sons, or, they concerned only the sons themselves. Yet, jumping forward for the sake of teaching, the Torah contains some very important words to be considered by all who wish to name the name of the One, True and Living God named Y-H-V-H.

Some of you readers may not make it as far as the book of Deuteronomy and my teachings (and that’s okay) and some of you readers have already read my previous commentary on some of those chapters. For the sake of re-establishing certain important truths, I want to quote some material already available in previous (albeit future, according to our current schedule) teachings.

In Deuteronomy chapters 27-30, Moshe (our main character of the next few parash’ot to follow) gives a lengthy discourse to Am Yisra’el (the people of Isra’el) as to what will come about as a result of obeying or disobeying the Torah of HaShem. In this rather detailed and sometimes frightening revelation from HaShem, he informs them that covenant faithfulness was their individual responsibility. In other words, there is a part of the Torah that is directly effected by what we do or do not do. It is possible that HaShem might bless us or withhold blessing based on our performance measures? Contrary to conventional wisdom, this question can be answered in the affirmative. Before I get labeled as a legalist, let me explained myself.

‘For those who trust HaShem for the promises, the proper order for faith and obedience is set by the sequence in which the covenants were given. In other words, faith must precede obedience. But the kind of faith accepted by HaShem is one, which naturally flows into obedience. True obedience never comes before faith, nor is it an addition to faith. It is always the result of true biblical faith. To rephrase this in terms of the covenants: the covenant of promise (Avraham) must come before the covenant of obedience (Moshe). If we were to put Moshe first, attempting to secure those promises by obedience, we would be going against HaShem’s order. (This, by the way, is the key to unlocking the difficult midrash used by Sha’ul in Galatians 4:21-31.) All we could hope for would be a measure of physical protection and a knowledge of spiritual things. But we could not receive justification or a personal relationship with the Holy One through obedience to the Torah;it all had to start with faith. Avraham came before Moshe, but Moshe did not cancel out Avraham! The two complemented each other—as long as they came in the proper order.’ (Taken from Torah Rediscovered, Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, FFOZ Publications)

What does this mean for the Jew as well as the Gentile? Apart from a being a well-reasoned theological argument for combating legalism, the concept taught here defines our identity, as, not only being grounded in the Torah—but it is who we are in Messiah! If the blood of the Sinless One has redeemed us from sin and unrighteousness, then we now have been clothed in his holiness! We now have a new identity—the righteousness of HaShem! The old man has died with the death of our Messiah; the new man has been raised unto life everlasting just like him (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)! And all of these promises are secured for us within the pages of God’s Torah!

Now when Moshe was delineating the blessings and curses in Deuteronomy chapters 27-30, he was teaching them that as faithful children of Avraham, their identity was secured by faith in HaShem, just as faithful Avraham was considered righteous by his faith (read B’resheet 15:6). Yet a second and equally important aspect of this covenant relationship with the One, True God of the Universe involved their response to his written document, the Torah. This second aspect directly made them eligible or ineligible to receive many of the blessings pronounced therein. Let’s look at the teaching in Deuteronomy, specifically, Parashat Nitzavim.

The opening verses of Nitzavim (Deut. 29:10-15) is a rather all-conclusive list of representatives from Am Yisrael (people of Israel), spoken by Moshe, telling us that the important message to follow needs to be heard by all. This list included the officers, leaders, tribes, and heads of all the men of Israel. But he did not stop there. Verse eleven goes on to include the children and wives of the men, as well as the foreigners who had attached themselves to Isra'el as a people; the entire spectrum of workers was represented here. What was so important to HaShem that he had Moshe assemble all of the people?

Sometimes in speech, the tenses in the verbs can be very crucial for a proper understanding of the text. I believe this is such a case. I must resist the urge to do an exhaustive case-by-case word study here. I will draw your attention, however, to the fact that in Chapter 29, Moshe informs the people that the covenant that HaShem is making with them there, is not just with them alone, but, that the responsibilities will also fall on of their ancestors to come (Verses 14-15). In other words, this includes those today who identify with Am Yisra’el! This lets us know that these words of the Torah (the covenant) are pertinent for us today, and that we might do well to listen to them! These verses contain our "pace-setter" for the rest of Parashat Nitzavim. Let’s read on.

