Torah portion from Jerusalem.

7th June 2024.

By Joseph Shulam.

We are starting the Torah reading this Shabbat with the Book of Numbers. The names of the books of the Bible are very different in the Hebrew Bible than in the translations to other languages. Usually, the Hebrew names are taken from the Book’s first words. Genesis is Bereshit, so one matches all the languages. However, Exodus is Shemot, which means names. Because the first words of the Book of Exodus are: “These are the names of the sons of Jacob…”. The Greek names are more descriptive of the content of the Book. The Hebrew names are the first words of the Book. The  Greek names deal with the main topic and subject of the books. Now, this Shabbat, we are entering the Book of Numbers. The Hebrew name of the Book of Numbers is “Bamidbar,” which means “in the Desert.” These are the first words that start the Book. 

This Shabbats Torah, we will be reading from Numbers 1:1 – 4:20.  

From the Prophets, we will be reading from Hosea 2:1-22

From the New Testament, we will read Matthew 4:1 -17.

Every Synagogue in the world will be reading this exact text of the Book of Numbers on this next Shabbat, June 8th, 2024. Our Christian brothers and sisters should see how vital this reading cycle is to their faith. Reading the Torah on Shabbat is a command and a recommendation for the non-Jewish Disciples of Yeshua. Go to the Synagogue on the Sabbath Day and hear the Word of God read. Especially in the First Century, after the crucifixion of the Messiah, non-Jews had no other source of study of the Bible. People didn’t have a Torah scroll in their homes unless they were wealthy and could hire a Jewish scribe to copy the five books of Moses for their private use, a year’s work for a scribe. Even today, it is a year’s work for a scribe to copy a Torah Scroll, which is why these scrolls are so expensive. If you want to buy a new Torah Scroll that is kosher and handwritten on goat skin, it will cost you no less than 90,000 dollars. It is a year’s work of hours per day that a scribe would be writing. In our congregation in Jerusalem, we have several handwritten Torah Scrolls, and we have given several to congregations we helped establish in Brazil. We have either given or have a Torah scroll for our sister congregation in Finland. These Torah scrolls are all Kosher and have been examined by a unique computer that reads the scroll. If the computer locates a mistake, it photocopies and prints the page with the error marked so the scribe can fix it. This computer test of a Torah scroll costs very close to 1000 US dollars.  

Why is the Book of Bamidbar (In the Wilderness in Hebrew) called Numbers in English? The reason is logical; the first four chapters of the Book deal with numbers, with the numbering of the children of Israel and each tribe and of the Levites and priests. Moses numbered the people who left Egypt, especially the tribe of Levi because the firstborn of the Tribe of Levi had to redeem the firstborn of Egypt, who died in the 10th Plague, which convinced the Pharaoh to release the Children of Israel from Egypt.

Why is this relevant for us who live in the 21st Century? There are a few very interesting principles that, in my opinion, are important for us as disciples of Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah, to learn and understand. All my life as a disciple of Yeshua my quest and search has been trying to understand God and His action and His reaction to the action of us, poor flesh bound human-beings,  homosapians. This Latin word homosapians is made from two words: homo=human, and sapian=the root word for wisdom. So here is what God is concerned with, and we all need to know and understand. You see, dear brothers and sisters, the 10th Plague that God struck Egypt was the death of all the firstborn male children of the Egyptians, a brutal and harsh measure that forced the Pharaoh of that great empire that ruled nearly half of the continent of Africa. The death of these firstborns of Egypt convinced the Pharaoh to allow Moses to take all the children of Israel out of Egypt and take them to the land of Canaan, which was promised to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants as an everlasting inheritance. As you can see in your news channels, even as you read this prayer list – this promise to Abraham is still a boiling pot and a source of hate, racism, and war in the Middle East and actually around the world. 

The text from our Torah reading tells us what for and why God needed to count the male Children of Israel in the Sinai wilderness. Numbers 3:44

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Take the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of their cattle. The Levites shall be mine: I am the LORD. 46 And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, 47 you shall take five shekels3 per head; you shall take them according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel of twenty gerahs ), [1] 48 and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.” 49 So Moses took the redemption money from those who were over and above those redeemed by the Levites. 50 From the firstborn of the people of Israel he took the money, 1,365 shekels, by the shekel of the sanctuary. 51 And Moses gave the redemption money to Aaron and his sons, according to the word of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.” [2]

[1] Gerah is a unit of money, a silver coin that has a specific weight and the value of 5 shekel, that is also a silver coin. Israel’s money today is counted as a shekel.  A dollar today is worth 3.66 shekel.  

[2] The redemption of the first born in Israel was because of many Egyptian First born died just before the Passover and God wanted the first born of Israel and the Levites offer the 5 shekel silver coins as a redemption offering of gratitude for the salvation that they received before they left Egypt with Moses and Aaron.

What is the importance of these four chapters of the Book of Numbers? Most Christian pastors and teachers miss the significance and rarely teach from the first chapters of the Book of Numbers. However, it must be important when God’s Word spends four chapters on something. Second, each one of the names of the people mentioned is a revelation. Because people were named by their occupation or by their place in the community, this is why you have so many Jews called “Goldsmith,” “Sandler,” or “Taylor.” God’s word is very conservative, and words are not wasted. So, when there is a counting of the heads of the Levites or the other tribes, and we understand the Hebrew texts, we can see and understand the culture, occupation, and lifestyle of the people of Israel in the wilderness. Here are a few examples from our reading on this Shabbat: 

1.    Tribe of Judah: Nahshon, son of Amminadab. “Nahshon”. = “diviner.” It may be from the root of “one who can guess.” Amminadab: “My people are generous.”

