GENESIS – A Bird’s Eye View

GENESIS – In the Beginning

More and more people are beginning to understand the value of the regular study of the weekly Torah portion. Many older folk have said to me “Isn’t it too late for me to begin now?” My response is: “Better late than never!” That, also, is my response to learning Hebrew and exploring the Hebraic heritage. Why? In each case every effort you invest is rewarded many times over. 

In ‘A Bird’s Eye View,’ we examine an overview of each book as a whole, in order to lay a foundation for the study of the weekly portion. We will examine important themes and highlight  topics and aspects to look out for as you go through the book. It helps to see the bigger picture!

My hope, too, is that we approach the study of God’s Word with love, as a form of worship of Him. It’s how we read it that causes it to become a Torah of love. When we read it with an expectancy, with an ear to hear, we begin to identify God’s voice speaking to us as a loving Father longing to make His love and will known. We realize how relevant and applicable His Word is to what is happening in the world and in our personal lives.

So, let’s begin at the beginning, with the amazing book of GENESIS.

The Hebrew name of the book  of Genesis is the first word of the Bible – Breisheet, which means 

In the beginning…

The first seven chapters of the book are devoted to God’s creation of the universe. This includes the earth with all its vegetation, fish, birds and animals, which He declared to be good. All this was  crowned with the creation of man and woman in His image, to whom, unlike the animals, He gave the freedom of choice and moral responsibility. We then find the account of their fall from the Garden of Eden, and the first generation. Chapters 8 and 9 describe how God made a covenant with Noah and all mankind; chapters 10 and 11 contain the infamous story of the Tower of Babel and the genealogies of the sons of Noah.

The remainder of the book, from chapter 12, where God calls Abraham, to chapter 50, that tells of  the death of Joseph in Egypt, is the story of a family chosen by God to be His kingdom of priests and holy nation.  They would become the people through whom He would bring about the Redemption of all mankind.

The remaining 4 books of the Torah, from Exodus to Deuteronomy are about the further revelation of God, the proclamation of His Kingdom, and the revelation of His plan for this Redemption of the fallen world. 

Looking at the big picture of Genesis, it is clear that the account of the Creation of the natural world is not the main issue. It is rather an expansion of the concept of covenant and of sanctified and loving relationships.

We know that God is the God of all mankind, so what is so special about the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel and their descendants, the twelve tribes of Israel? They did not perform great miracles like Moses; they did not deliver great prophecies like Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other biblical prophets. They did not rule in Israel like David and Solomon. What we can derive from the text is the central reality of the eternal covenants God established with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

  1. They would have many descendants. )15:5; 17:1-8( 
  1. They would inherit the land of Canaan, the land God chose for Himself, to place His Name there, and promised to them as an eternal inheritance. As God promises Jacob, “The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.”  (35:12)

The vital connection between the people of Israel and the Land of Israel is set and confirmed three times in this the foundation of His Word.


Is there anything else of importance we can learn from the family of God in Genesis?

Yes! There are significant lessons of faith and life we can learn from the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families. For example, the great themes of sibling rivalry, of God’s direction and provision, of faith and prayer, justice and morality.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his commentary on the parashah, Vayashev, in Covenant & Conversation, 5777, points out that we also discover a continuing theme of the comparison between the people of the Abrahamic covenant and their pagan neighbors. It is not primarily about idolatry, but rather about adultery, promiscuity, rape, and sexually motivated violence. 

This factor, he says, gives us an entirely new way of thinking about the Abrahamic faith. Emunah, the Hebrew word generally translated as faith, does not have the same meaning as the English word faith. ‘Faith’ usually carries the meanings of belief, a set of principles, or a body of dogma. Rather, as illustrated in the lives of the patriarchs in Genesis, the Hebrew word emunah is mainly associated with faithfulness and relationship. It includes loyalty, commitment, trust, and acting with integrity. 

The central element highlighted in Genesis is marriage, and the holiness of sex in the context of marriage. Rabbi Sacks explains how it is marriage that:

 “…comes closest to the deep resonances of the biblical idea of covenant. A covenant is a mutual act of commitment in which two persons, honoring their differences, each respecting the dignity of the other, come together in a bond of love to join their destinies and chart a future together. When the prophets want to speak of a covenantal relationship between God and His people, they constantly use the metaphor of marriage.” 

