Obedience and Sacrifice

What gift can you get for the Almighty? It's hard to shop for a God who has everything. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, could be translated as “something brought near,” or to put it another way, it could be translated as “gift.” The Israelites were to view the sacrifices as gifts that they could bring to God.
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf. (Leviticus 1:4)
In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to present our bodies as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God.” What does this mean in practical terms? Is Paul asking us to build altars and literally sacrifice ourselves upon them? Of course not. Paul is using the sacrificial language as an illustration for obedience. He is urging us to set aside our stubborn wills, our wayward flesh and our self-centered egos and force them to submit to the commandments of God. When we set aside our own personal desires and inclinations for the sake of obeying God, we are sacrificing ourselves for the sake of heaven. Instead of offering a bull, a goat or a lamb to God as a gift, we are offering ourselves. This is why the prophet Samuel declared that obedience is better than sacrifice:
Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)
Through the prophet Hosea, the LORD declared, “I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Yeshua was fond of quoting this verse to prove that God was more concerned with ethical behavior than perfunctory ritual obedience. This is an important principle for all religious people. Regardless of one’s religion, it is always easier to attend to ritual concerns than to live godly lives. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
In today’s world there is no Tabernacle or Temple in which a person might offer a sacrifice. If we desire to give God a gift today, what can we give Him? We can give no better gift than our own humble submission to His will. We can give Him the simple sacrifice of grateful obedience.
Vayikra – ויקרא : “And he called” Torah : Leviticus 1:1-5:19 Haftarah : Isaiah 43:21-44:23 Gospel : Luke 1-3

The Lost Ark

The children of Israel constructed the ark of the covenant according to the specifications revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The ark of the covenant was lost during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE. No one knows what happened to it at that time.
When the Jewish people returned from captivity in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah and rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, they did not make a new ark. They built replicas of all the other Temple furnishings, just as Solomon had done, but they did not feel that they had the Almighty's permission to make a replica ark of the covenant. Therefore, the holy of holies was left ark-less throughout the entire second Temple period. The sages explain that inside the holy of holies was a foundation stone, a piece of bedrock, on which the ark used to sit during the days of first Temple.
Talmudic lore contains several traditions about the ark. Some of the sages insisted that the ark was carried away by the Babylonians and never seen again. Others held that Jeremiah the prophet or King Josiah had hidden the ark away prior to the Babylonian conquest.
One tradition has it that the ark was hidden in a secret cellar below the chamber of the woodshed where wood for the altar fires were kept. There it remained hidden through the Babylonian destruction, but its location was forgotten. According to this tradition, it once happened in the days of the second Temple that a priest whiling away his time in the chamber of the woodshed noticed that one of the floor pavers was different from the others. He was about to lift it to investigate when he was struck down dead. Later, two priests were gathering wood for the altar when one dropped his axe on that same paver. Fire leapt up from the floor and killed him. Though stories like this are entertaining, they are only apocryphal anecdotes with no real historical basis. They are no more reliable than the modern-day pseudo-archaeologists and sensationalist junk scholars who claim to have found the ark or to know where it is hidden.
The prophet Jeremiah says that in the Messianic era, when all nations are gathered to Jerusalem, the ark of the covenant will not even be missed. This implies that, though it will not be missed, it will still be missing:
“It shall be in those days when you are multiplied and increased in the land,” declares the LORD, “they will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.' And it will not come to mind, nor will they remember it, nor will they miss it, nor will it be made again. At that time they will call Jerusalem ‘The Throne of the LORD,' and all the nations will be gathered to it, to Jerusalem, for the name of the LORD; nor will they walk anymore after the stubbornness of their evil heart.” (Jeremiah 3:16-17)
Vayakhel-Pekudei – ויקהל־פקודי : “And He assembled” Torah : Exodus 35:1-40:38 Haftarah : Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 Gospel : Mark 15-16