2.    Tribe of Issachar: Nethanel son of Zuar.  Nethanel: “God has given.” Zuar: Possibly “small.”

3.    Tribe of Zebulun: Eliab, son of Helon  = Eliab: “My God is Father.” Helon: “Strong soldier” or “valiant.”

4.    Tribe of Reuben: Elizur son of Shedeur = Elizur: “My God is a rock.” Shedeur: “Spreader of light” or “almighty is a fire.”

5.    Tribe of Simeon: Shelumiel, son of Zurishaddai = Shelumiel: “Friend of God” or “God is my peace.” Zurishaddai: “My rock is the Almighty.”

6.    Tribe of Gad: Eliasaph son of Deuel = Eliasaph: “God has added.” Deuel: “God is a friend.”

7.    Tribe of Ephraim: Elishama son of Ammihud = Elishama: “My God has heard.” = Ammihud: “My people are glorious.”

8.    Tribe of Manasseh: Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. = Gamaliel: “God is my reward.” Pedahzur: “The Rock has redeemed me.”

9.    Tribe of Benjamin: Abidan, son of Gideoni. = Abidan: “My father is judge.” Gideoni: “one who cuts down” (a warrior).

10.    Tribe of Dan: Ahiezer, son of Ammishaddai. = Ahiezer: “My brother is help.” Ammishaddai: “My kinsmen are Almighty.”

11.    Tribe of Asher: Pagiel son of Ocran. = Pagiel: “God meets me.” Ocran: “Troublemaker.”

12.    Tribe of Naphtali: Ahira son of Enan.  = Ahira: “My brother is a badass!” Enan: “Has sharp eyes!”

You see, my brothers, that the names of the tribes’ leaders give us a clue of their characters and sometimes their mission in life. There is a proverb in Hebrew that has always interested me! In Hebrew, it is כשמו כן הוא = “Keshmo Ken Who!” Meaning “He justifies his reputation, lives up to his name!” This proverb tells us that everyone’s name describes his character and destiny. 

What do we see in this list of names of the leaders of the tribes of Israel? I see two main motives: One is a relationship with God. We find the following abbreviations for God’s name: El – Eli – Shaddai – Zur (rock) – El. The second emphasis in these names is the family relationships: We find Ahi = brother, Ammi = my people (or my family),  Av = Father, Avi = my father. The third strong motive in these names is salvationPada – redeem, Ezer – helper in the sense of savior, Dan = my judge, Gamal = rewarder.  

So, my dear brothers, are these names often ignored by accident or not? These names reveal the life of the Hebrew nation during these 40 years of wandering in the Sinai desert. Again, I repeat the principle: the names you give your children reflect what is dear to you and what you wish your children to be, at least in the sight of their relationship with the Creator of this World. 

The word of God in Ecclesiastes 7 says:

 “A good name is better than fragrant oil, and the day of death than the day of birth.” 

I have to share with you an event that took place in Jerusalem in the year 1972. I was walking in the ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim. An American man was walking opposite me and stopped me to ask a question! The question was, “Young man, what is your name!” I told him my name was Joseph Shulam. He looked at me and said: “Joseph, you have a good name; guard your name and protect it because a good name is more precious than precious oil!” What is your name, sir? I asked him! Gordon Lyndsay, he said. I asked him where he was from, and he said he was from Dallas, Texas. I met Pastor Gordon Lyndsay’s daughter, Shira, a few months later in Jerusalem. I heard that some Orthodox Jews had put a bomb at her door. I had never met Shira Lyndsay, but I just went to her house to encourage her because of the bomb that exploded at her door. Since those days, I have had the privilege of having a holy relationship with the Lyndsay family from Dallas, which includes Shira and later her husband, Ari, and her mother, Frida. I had the privilege of sharing her mother’s monthly tithe with Shira for over 40 years. I urge you all, dear brothers, to think and value your name and reputation because it is easy to destroy your name, i.e., your reputation. After all, it is more precious than Gold (oil these days is not so precious).  

The Bible has several horrible stories about numbering the children of Israel, but I will save these for a different occasion. I am hearing the news in Israel now, and there is horror enough in my life and the life of all of Israel. I ask you to pray for Israel and our men in uniform. Support Netivyah and donate by pushing the donate button. Please help us fight antisemitism indeed internationally, and help us support our military in both Gaza and our northern border. Things are getting hot from a military strategic point of view, and our enemy is harsh and cruel and worse than a dog with Dengi.

 Without God’s help and the help of God’s disciples and servants helping us and through us, as well as the projects of Netivyah in Israel financially, we could not fight this battle. Right now, the most significant battlefield is not with Hamas or Hezbollah, but internationally, the battle against the poison that hate and antisemitism are spreading with lies and deception against Israel and the Jewish communities around the whole world. Help us do this work from our unique and chosen position as a bridge between the church and Israel and the Jewish communities worldwide. 

Anti Semitism is not only against the Jews but against the King of the Jews. Our battle is the battle of Good News against God’s Israel, which includes both Jews and Gentiles who have chosen to cast their lots with the God who created this world and is the FATHER of all, and who so loved the world that He sent His only begotten son so that no one will perish. Still, everyone has eternal life available to him! It is the battle of the Good News from Heaven against hate and racism, especially against Israel! 

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, Let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth— If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.”  

(Psalm 137:5-6 NKJV)