As I see it, the major difference between the God of Abraham and other worldly gods – whether they be the Greek gods, Allah, the pantheon of Hindu gods, or the secular god of Self, is that He is a God of truth, love and faithfulness. He does not impose His will upon us by force or violence, but gently pursues us and draws us to Himself. He woos us by His Spirit of holiness. Why? because His heart desires a relationship of love and trust; not one of fear, domination, and subservience. 

For those in relationship with the God of Israel, our Father in Heaven, idolatry – the “putting first” or worship of anything other than God Himself – is a form of adultery, a breaking of the covenant of love and commitment. When the foundational truths of the Covenant revealed in His Word are disregarded, so is moral self restraint. Man’s physical and intellectual strength and power are worshipped instead, which always results in excesses, violence and abuse. This can apply in the context of a family or community, or on a wider national and international scale.

Genesis reminds us that faithfulness to God, and faithfulness to one another, means love, loyalty, and commitment to His revelation and vision as presented to us in His Word and demonstrated to us by Messiah Yeshua. This faithfulness then results, as we see in the lives of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in our participation with God in His unfolding plan of Redemption for all mankind. 

~ Keren Hannah Pryor

EXODUS / SHEMOT  – A Bird’s Eye View

Let us take a quick look back – the book of GENESIS described the beginning of Creation, the account of Adam and Eve and their exile from the Garden of Eden and the Presence of God. The biblical narrative then followed the generations, through until Noah. Then, from Abraham and Sarah, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs were predominant. Genesis records God’s dealings with individuals and a family. Now, in EXODUS, a larger shift takes place and we read about God’s dealings  with a people; a nation. 

The book begins with the description of the slavery of the people of Israel.  The family of Jacob has multiplied exceedingly during their exile in Egypt and have grown to be a people. We realize that this, in fact,  is the reason they were enslaved. A new Pharaoh, who had not known Joseph and Jacob, pronounced, “Behold, the people of Israel are too numerous and strong for us!” (1:9)  He feared their growth and strength and the oppression and subjugation began. 

The account then proceeds with God’s intervention in effecting their salvation from the bitter bondage through His mighty outstretched arm and great miracles.

The one who now steps into the spotlight of this great biblical narrative is Moses; whom God calls to lead His people out of Egypt. 

What is the ultimate purpose of the Exodus? Is it simply to set the slaves free to go their own way and do as they please? No, we are told in chapter 4, verse 22:

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”

And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. (4: 31)


In chapter 6, verses 6-8, we find seven “I wills”  promised by God. The number seven in Scripture always carries the meaning of completion and perfection. God says:

 I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, 

and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 

I will take you to be My people, 

and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 

I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 

I will give it to you for a possession. 

I am the Lord.’”



What is the reason we may deduce for the deliverance of HIs people?

The purpose is Relationship on two levels. One between a King-Redeemer and His people and the other between a Loving Father and His children.

The slaves, who only knew a Ruler as a cruel tyrant, now needed to learn the reality of God as a just, faithful King. Even further, to know Him as a Father and come to understand and to experience His  love. In this spacious and generous love they would come to find peace, healing, and rest; and, in addition, the truth that His children do not need to struggle to earn His love, nor fear to lose it, for nothing can separate us from His love. 

Our hearts were created for love, to receive it and to give it; to respond to His abundant and unconditional love with hearts filled with love, and worship. Worship is simply loving Him back – as totally and completely as we can! It’s from hearts of gratitude and love for Him that all true acts of goodness flow. 

Verse 3, in chapter 19, tells us: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.”

God doesn’t only set us free from whatever bondage we were in, He wants us to soar like eagles – to reach spiritual heights far above the level of the world and not to stay waddling around on the ground like turkeys! That’s one of the reasons that He tells us, in effect, 

“Always remember Yetziat Mitzraim – the Exodus from Egypt, that once you were slaves and weighed down in bondage but now you are set free to soar like an eagle!”