"When the time arrives that all these things have come upon you, both the blessing and the curse which I have presented to you; and you are there among the nations to which ADONAI your God has driven you; then at last, you will start thinking about what has happened to you; and you will return to ADONAI your God and pay attention to what he has said, which will be exactly what I am ordering you to do today—to you and your children, with all your heart and all your being" (30:1-3, emphasis on verbs mine).

Calamity befalls the Children of Isra’el because corporately they failed to properly understand what obedience to the Torah means. I have to wonder out loud, "How many of the House of Isra’el really stop to read all of the magnificent promises spelled out for them in this parashah? How many Christians even know that they exist, here in the ‘Old Testament’"? But, HaShem is just getting started! Let’s read further.

"However, all this will happen only if you pay attention to what ADONAI your God says, so that you obey his mitzvot and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah… (30:10)."

What exactly is true Torah observance, and why is there a blessing pronounced upon it? Obedience to the Torah has long since been an oft-misunderstood subject, both in the Jewish community and the Christian one. It is my understanding that the errors can be corrected once a person resolves the issues surrounding legalism, begins to understand the intended nature and function of the Torah in the first place, and then faithfully applies it to their own lives. Because the Messiah has already come, the Torah is now a document meant to be lived out in the life of a faithful follower of Yeshua, through the power of the Ruach HaKodesh, to the glory of HaShem the Father. It should not be presumed that it could be obeyed mechanically, automatically, legalistically, without having faith, without having trust in HaShem, without having love for HaShem or man, and without being empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh. To state it succinctly, Torah observance is a matter of the heart, always has been, and always will be.

Today, the Nation of Isra’el as a whole, as well as many that call themselves Christians, have failed to grasp the central concept of the teaching of Moshe, and consequently, the teaching of Rav Sha’ul found in Romans 9:30-10:13. Moshe describes, in no uncertain terms, the availability of the grace of HaShem, when it comes to attaining "life". Most assuredly, he presents before them, the option to choose "life" and "good", or "death" and "evil" (30:15-20). In this choice, Moshe taught that since the Torah was near to them, in their hearts and in their mouths, that it could be done. Whoever said that a person could not keep the Torah? Where does this idea come from that it is too difficult? Or that "HaShem is asking too much of me"?

Because the goal, or focus, at which the Torah aims is the Messiah (certainly not the end of the Torah as some interpret Romans 10:4), all that go on to receive him find, as HaShem promised through the mouth of Moshe, life and good! But once we receive the Messiah (and here’s where mostly non-Jewish folks stray), we can be recipients or non-recipients of many of the blessings awaiting us, as we chose to obey or disobey the rest of the covenant. This is proved by another teacher named Ya’akov in his book to the New Covenant readers:

"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22, KJV)

Blessings have been the focus of our parashah this week. We need not make the mistake of believing the lie of legalism, in that, commandment keeping will secure us a place among the heavenly family, or that it makes us better than or even righteous in the sight of HaShem. It is true that we are "sanctified (set apart) by the commandments" as the popular Jewish blessing proclaims, in that, we as Torah obedient believers do something that the rest of humanity does not do—we follow God’s Torah—and this sets us apart! Many of the commandments have been given to us so that we might enjoy the relationship that has already been freely giving to us through the shed blood of Messiah our LORD! So what are you waiting for? Don’t you want to be blessed?

It is customary after the completion of a book of the Torah to say,

Chazak, chazak, v’nit’chazek!"

(Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!)

The closing blessing is as follows:

Baruch atah YHVH, Eloheynu, Melech ha-‘Olam,

asher natan lanu Toraht-emet,

v’chay-yeh o’lam nata-b’tochenu.

Baruch atah YHVH, noteyn ha-Torah.

Ameyn."

(Blessed are you O’ LORD, our God, King of the Universe,

you have given us your Torah of truth,

and has planted everlasting life within our midst.

Blessed are you, LORD, giver of the Torah.

Ameyn.)
 
 
 

"Shabbat Shalom!"


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