Preface to the Parashot HaShavua

This preface for the parashot HaShavua has been prepared to give those who are newer to the Jewish culture a better understanding of the background of the weekly Torah Portion.  We hope you find this information helpful.

The Bible Society in Israel

Introduction

Towards the end of the Torah Moses commanded that it be read publicly on a regular basis:

Moses wrote down God’s Law and gave it to the levitical priests, who were in charge of the Lord’s Covenant Box, and to the leaders of Israel. He commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, when the year that debts are canceled comes around, read this aloud at the Festival of Shelters. Read it to the people of Israel when they come to worship the Lord your God at the one place of worship. Call together all the men, women, and children, and the foreigners who live in your towns, so that everyone may hear it and learn to honor the Lord your God and to obey his teachings faithfully. In this way your descendants who have never heard the Law of the Lord your God will hear it. And so they will learn to obey him as long as they live in the land that you are about to occupy across the Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 31.9-13)

There is no record of this actually being done until the time of Ezra, when Nehemiah 8 describes the public reading of the Torah at Rosh Hashanah and through the entire festival of Sukkot.

By the 3rd century BC public reading of the Torah was an established custom in Judaism. This is shown by the translation of the Torah into Greek in Alexandria (the Septuagint) so that people attending the synagogue service could understand the text.

In the book of Acts Luke quotes James as saying, “from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues” (Acts 15.21). This custom of reading the Torah every week is confirmed later in the first century by Josephus (Against Apion 2.175).

The Talmud says that Ezra ruled that the Torah should be read regularly, but the rabbis argued that the custom began even before Ezra:

The [following] ten enactments were ordained by Ezra: That the law be read [publicly] in the Minhah service on Sabbath; that the law be read [publicly] on Mondays and Thursdays; …

'That the law be read [publicly] in the Minhah service on Sabbath:' on account of shopkeepers [who during the weekdays have no time to hear the reading of the Law].

'That the law be read [publicly] on Mondays and Thursdays.' But was this ordained by Ezra? Was this not ordained even before him? For it was taught: 'And they went three days in the wilderness and found no water, upon which those who expound verses metaphorically said: water means nothing but Torah, as it says: Ho, everyone that thirsteth come ye for water. It thus means that as they went three days without Torah they immediately became exhausted. The prophets among them thereupon rose and enacted that they should publicly read the law on Sabbath, make a break on Sunday, read again on Monday, make a break again on Tuesday and Wednesday, read again on Thursday and then make a break on Friday so that they should not be kept for three days without Torah.' (bBaba Kama 82a)

Different customs developed for the length of the cycle to finish the entire Torah reading. In the Land of Israel the earliest tradition was to read through the Torah in three years or three and a half years (bMeg. 29b), while the cycle in Babylonia was one year. During the time of the geonim (after the fifth century AD), the one-year cycle was adopted also in the Land of Israel. The start and finish of the annual reading cycle is on Simhat Torah.

Today the Torah is divided into 54 weekly portions. This division was made by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon using the Aleppo Codex of the Masoretic Text of the Torah. When one of the holidays falls on the Shabbat, a special portion is read for the holiday. Since there are fewer weeks available in the Jewish calendar, some of the portions are combined. The portion is read during the morning synagogue service on Shabbats and festivals.

 

Haftarot

Along with the Torah reading, it is the custom to read one or more passages from the former or latter prophets. This reading is shorter than the reading from the Torah. It is known as the “haftarah,” because it closes the reading from the scriptures.

There is usually some obvious thematic connection between some part of the parashah and the choice of the passage for the haftarah. For example, for Parashat Tazria (Leviticus 12.1 – 13.59), which deals with various skin diseases, the haftarah includes the story of the cleansing from leprosy of Naaman the Syrian. Similarly, the haftarah reading for the Day of Atonement is from Isaiah 58, where God defines what he expects from a proper fast.

It is not known today when the haftarot were added or how they were chosen. One tradition connects the addition of haftarot to a time when Israel was subject to conquerors who forbade the Jews from reading the Torah (but not from the rest of the Tanach). For a period of time only the haftarot were read, and the similarity of subject matter was a reminder to the hearers of what was in the weekly reading from the Torah. Another tradition says the haftarot were added to combat those who, like the Sadducees, claimed that only the Torah was holy.

Even so, there is evidence that the practice of reading from the prophets began early. In Luke 4 Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah, and in Acts 13.14-15 we read that “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Torah and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.’”

The division of the Prophets is longer than the Torah. Since only shorter passages are read from the prophets, naturally not all of the books are covered. Out of the twenty-one books of former and latter prophets, there are haftarot passages from only fifteen books. It should be no surprise, then, to find many familiar passages missing from the list of the haftarot. Nevertheless, a close look at the haftarot does show some surprising things.