 With God’s great miracles, the Israelites are redeemed and the long journey through the wilderness begins. In a deeper spiritual sense, it is a search for Truth and the way back from the universal exile to the Garden and God’s Presence. It is a return to the place of intimate relationship where one can walk and talk with Him again – and also to learn and grow into the fulness of who He created each one to be.

The physical contrast between the wilderness and the Garden of Eden is stark.

The Garden of Eden was a beautiful setting for [man] this beloved creation of God. It was a place traversed by flowing, sparkling waters and filled with lush foliage and flora of dazzling color – pleasing to all the senses. …Man and beast lived in tranquil unity and the Spirit of God permeated the entire expanse. It was ideal. It was paradise.

The desert wilderness…appears as the very antithesis of the Garden of Eden. All its elements seem in opposition to man.It is desolate, seemingly empty and barren of life.  The desert in which the Israelites find themselves is described as , “a great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water. (Deuteronomy 8:15)

~ A Taste of Torah, Keren Hannah Pryor, 165

And yet, the wilderness is the place of Revelation where God chooses to give the revelation of Himself and His Kingdom; and there, too, He presents His gift to them of His Word – His Torah, or the teachings of how to live in His Kingdom.

We saw in Genesis how God met with Adam and Eve – a couple, two individuals, in the Garden; then how He met and spoke with individuals, for example: Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Jacob. Now, for the first time, He is coming down to meet with a whole people – the people He has chosen to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  It is another new beginning; stemming from the lowest place a person can sink – a slave with no recognized personal identity and no right to speak and act for oneself. The precious gift of “free will,” specifically given by God to human beings, had been removed by man. 

Now, the Israelites have been set free but we learn that the transition and transformation from an oppressed and enslaved people to a holy, kingdom of priests serving a loving God is not instantaneous, nor is it smooth – there is a lot of murmuring and complaining! However, with God’s help, it is sure and progressive, which is a great encouragement to each of us on our own spiritual journey.

The two major themes found in Exodus:  REDEMPTION and REVELATION.


By His great salvation and redemption of the Israelites out of Egypt, God proved He was the Master of the world and could accomplish anything, even outside HIs own established, natural order. The people of Israel were too weak and helpless to stand up and fight for themselves. Pharaoh, in similar manner to the great Caesars and dictatorial rulers throughout history, exalted himself as a god. To stand against the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh, God chose Moses, who is described as “…the most humble man who ever lived.”

It was a battle of wills between Pharaoh and God, and God demonstrated His power to effect salvation through the supernatural miracles of the plagues and the parting of the Reed Sea. However, in the continuing story of the Exodus, God wanted to convey to His people that true Redemption is not about what He can do. Miracles don’t last! For example, consider the manna in the wilderness. This was an amazing miracle – bread falling from the sky to feed you every day. As time went on, however, it was taken for granted and some people even complained that it was boring! 

God offers Salvation as a free and miraculous gift but, as the Israelites needed to learn, full Redemption is not passive. It requires our participation and effort – our working with God in the context of a personal and intimate relationship with Him. And, even if the situation is not resolved immediately, you know you are progressing towards it and, with His help, you can persevere and keep going. We can apply this concept on a personal level, and even on a national level, but God’s Full and Final Redemption will happen on a universal level. The overarching idea to grasp and understand is that our loving relationship with Him, and our partnering with God in the work He is doing, are both needed for the unfolding of His plan of Redemption.

God did not miraculously clear the promised land of the enemies and then supernaturally transport the people of Israel from Egypt to the Land and plant them there. No! They had to learn of Him, grow in His ways, outgrow their slave mentality and, in faith and faithfulness, press on towards the goal themselves. That’s how full Redemption comes. We do our part with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then God does His part. Even in Egypt, the Israelites needed to act in obedience to God’s instructions through Moses. They had to choose a lamb, slaughter it, and dab its blood on their doorposts. Then, on a specific night, they had to cook and eat it and be prepared to travel. They didn’t understand why, or know how God was going to do it, but they acted and then, in accord, He acted.