Garments for Honor

The LORD commanded the children of Israel to make special garments for the priests to wear while they officiated in the Tabernacle: “You shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty”(Exodus 28:2). The garments of the priesthood were set apart for the purpose of serving God in the Tabernacle. They were not to be used for any other purpose.
Holiness does not mean that there is some kind of a mystical goodness attached to the object, person or place described as holy. It simply means that God does not want it used for anything other purposes than His own. The opposite of something holy is something normal.
Not only were the priest's clothes holy garments, they were vestments for glory. The Hebrew word translated “glory” is kavod, (כבוד). It also means “honor.” Its root meaning is closely connected with the Hebrew word for “heavy.” To treat something lightly would be the opposite of glorifying it. Maimonides points out that the priest's garments were not meant to glorify the priests who wore them. Instead, the priests' garments reminded the people of God's greatness.
The laws of the priestly garments teach some important lessons about clothing. For example, they teach that the way we dress matters to God. Clothing can bring honor or dishonor to God.
In many churches, and even in some synagogues, it has become popular to dress casually. Typically people dress better when they are going out to an expensive restaurant than they do when they attend worship services of the Most High. Even in Messianic assemblies people rarely dress their best for keeping the Sabbath. Jeans and T-shirts on Sabbath mornings? Shorts on Yom Kippur? Immodest, body-revealing clothing is flaunted even in the presence of the holy Torah scroll.
In modern Western culture, it has become common to regard dress and apparel as inalienable rights that are essential expressions of the individual. What is more, we have adopted some sort of assumed piety in dressing down. The reasoning proceeds along these lines: God does not look at the outside. God looks at the heart. Therefore, the outside should not matter.
Ironically, those who wear blue jeans and T-shirts to worship services seem to regard themselves more intrinsically spiritual than the “stiffs” who still dress formally, because they assume that their casual dress reflects a more genuine heart.
The laws of the priestly vestments prove that God looks at the outside as well as the inside, and He is concerned for how His people present themselves in the eyes of the world. The way we dress often reveals what's going on inside us. It also reflects on God. To dress disrespectfully on His holy days in His holy houses of worship is to disrespect Him.
Tetzaveh – תצוה : “You shall command” Torah : Exodus 27:20-30:10 Haftarah : Ezekiel 43:10-27 Gospel : Mark 12

The Little Sanctuary

The Temple was not simply a big church or synagogue. It was the dwelling place of God on earth. It housed His dwelling presence. He was present in the Tabernacle in a way in which He is not present on earth today.
In today's world, a person might attend church or synagogue. Churches and synagogues are descendants of the Tabernacle. The synagogue is modeled after the Tabernacle in that the prayer services remember the daily sacrifices that took place in the Tabernacle. A synagogue has an ark that symbolically corresponds to the Holy of Holies. The community of worshippers assemble in the synagogue at the appointed times just as Israel assembled at the Tabernacle/Temple at those times. Similarly, churches are descendents of synagogues, and they retain many elements of synagogue services.
According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. (Exodus 25:9)
Today, a person going to church finds himself at a powerfully moving worship service. He might feel spiritually elevated, feel goose bumps on his flesh, experience strong emotions or even see signs and miracles as evidence of the presence of God's Spirit. During such an experience, a person would say, “The presence of the LORD is here.” Similarly, a person might go to a solemn Day of Atonement service at the synagogue and hear heart-rending prayers of such spiritual intensity that he feels swept into the very presence of God. But neither of these experiences can be compared with the Tabernacle.
Though the presence of God's Spirit can be felt today (and His Spirit is always with us), the Tabernacle/Temple was different. God was present in a far more concrete and absolute way. It was not a matter of feelings of spiritual intensity; it was a matter of fact. God lived in that place. It was like having God as a next-door neighbor.
The prophet Ezekiel lived in the days of the Babylonian destruction of the Temple. He saw God's people scattered among the nations. He also saw a future time when the Temple in Jerusalem would be rebuilt and God's dwelling presence would return to it. Until then, He prophesied that God would dwell among his people as a “little sanctuary” in their midst:
Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come. (Ezekiel 11:16 KJV)
In Judaism, the phrase “little sanctuary” is understood to refer to synagogues and Jewish homes. The rituals and prayer services of the synagogue are closely related to the Tabernacle services. The imagery of the home and the Sabbath table is drawn from the Tabernacle rituals.
Every place where God's people gather to worship him, whether at home around the table, at the synagogue or at the church, God is present as a “little sanctuary.” We are able to have a small taste of His presence.
Terumah : תרומה : – “Heave offering” Torah : Exodus 25:1-27:19 Haftarah : 1 Kings 5:26-6:13 Gospel : Mark 10-11

No Shortcuts

I once knew a young man who felt called to ministry. He wanted to become a pastor. He was so certain of this calling on his life, he felt he did not have time to finish Bible school.
Despite warnings to the contrary, he dropped out of school and started looking for an open pulpit. Though he was only twenty-two years old or so, he was a gifted teacher, and he quickly found a position in a small church. His immaturity, however, began to cause problems with the congregation. He was disrespectful to the elders, tyrannical with the people, and heedless with his words. In less than a year he found himself forced out of the ministry, depressed and dejected.
The children of Israel had a quick lesson to learn about following God. They knew they were heading to the land of Canaan. They would have assumed that they would simply follow the coastal route up out of Egypt, along the Mediterranean, and be back in Canaan in a few days. God does not take shortcuts.

Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, “The people might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” (Exodus 13:17)

The coastal highway was guarded by Egyptian garrisons. God did not want the military confrontations to dissuade the people. Besides, He had some important things to teach them in the wilderness before they arrived at Canaan. He wanted to deliver them at the Red Sea, teach them about His provision and give them the Torah at Sinai before leading them to the land.
We are often in a hurry to reach our dreams and our goals. It is frustrating to take long cuts through the wilderness. God is more interested in seeing us develop in spiritual maturity than He is in seeing us arrive at our dreams and goals. He will often lead us on long, seemingly circuitous routes in order to teach us and prepare us for the things that lie ahead. He wants to build our character. When we rush in without His leading and training, we find ourselves surprised by the challenges and quickly overcome.
Beshalach – בשלח : “When he sent” Torah : Exodus 13:17-17:16 Haftarah : Judges 4:4-5:31 Gospel : Mark 6

Leaving the Old Culture Behind

The Apostle Paul says, “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).
The old starter-dough leaven represents our old way of life. It is sin, godlessness, bad company, bad habits and all the things that taint our lives. Like an old culture of leavened starter dough, those things continue to leaven our lives from day to day, conforming us to our past. Paul urges us to make a clean break with the old culture and to start over as a new batch, like unleavened bread.
When the children of Israel left Egypt, they were leaving behind their old culture. While in Egypt they had absorbed much of the wickedness and idolatry of Egyptian society. The unleavened bread symbolized a new beginning. They were starting over.
In a spiritual sense, we leave Egypt when Messiah saves us. That’s what it means to be born again. It is a matter of starting over. When we become believers, we are supposed to die to our old way of life and begin life again as new creatures. We have to leave our old ways behind us.
Addiction counselors warn recovering addicts about falling back into old patterns. The recovering addict is at greatest risk when he spends time with old friends or revisits familiar hang-outs. To successfully overcome his addiction, it is important to break with the past, carve out new patterns of behavior and develop new, healthy habits. It is the same for all of us.
The leaven in our lives comes in a variety of disguises. It may be certain entertainments, amusements, vices, habits or social circles. Paul suggests that it may lie in the wicked and malicious attitudes of our hearts. Passover is an opportune time to break with our past and start over as new creatures in Messiah. Passover is an annual reminder that we must leave the old culture behind. Every Passover is a chance to start over. At Passover we remember that we have left our spiritual Egypt. We are free from the past, and we need to set aside those things in our lives that continue to enslave us. After all, starting over is what it means to be born again.

What’s His Name?

The LORD reminded Moses that He appeared to the forefathers as God Almighty (El Shaddai, אל שדי), but He did not reveal His personal name the LORD (HaShem): “I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:3-4).
This seems like a contradiction because Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did know God Almighty by His holy name, “the LORD.” Abraham invoked the Name the LORD when he first entered the land of Canaan. He swore an oath in the name of the LORD. When the Almighty made the covenant between the parts with Abraham, He said, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” Abraham replied, “O Lord LORD (HaShem), how may I know that I will possess it?” (Genesis 15:7-8).
Obviously the forefathers did know His name, “the LORD.” If so, why did He say to Moses, “By My Name, the LORD, I did not make Myself known to them?”
Rashi reconciles the seeming contradiction. He explains that the LORD did reveal His name, “the LORD (HaShem),” to the forefathers, but He did not reveal the meaning of His Name to them. Rashi understands the name, “the LORD,” to imply God’s unchanging nature. The LORD is “I will be as I will be.” The unchanging God is faithful to keep His word. The Name of the LORD implies, “[I am] faithful to uphold [verify] my words (ne’eman le’ammet debarai, נאמן לאמת דברי).” He is the Promise Keeping God.
According to Rashi’s explanation, the ineffable name, “the LORD” implies God’s unchanging character, His covenant devotion, and His mercy. God revealed His name, “the LORD,” to the patriarchs, but He did not reveal the meaning of His name.
For example, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation with descendants as countless as the stars. He promised that the land of Canaan would be given to those descendents. He also predicted that Abraham’s seed would be enslaved by a foreign nation and ultimately liberated from that nation:

God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14)

The forefathers did not see these promises fulfilled. They knew the name, “the LORD,” but God did not reveal the essential meaning of that name in that they did not see the covenant promises fulfilled: “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
In the days of Moses, the time had come for God to fulfill the covenant promises He made to Abraham. God was ready to reveal the essential meaning of His name: “I am faithful to uphold my words.”
Va'era – וארא : “And I appeared” Torah : Exodus 6:2-9:35 Haftarah : Ezekiel 28:25-29:21 Gospel : Mark 3

The Golden Handcuffs

When Jacob first went down to Egypt, he went only to sojourn there until the famine had passed. It was supposed to be temporary. But the temporary stay turned into what looked like permanent residence. They settled, and they prospered. They might have remained in Egypt, happy and well fed. Life in Egypt was good. Perhaps it was too good.
Happy, well-fed, and prosperous, the children of Israel could have easily forgotten about their great spiritual heritage. Content with the comforts and luxuries of Egypt, they might have abandoned their aspirations of inheriting Canaan. Who would want Canaan when he already had Egypt?
The children of Israel found their situation in Egypt suddenly reversed when the Egyptian government forced the Hebrews into servitude. A person becomes accustomed to privileges and luxuries and begins to think of those things as necessities. Things that, at one time, he could not afford, and therefore did not worry about, become indispensable needs as he prospers. His own wealth and success become “golden handcuffs” from which he cannot escape. While we are in the service of materialism, our spiritual health inevitably suffers. Yeshua warned us, saying, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24).
While in Egypt, Israel was lured by the attractions of Egyptian society. They began to assimilate into the larger culture. Assimilation poses a greater danger to the people of God than persecution. When we are persecuted, we band closely together and firm up our convictions. We remember that we are not part of the greater culture. When we are received into the culture, however, we lose those distinctions, and we begin to lose our identity. We fall sway under the powerful spell of social allure.
The rabbis speculated that something like this was happening in Egypt. One Jewish collection of commentary on the book of Exodus suggests that the Israelites went so far as to quit circumcising their sons so that their children would fit in better with Egyptians:
When Joseph died, the Children of Israel abrogated the ritual of circumcision. They said, “Let's be like the Egyptians.” Because they quit circumcising themselves, the Holy One, Blessed be He, reversed the Egyptians' friendly attitude toward them. (Shemot Rabbah 1:8)
Instead of settling down and trying to fit into Egyptian culture, the children of Israel ought to have been looking toward the return to Canaan. By remaining in Egypt, they made themselves (and especially their children) vulnerable to Egyptian culture. They were already entering spiritual enslavement long before their physical enslavement began.
Whether it is the trappings of wealth or the pressures of socialization, we must beware of allowing ourselves to become spiritually enslaved. The children of Israel may have fallen victim to both. Real, physical enslavement followed quickly.

Preparing for Life After Death

Jacob made his son Joseph swear that he would not bury him in Egypt, but that he would be carried to the land of Israel and buried with his fathers Abraham and Isaac in the Machpelah cave. He said, “Please do not bury me in Egypt, but when I lie down with my fathers, you shall carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place” (Genesis 47:29-30).
Jacob's insistence on being buried in the family tomb back in the land of Canaan indicates that, even in death, he still believed in the Abrahamic promises. He believed the land of Canaan would one day belong to his children, and he wanted to be buried there. Moreover, Jacob believed in life after death. That is what he means when he told his sons, “I am about to be gathered to my people” (Genesis 49:29). Jacob anticipated being reunited with his forefathers.
Some cynics say that religion is a crutch for people who fear death. That may sometimes be the case, but it certainly does not apply to those who study Torah. The Torah does not say much about life after death. It's really not a book about how to go to heaven or what happens after we die. The Torah is more concerned with how we live in this lifetime, not the next. It is possible to read the entire Torah and conclude that there is no afterlife or resurrection from the dead. In the days of the apostles, a sect of Judaism called the Sadducees did exactly that. They read the Torah, did not see anything about an afterlife, and concluded that there is no afterlife, no heaven or hell, no resurrection from the dead.
Another sect of Judaism from the days of the apostles disagreed. They were called the Pharisees. They read the same Torah as the Sadducees, but came to a different conclusion. Though the Torah is not a book about the afterlife or how to receive eternal life, the Pharisees found many hints and clues that pointed toward the afterlife and the resurrection from the dead.
Once, a Pharisee named Rabbi Simai was arguing with the Sadducees. They asked him to prove from the Torah that the dead would be raised.

