[VIDEO] Introduction to Weekly Torah Portions

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Read the transcript below, or watch a video of the teaching by Yehuda Bachana.

Shalom. My name is Yehuda Bachana, and I am part of Netivyah Ministry and Ro’eh Israel Congregation in Jerusalem. This video is an introduction and an invitation to join us in a series of lessons on the weekly Torah portions, from an Israeli Messianic Jewish perspective.

I will call these lessons “Once Upon a Week”, and in the coming year, we will be studying the weekly Torah portions, discovering together the treasures of the word of God. My hope is that through these lessons you will be able to see into our world that this joint study will connect us to the word of God and will strengthen our understanding and our faith in God and Yeshua, the Messiah.

Let’s start with the first question: what is a weekly Torah portion? The five books of Moses, the Torah, are divided into 54 parts, or portions.

It is our custom as Jews to read and study and discuss one of these portions throughout the week and on Shabbat, so that through the year we cover the entire Torah. This yearly reading cycle begins and ends on the holiday of Simchat Torah, immediately after Sukhot, the feast of Tabernacle.

The division into portions is always the same, so that in every synagogue in the world, people are reading and studying the same text. The Torah portions names are called by the first word or by the central word in the first verse.

In ancient days, the first word was used to define the portion, because the Bible’s division into chapters and verses only happened in the year 1205. Before that, when someone wanted to point to a specific text in the Scriptures, they would use the first word or a few first words in the beginning of the passage. Till this very day, handwritten Torah scrolls are not divided into chapters and verses.

In the Gospel of Matthew 27, Yeshua spoke to his disciples from the cross and he said, “Eli Eli, lama sabachthani?” Which means, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

We can go into a long explanation about who had forsaken Yeshua and why. A long theological discussion, but there is another possibility to understand this passage: that Yeshua reminded His listeners the prophecies from Psalm 22, which begins with these words. Since the division into chapters and verses did not exist yet, Yeshua is simply quoting the beginning of the Psalm to direct his disciples to it. As an example for a religious Jew today, saying “vezot ha’bracha” (“this is the blessing”), it will be a reference to chapters 33 and 34 of Deuteronomy.

The tradition of an organized public reading of the Torah goes back to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah around 450 BC. Meaning that Yeshua was born into a tradition of systematic weekly readings.

There is also a list of traditional readings from the prophets, called the Haftara, that are attached to the Torah portions. There are different opinions on when and how it was established.

Most common in logical explanation is that Haftara readings were born during prohibition to read from the Torah, and came as a substitute to the forbidden Torah readings. Thus its name, Haftara, comes from the Hebrew word “release”. It releases us from the obligation to read the Torah.

The Haftara readings were customary in the synagogue in the days of Yeshua. In Luke 4, it is said that Yeshua went to the synagogue on Shabbat, as it was His custom, and He was called to read from the prophets.

This tradition is mentioned again in Acts chapter 13. After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to the same brothers: if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.

This text tells us that Paul went to the synagogue on Shabbat, and after the Torah and the prophet readings, the Torah portion and the Haftarah, he was invited to preach. Sharing a relevant message from the Torah and Haftara after their reading was a common practice then, as it is now.

A systematic study of the Scriptures is important, because faith can grow alongside with knowledge of the Bible. The more we know and understand from the word of God, the stronger and more mature our faith becomes.

We all ask ourselves the question as believers, as Yeshua’s disciples, what shall I do How does God want me to live my life?

These questions are serious and deep, and they could not be answered lightly. But the first disciples of the Messiah asked similar questions: what is required from new believers? How shall they live their life? The answer is given in Acts chapter 15, and it is referred to new believers among the nations.

The book of Acts tells us of a long discussion and many opinions on what to do with non-Jews who come to faith. When the leader of the first congregation, James or Jacob, concluded the deliberations with a plan first, do not make it difficult for people who are coming back to God.

We should not put in front of them additional obstacles, demands and rules. We cannot demand from new believers to keep the entire Bible immediately. Life of faith is a process which takes time.

So James decided on the first steps of this process. The idea is to let people use their spiritual energy for repentance. Later, there will be enough time to process and understand the word of God.

As the first step in this process, James issues a set of rules that are based on the seven laws of Noah. The seven laws of Noah are: do not worship idols, do not curse God, do not murder, do not commit adultery or sexual immorality, do not steal, do not eat flesh from a living animal, and establish a court of justice.

According to an ancient Jewish tradition, these universal laws apply to all people. The New Testament actually approves the seven laws of Noah tradition, and here in Acts chapter 15, we see the earliest witness to this concept of fundamental universal laws relevant to everyone.

So based on that tradition, James lays the foundation for a new believer. The journey of life and salvation is a long process which begins at the narrow gate. We start with one step at a time.

Later, we will learn the rest of the Scriptures step by step, week by week, when the Torah is read publicly, when we discuss and study each portion from the word of God. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in synagogues on every Shabbat every week.

The law of Moses, the Torah portion, is read publicly in synagogues every week. People will go and learn step by step. This ruling of James the apostle is still relevant, because today, in every city and every synagogue in the world, the same Torah portion is read out loud.

And I want to invite you to join us on this journey, which will last the entire year. We will go through the portions together. We will go through the entire Torah.

I would also like to encourage you, regardless of these studies, to read these portions by yourself as a family, and then discuss them together in an informal atmosphere. My suggestion is to make a cup of tea or a cup of coffee, cut some cake, and then talk to each other about the Torah portion.

I’m saying this because teaching kids the word of God starts with us parents. We raise our children in a protected atmosphere. As believers, parents, we do not expose our kids to wrong content. We control what they can watch on TV. We make sure to use clean language.

We teach them good manners. We encourage them to help others and to stay away from bad influence. We keep them protected, and rightfully so. The world outside is cold and lonely. It is ruthless and cruel.

It is right to protect our loved ones in the best way we can. However, the day will come and they will go out to the big world and it scares us.

We ask ourselves, did we prepare them for what is waiting outside? Did we feed them enough spiritual food? Did we give them a strong enough foundation to deal with this world and win?

According to some statistics, 60% to 80% of second-generation believers leave their congregation or church. Out of ten kids who grew up in the church, only two or three will remain there.

As adults, these numbers are hard to comprehend. What can we do about it? It all starts with us.

As parents, we are obligated to give our children and teenagers a strong biblical foundation. We have to challenge them with questions. We have to allow them to ask back and to study the Scriptures together.

This is why I recommend to study the Torah portions together as a family, to allow children to ask questions and to discuss a certain passage from the weekly readings.

So, in addition to your family discussions at home, I also invite you to join us. And study the portions together. And together we will go through the Torah as disciples of Yeshua, the Messiah.

See you in Genesis.

This video and transcript originally appeared on Netivyah and reposted with permission.