The world is in chaos right now. People are being enslaved by hatred and terrorism. And also by worldly excess on one hand, and extreme poverty on the other. God’s people should be crying and interceding – crying out in prayer to God for Israel and for His purposes and plan of Redemption to go forward. There can be no order and balance and true harmony without God’s peace and Presence. Baruch HaShem – Bless His Name, we still see evidence of it where Truth and Love are in operation. We can rejoice in knowing that He loves us and strengthens us to keep caring and growing and building and allowing the light of His Truth – of His Word and Mashiach, Messiah, to shine and break through where there is darkness in the world.


The important element God was providing HIs people with at Sinai was VISION.

A vision of Himself – not as a hard, unforgiving judge but as a faithful, loving Father.

A vision for themselves – not as slaves, bound, helpless, worthless, but as beloved children, holy partners with God in His Kingdom.

A vision of the Land He promised – that, although now distant and difficult to inhabit, would one day become again the Garden of Eden.

When we receive and understand this vision from God as two-fold – initially for our personal lives and also as a vision for His wider Kingdom and universal purposes – then this vision becomes our spirit’s home and we can grow in every way, spiritually and physically, in peace and joy.

 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps God’s law,
happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)

Without the greater vision of God our spiritual “homes” can become limiting prisons of negative thoughts and frustrated emotions. We end up, as the Israelites often did – losing faith, not trusting God with gratitude, but simply murmuring and complaining.

When faced with the inevitable challenges and disappointments of life, we can ask ourselves the tough questions, for example “Why is it so hard?” “Why am I not there yet?” “Why don’t I understand God’s ways?” We can find an answer at Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush! 

God says to him: “FIRST remove your sandals (na’alaim in Hebrew) from your feet (reglaiim).”
The Hebrew words can also be read: First remove the na’alim (locks) from your regalim (habits).

Unlock yourself from the negative habits that chain you down and limit you. Then you can walk in My ways and worship me more fully.

Our Abba Father tells us: “You were created to be beautiful, in a beautiful setting, enjoying great beauty!” But, because this is a broken world that needs tikkun – repair, we are not seeing the fullness of that yet. Thankfully, by His grace, we do get tastes and glimpses of that beauty; however, we need to keep the central vision alive in our souls and know that the full and final Redemption will come to pass at its appointed time. Messiah will return to Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David to establish and rule as King over His Father’s Kingdom.

We need to keep the eternal perspective, the bird’s eye view, of Redemption and hold onto the vision of the World to Come – Olam HaBa. At the same time, however, to quote Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest:

“We look for visions and …the thunder of God’s power, and all the time He is in the commonplace things and people around us!” 

It is our “hands on” task on this earth, to participate in tikkun olam – the healing of the world, in every little thing that our Father gives into our hands to do. The whole world is in exile from the Garden of God and our constant aim and effort must be working with Him towards the full and final Redemption. The way to do that is always in the everyday little things done in love for His glory.

~ Keren Hannah

Artwork: Yoram Raanan, Israel

DEUTERONOMY – A Bird’s Eye View


Enjoy an overview of the amazing final book of the Torah – Deuteronomy / Devarim – Words.


Deuteronomy is the fifth and final book of the Torah. It is a compilation of the last discourses given by Moses to the nation of Israel before his death, when they had reached the border of the Land of Israel.  The original Hebrew name of the book was Mishnei Torah, or Repetition of the Torah. Greek speaking Jews, in the Septuagint, translated it as Deuteronomian (literally meaning The Second Law), which then was adopted in Latin as Deuteronomium and into English as Deuteronomy. 

Later, the Hebrew name of a book, or Torah portion, was taken from words in the opening sentence of the book or parashah. In this case, the book begins, “Eleh ha’devarim”… These are the words.”

Moses’ first discourse summarizes the history of the nation during their 40 year journey through the wilderness on the way from Egypt to the Land G-d had promised their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the following two discourses, Moses predominantly presents the Israelites with guidance and instructions on how to live as the people of G-d after they were settled in the Land. Moshe knew, both rationally and through his wisdom and experience,  the many physical, cultural, and spiritual challenges the Israelites would be faced with while dwelling among the surrounding pagan nations. He also knew, prophetically, that they would be drawn into idolatry and fall away from God and His ways.