Rabbi Simai said, “From where in Torah do we learn the resurrection of the dead? From the verse, ‘I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan.' It doesn't say ‘[to give] you'; it says ‘to give them.' Therefore [since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob haven't yet received the land] the resurrection of the dead is proved from the Torah.” (b.Sanhedrin 90b, Talmud, quoting Exodus 6:4)

Rabbi Simai's point is that God promised to give the land to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—not just to their descendents. Yet, as the writer of the book of Hebrews points out, the patriarchs “died in faith, without receiving the promises” (Hebrews 11:13). God must keep His promise, but in order to do so, He will have to raise the patriarchs from the dead. This explains why Jacob was so adamant about being buried in the tomb of his fathers in the land of Canaan.
Part of life is preparing for death, and part of preparing for death is preparing for life after death. Jacob prepared for death in full confidence because he had a relationship with the living God.
Vayechi – ויחי : “And he lived” Torah : Genesis 47:28-50:26 Haftarah : 1 Kings 2:1-12 Gospel : Matthew 26-28

Preserving the Remnant

Joseph explained to his bewildered brothers that God had ordained his descent into Egypt in order to “preserve life” and “to preserve a remnant.” (Genesis 45:5). Joseph goes on to state that, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:7).
When Joseph is understood as foreshadowing the work of Messiah, a similar statement may be made. Yeshua’s brothers the Jewish people rejected Him, but God ordained that rejection to accomplish a great deliverance.
Paul seems to have read Joseph’s story in this light as well. In Romans 11, he struggled with the difficult question of Israel’s rejection of Yeshua. Though he did not directly invoke Joseph as an analogy, he seems to have alluded to it in a few places in this discussion. For example, he pointed out that Israel’s rejection of Messiah has meant riches for the world. The brothers’ rejection of Joseph resulted in riches for the famine-stricken world of Joseph’s day. Similarly, Paul pointed out that Israel’s ultimate reconciliation with the Messiah will be “life from the dead.” Joseph said, “God sent me before you to preserve life (lemicheyah, למחיה).” Jewish liturgy typically uses the same Hebrew word for the resurrection of the dead.

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15)
I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! (Romans 11:11-12)

Paul saw the Jewish estrangement from Messiah as a necessary part of a divinely ordained plan whereby God extended salvation to the entire world. In this regard, the Jewish estrangement from Messiah closely mirrors the events in Joseph’s story. Paul conceded that Israel has stumbled (though not fallen), but he insisted that even the nation’s stumbling plays a part of God’s plan. Just as Joseph and his brothers ultimately reunited and reconciled, Paul said that “all Israel will be saved.”

All Israel will be saved; just as it is written [in Isaiah 59:20-21], “The deliverer will come from Zion, he will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:26-27)

Paul did not suppose that all Israel must wait until the culmination of the age before entering into reconciliation with the Messiah. He maintained that, just as the LORD preserved a remnant of His people in the past, so too a remnant had recognized King Messiah. Again, the discussion seems to allude to the story of Joseph:

God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. (Genesis 45:7)
In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. (Romans 11:5)