The haftarot for almost the entire book of Deuteronomy are from the prophet Isaiah. These, of course, come towards the end of the annual reading cycle. The readings from Isaiah continue with the first three haftarot of Genesis. Most of the readings are taken from Isaiah 40-63, many of them in order. It is notable that the most messianic passage, Isaiah 52.13 – 53.12, is missing from this extended reading from Isaiah. It becomes even a suspect omission when we notice that Isaiah 54 is read twice, with Parashat Ki Tetse and seven weeks later with Parashat Noach. Was it the custom to read Isaiah 53 before the death and resurrection of Jesus? When his believers began to use it to prove he was the Messiah, was it omitted and the passage immediately after it read again?

Isaiah’s description of the suffering Messiah is not the only important messianic passage omitted from the haftarot. Among other passages we might expect to find in the list are Isaiah 7.14 (Messiah’s birth from a virgin) and 42.1-4; Jeremiah 31.31-34 (the promise of a “new covenant”; Hosea 11.1 (out of Egypt I called my son); Micah 5.1 (Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem); Zechariah 9.9 (Messiah comes riding on a donkey) and 11.13 (Messiah betrayed for thirty pieces of silver); and Malachi 3.1 (Messiah comes to the Temple). Also omitted are the opening verses of Isaiah 61, which Jesus read in the synagogue at Nazareth and applied to himself.

 

Salvation in the Torah

The Bible is God’s revelation of himself. It shows his character, and in turn it reveals what is required for human beings to live in his presence. Much of the Bible is given in story form, and the story tells us how the first people God made were indeed able to have fellowship with him, how they lost that fellowship by disobeying God, and how God set into motion his plan to restore that original perfect relationship between himself and those he had created in his likeness.

One figure is central to God’s restoration program. That figure must naturally be God himself, since there can be no savior besides God. But the figure is revealed to us also as a human being, called by many names in the Bible. The title most familiar to us is “the Messiah.”

Several places in the New Testament tell us that the Messiah is the central figure of the Tanach. When Jesus was speaking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24.27). In Acts 3.18, 22-24, Simon Peter said, “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Messiah should suffer, he thus fulfilled. . . . Moses said, `The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.' And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days.”

These statements of Jesus and Peter are confirmed by rabbinic tradition. In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a, we read, “R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan’s name: All the prophets prophesied [all the good things] only in respect of the Messianic era.”

Because the rabbis believed that all of the Scriptures spoke of the Messiah, they found messianic references in far more places than we can imagine. Alfred Edersheim, a Messianic Jewish scholar writing in the latter part of the 19th century, listed over 450 Tanach passages that are referred to as messianic in rabbinic literature. Over seventy of those passages are found in the Torah.

 

About this book (the content found here will also be available in book form)

The centrality of the Messiah in the Bible forms the basis for this book. It looks for prophecies of Messiah’s coming, hints of what his character will be like, what kinds of things he will do, even things that will characterize the messianic age. Since Messiah is the one through whom God brings his salvation to the world, the discussions in this book also consider aspects of God’s salvation program as they are revealed in the Torah.

The material in this book is limited to the Torah as it is divided into weekly portions, the prophetic readings that accompany those weekly readings, and New Testament passages that shed light on the discussions and show how Jesus has fulfilled the expectations of the Torah and the Prophets.

This book is intended for those who read the parashah each week and are looking for help understanding it. It is hoped that it will also be a tool for those who engage in conversation with those who do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah of Israel. In addition to the focus on the Messiah and God’s salvation, occasionally we have included inspirational or challenging subjects arising from the parashot.

Many people have contributed the material found here. They include believers from Israel and outside Israel.

Contributors

AK – Aaron Kligerman, Messianic Prophecy

BP – Bernhard Pick, , “Old Testament Passages Messianically Applied by the Ancient Synagogue,” Hebraica, 1884-1887

BSI/rp – Bible Society (Ray Pritz)

BSI/vk – Bible Society (Victor Kalisher)

DB – David Baron, Types, Psalms and Prophecies, used by permission of Keren Ahvah Meshihit (http://kerenahvah.org/)

DM – David Miller

DP – Derek Prince, 3 Three Messages for Israel

DY – Daniel Yahav

EbA – Elchanan ben Avraham [based on “Mashiach ben Yoseph” (2008)]

EF – Ephraim Frank

EG – Eila Goldberg

EK – Eitan Kashtan

ES – Eitan Shishkoff

FD – Franz Delitzsch

GH – Glenn Harris

HB – Howard Bass

LA – Leehee Ainav

LM – Lev haMelech (The Heart of the King)

MM – Moshe Morrison

MS – Michael Schneider

OG – Orna Greenman

RS – Risto Santala, The Messiah in the Old Testament, used by permission of Keren Ahvah Meshihit (http://kerenahvah.org/)

SO – Solomon Ostrovsky, Moses on the Witness Stand, used by permission of Messianic Publishing Co, a division of Messianic Literature Outreach.

SP – Seth Postell

SW – Samuel Wilkinson, A Nation’s Birthday, used by permission of Keren Ahvah Meshihit (http://kerenahvah.org/)

TS – Tsvi Sadan, The Concealed Light, used by permission of First Fruits of Zion (www.ffoz.org)

WK – Walter Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, 42-46 (adapted by BSI)