We can appreciate Moshe’s wisdom as a teacher. Repetition and revision are important tools in helping us to retain what we have learned. He also emphasizes the fact that the great, multi-dimensional truths of G-d’s Word constantly need to be learned anew, and that they always would yield deeper and richer insights. On closer inspection, while it is very practical and instructional for the daily life of the nation, we find that Devarim is the most prophetic of the 5 books of Torah. Much of Moses’ discourse is a distillation and a review of the previous teachings but 70% is new, because it applies to their future in the Land and highlights the bond between the people and the Land.  Interestingly, Devarim is the book most quoted by Yeshua.


“First mention” is an important element in exegesis of the biblical text. The first subject Moses reviews is the appointment of judges. He explains the importance of instituting a legal system and the role of judges. He tells them, “And I commanded your judges at that time saying, ‘Hear disputes between your brothers and judge justly between a man and his brother…’ (1:16). The literal meaning of the word ‘justly’ is to make sure that the judgment is fair and honest.

In an article in the Jerusalem Post, entitled Compassion and Justice, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites in Jerusalem, points out an added interpretation of the word is “by compromise.” This added nuance is significant. It reveals that the judges should not base their decisions on absolute strict justice – the letter of the law set in stone, as it were. They should temper the argument, the case being presented, with rachamim – mercy, and attempt to encourage the litigants on both sides to give in a little – to soften their hearts and to compromise their demands.

Interestingly, particularly in the light of Tisha B’Av (9th Av), which is the fast day marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the Sages in the Talmud say that: “Jerusalem was destroyed because people there insisted on their rights based on the full letter of the law, and were not willing to be lenient.” (Tractate Baba Metzria, daf 30). Rabbi Rabinowitz highlights the fact that a person should rise above the natural position of demanding what he thinks he deserves. One’s attitude should be softer, more inclusive and compassionate. This trait of mercy is woven through the Word of G-d, because this is the correct way to live – the way that reflects our Father’s character and heart.  Justice is balanced with mercy. Thus we find the great themes of Devarim, just as through the whole Word of G-d, are justice, righteousness, and mercy. This is highlighted in the first haftarah (prophetic portion ) of Devarim. Isaiah 1:27, “Zion shall be redeemed through justice and her penitent through righteousness.”


Moses, at the time of  this delivery of his final series of teachings, was 120 years old. It took 36 days (from 1 Shevat to 6 Adar, the day of his death). The teachings and iteration of the Covenants G-d had made with His people fill the bulk of the book – chapters 1 – 30. The remainder of the book, chapters 31 -33, describe the last days of Moses, and his farewell address to the children of Israel. We are told that Moses’ “eyes were not dim” and his natural natural strength was unabated., but he says, “I am no longer able to go out and to come in” ( 31:32). He could no longer accompany them on their journey and enter the Land of Promise with them; but he encourages them and says; “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear nor be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your G-d who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you!” (31:6).

We hear a beautiful echo of this in the gospel of John (14:7) when Yeshua was addressing his disciples before going to his death, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” He was preparing them to go out into the gentile, pagan world to share his message of the Kingdom of G-d and the way of repentance and into relationship with the Father of all. He also adds, “I will never leave you nor forsake you but will be with you until the end of the age!” 


Finally, in Devarim , the Lord exhorts Moses to write his farewell song and to teach it to the children of Israel. The song would be a testimony to the everlasting Presence and goodness of G-d and, when they went astray, it would remind them of His merciful gift of teshuvah – repentance, . They would always have the opportunity to repent of their ways and to return to their Father,  the G-d of Israel. In the penultimate parashah, Ha’azinu – Give Ear, (Ch. 32), Moses delivers his song to the Israelites on the last day of his life. It is an inspired poem of stirring beauty. His prophetic words describe the future destiny of G-d’s people. We realize that all history is the revelation and expression of our Father G-d’s love and care. The song opens with the appointment of heaven and earth as witnesses and guarantees of G-d’s everlasting covenant with Israel. “Give ear –ha’azinu, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear – tish’mah the word of my mouth.”

Next comes a glorious outburst of praise, describing the true character of G-d and His justice, faithfulness and pure righteousness.