This Too Is for the Good

The life of Joseph demonstrates God's sovereign hand in human lives. Though the world seems to follow a completely random course around us, God is actually working out His purposes in the midst of it. From Joseph's point of view, there was no reason to suspect that God had his best interests in mind.
Joseph had been kidnapped and betrayed by his own brothers, sold into Egypt as a slave, falsely accused of attempted adultery and imprisoned in a dungeon. His life seemed to be following Murphy's Law of “if anything can go wrong, it will.” So far, everything had gone wrong.
Joseph stubbornly clung to an unshakable confidence in the God of his fathers. Even though everything had tumbled down around him, He kept looking to God and believing that God was working through the chaos. He never fell into depression or despondency because he always believed that he was right where God had placed him.
The late first-century compendium of instructions to Gentile believers entitled the Didache says, “Accept the things that happen to you as good, knowing that apart from God nothing comes to pass” (Didache 3:10). Similarly, Paul says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
This can be compared to the story of a rabbi from the days of the Apostles named Nacham. Everyone called him “Nacham This-Too” because, no matter what happened, he would always say, “This too is for the good.” Amazingly, God honored his faith by continually providing miracles for Nacham.
Once it happened that Nacham This-Too was serving as an ambassador to Rome. He was presenting the Roman Emperor with a gift from the people of Judea in an attempt to bribe him into reversing some anti-Jewish legislation. While en route to Rome he stopped at an inn. While he slept, the inn-keeper stole the precious treasures meant for the emperor from Nacham's chest and replaced them with sand! Nacham went to Rome, unaware that he was carrying a box of sand. When the emperor opened the chest and saw the sand, he ordered Nacham to be put to death. Nacham simply replied, “This too is for the good.” Just then Elijah the prophet appeared in the guise of a Roman officer and suggested that perhaps the sand was “magic sand.” The emperor agreed to test the theory, and indeed, when his troops hurled the sand at their enemies, they prevailed in battle. The emperor immediately released Nacham, reversed his decree against the Jews and rewarded Nacham with great wealth.
The story of Nacham This-Too is a good illustration of Joseph's story. Like Nacham This-Too, Joseph refused to be pushed around by life's circumstances. Instead he looked to God for strength and encouragement, and he kept on believing.
In this week's Torah reading, we will see how Joseph's this-too-is-for-the-good type of faith was rewarded and how his fortunes changed.
Miketz – מקץ : “At the end” Torah : Genesis 41:1-44:17 Haftarah : I Kings 3:15-4:1 Gospel : Luke 4:16-31

Perez and Zerah

When Tamar’s pregnancy advanced to the point where she could no longer conceal it, “she would tap upon her stomach and boast, ‘I am big with kings and redeemers!’” (Midrash Rabbah). At the very least, she was big with twins.
While Tamar struggled in labor, the first of her two sons extended his hand. The midwife tied a scarlet string around his wrist to identify the firstborn, but he then retracted his hand and apparently retreated back down the birth canal—a stunt that does not seem biologically probable. Tamar gave birth to his brother before him in a traumatic labor. She named him Perez (Peretz, פֶּרֶץ), which means “breach,” saying, “What a breach you have made for yourself” (Genesis 38:29).

That Perez pushed ahead was part of the Divine plan. Zerah desired to emerge first but God declared: “Messiah is destined to descend from Perez; is it right, then, that Zerah should emerge first? Let Zerah return to his mother’s womb, and Perez shall be born first!” (Aggadat Bereshit)

The rabbis closely identified Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, with King Messiah. Perez heads the genealogy of David in Ruth 4:18. The sages sometimes call Messiah by the name Son of Perez. The twins in Tamar’s womb portend the two messiahs: Messiah son of Joseph and Messiah son of David. That is to say, the birth of Perez and Zerah signify the first and second coming of Yeshua.
Perez, whose name also means “breaker,” represents Messiah in His first coming. He broke open the way into the kingdom of heaven. Tamar named him Perez to indicate that King Messiah, “the Breaker,” would one day come forth from him:

Tamar meant, “This one is greater than all those who make breaches, for from you will arise the King Messiah [of whom it is written in Micah 2:13], ‘The breach-maker goes up before them; they break out, pass through the gate and go out by it. So their king goes on before them, and the LORD at their head.’” (Genesis Rabbah 85:14)

Zerah (Zerach, זֶרַח), whose name means “dawning,” represents Messiah son of David, i.e. Yeshua in His second coming. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the great redemption of the Messianic Era as the dawning:

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen (zarach) upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising (zarach). (Isaiah 60:1-3)

Just as Tamar and her midwife expected Zerah to be born first, we anticipated the final redemption to occur with the first coming of Messiah. For a brief moment, the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and if the nation had repented, Yeshua could have brought us to the final redemption. Like a thread of scarlet, we did receive a token of the coming redemption, but before the final redemption could dawn, the Messiah needed to accomplish His purposes on the cross and in the grave.
When Perez defied Tamar’s expectation by bursting forth ahead of Zerah, she exclaimed, “What a breach you have made for yourself!” (Genesis 38:29). Similarly, Yeshua’s first coming defied popular expectation. Rather than filling the triumphant role of Messiah son of David, He endured the suffering of Messiah son of Joseph. As He unexpectedly burst forth from the tomb, Israel might be imagined to exclaim, “What a breach you have made for yourself!”
Vayeshev – וישב : “And he dwelt” Torah : Genesis 37:1-40:23 Haftarah : Amos 2:6-3:8 Gospel : John 2:13-4:42