“Ascribe greatness to our G-d the Rock; His work is perfect for all His ways are just. A   G-d of faithfulness, without iniquity; righteous and upright is He.” (32:3-4).

Sadly, the song also proclaims that the people would grow “fat and prosperous” and forsake and even scoff at G-d. They would become spiritually bent and corrupt and forsake the righteous ways of His Word. G-d, however, would remain faithful and the unchanging Rock of their Salvation. If they will return to Him in true repentance, He will always be there to lift them up and to straighten their crooked ways.  This truth of G-d’s unfailing love for His people is echoed by the prophet Hosea (14:1-2): “Return, O Israel, unto the Lord your G-d, for you have been stubborn because of your iniquity. Take with you WORDS (DEVARIM) and return to the Lord.”

Hosea points out that G-d does not want animal sacrifices, but longs to hear words of confession and repentance offered from sincere hearts. The prophet emphasizes the unbreakable 3-cord strand, the indelible connection, between the G-d of Israel and His Word, the children of Israel, and the land of Israel. Hosea confirms that when they turn from the idolatry of the work of their hands, the Lord promises to heal and restore the children of Israel. Then they will flourish in His love, and their Land will be healed. Once again it will produce grain and “blossom as the vine”. And Israel will become convinced that : “The ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them.” (14:9)


After the song, the Torah concludes in Ch. 33 with Moses’ blessing – in the final parashah Ve’zot Ha’bracha, which begins, “And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of  G-d, blessed the people of Israel before his death.” Moses is about to set out on his final ascent. He goes alone to meet with his G-d, just as he did on Mount Sinai. He passes through the camp as a father taking leave of his children, and he blesses the various tribes. Finally, he raise his hands over the whole multitude for his last general blessing, one of great beauty, encouragement, and comfort. 

“There is none like G-d, O Israel, Who reads through the heavens to your help. The eternal G-d is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

As we conclude the Torah Cycle with the Festival of Simchat Torah, “The Joy of Torah,” we can celebrate Messiah Yeshua’s life as the Torah made flesh. The one who fulfilled all the just requirements of the Torah and was obedient to the Father’s will even unto the cursed death on a tree, so that all peoples of all the nations, through his, could have access to eternal and abundant life as children of the Father in the Kingdom of G-d. In his letter to believers in Rome, the apostle Paul highlights the mission of Yeshua to the world. In Romans 15:8-10, he describes how, Yeshua came as a suffering servant to Israel, those already in the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “To show G-d’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, AND in order that the gentiles might glorify G-d for His mercy.

As it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise You among the gentiles, and sing to Your Name.’ And again as it is said, ‘Rejoice, O gentiles, together with His people!” Amen! 

At the close of every book of Torah we proclaim: 

Chazak, Chazak, veNitchazek!

Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!   

If you would like to  explore more in-depth commentary of Deuteronomy/Devarim,  you can order a copy of  A TASTE OF TORAH   at

Torah Portion Highlights – LEVITICUS: Kedoshim – Bechukotai




Kedoshim – Holy      

Kedoshim, at the mid-point of the book of Vayikra/Leviticus, also is the mid-point of the five books of Moses. As the fulcrum on which the Torah balances, one would expect it to highlight the heart of this precious foundation of the Word of God; and indeed it does. This is considered one of the richest and most exalted portions in the Hebrew Scriptures.

It begins with the words: Kedoshim te’hiyu – “You shall be holy!” The pronoun here is plural, indicating that it is the people of Israel who shall be holy. The command to be holy is repeated three more times in this parasha (20:7, 8, 26), indicating God’s intent that this message be very clear. Chapters 19 and 20 list deeds that are considered outward reflections of holiness. The commandments, however, are not merely things to do in order to “be holy.” Ideally, one’s obedience to them will be outward reflections of a loving relationship with the Giver of the commandments; a relationship initiated by God Himself, who, in a gift of His love, has called us and longs constantly to draw us closer to Himself.

 Emor – Say  

Emor, say, to My people: They shall be holy to their G-d and not profane the Name of their G-d… (Lev. 21:6). Those who serve G-d as a “kingdom of priests” are obligated to act in a way that honors and sanctifies His Name. This is called in Hebrew kiddush haShem (sanctification of the Name), the obverse of which is chillul haShem (desecration of the Name). The book of Leviticus, initially called Torat Kohanim, Instructions/guidance for Priests, outlines that behavior. Included in this portion is the commandment to count seven full weeks from Pesach/Passover to Shavuot/Pentecost (23:15). It relates to the ancient wedding ceremony when, after the bridal agreement was reached, a bridegroom presented his bride with a ketubah, marriage contract to seal the betrothal. Likewise, Shavuot is the completion of the Exodus at Passover. As a sign of the covenant of love between God and His people, the betrothal is sealed.

Behar – On Mount Sinai

The fiftieth day, a day of yovel, or jubilee, was the day be’har, when the mountain trembled at the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn or trumpet) of the Lord and fire flashed forth and a cloud of glory covered the Mount. G-d spoke and revealed Himself to His people and presented them with His Word, the Torah. It was the awesome day of uniting in Covenant relationship.

The parasha contains the visionary concepts of the Shmitah year, every seven years, and the Yovel -Jubilee year every fifty years. Both are connected with the land of Israel itself. During the Shmitah year no work is to be done on the land, it too has a Shabbat and rests. On the Jubilee year any land sold by a farmer in order to pay his debts is returned to him. This ensures that the family are not condemned to permanent impoverishment.

Two spiritual principles are made evident in these commands from God:

  1. All the earth, in a general sense, but specifically the Land of Israel, belongs to God. Individuals do not have the right to permanently possess either land or people.
  2. No human being should be condemned to permanent servitude or slavery. A way should always be available whereby he can be reinstated to a position of dignity.

 Bechukotai – In My Statutes

In the opening verse of Bechukotai a remarkable connection is made between the laws of nature and the Law, or Torah, of G-d. It indicates that the productivity of the earth depends upon whether G-d’s Word is being studied and walked out in obedience in the lives of His people. Yeshua came to embody this Word, the Torah, of the Father and those who ‘walk’ after him are enabled by the Spirit of G-d to walk in paths of righteousness and peace. The promise in Ezekiel 36:27 echoes the opening words of this parasha: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause [enable] you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

This marks the conclusion of the book of Leviticus / Vayikra. 

Chazak, chazak ve’nitchazek!

Be strong, be strong, and may we continue to strengthen one another in our study and understanding of His Holy Word.

Olive Branch


Based on A Taste of Torah available via

Torah Portion Highlights – LEVITICUS: Sh’mini – Acherei Mot



Sh’mini – Eighth 

This parasha outlines the dietary laws and lists the foods that are kosher (fit to eat as food) and those that are not. Why should we bother with the laws of kashrut at all? People can offer good reasons: The commands were given by God. They have proven to be good for one’s health and afford protection from certain diseases. They offer those who serve the God of Israel a mark of personal and group identity. David Blumenthal offers an interesting point, in his book, God at the Center, Meditations on Jewish Spirituality, he says: “They are part of a mystery and create a sacramental aura to all eating.”

Blumenthal adds a further intriguing reason, with reference to the teachings of Levi Yitzchak on the words of Nachmanides, (the Ramban) another renowned medieval commentator, who said: “The reason the Torah forbade us these animals is that… in the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will speak with each person of Israel, as it says: “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 3:1). Levi Yitzchak noted: “From this we learn that… it is not fitting that the mouth which will speak with Him should eat forbidden foods. According to this view, keeping kosher is a way of preparing oneself by cultivating the bodily habits that will make one a fit vessel for the Divine Presence.“

This serves to highlight the significance of the mouth. The words we speak are of supreme import and can carry life or death. The mouth also is a conduit for life-maintaining sustenance to the body. As Blumenthal emphasizes: “What one eats counts. What one says counts.”

Tazria – Conceived  

Tazria contains lengthy discussion of the states of tahor and tamei – being ritually pure or impure. The conditions whereby a person could be proclaimed tamei, were somehow linked with sin and/or death.  For example, if someone touched a dead body they were rendered tamei for a day and needed to wash themselves and their clothes before being tahor once more. In this case there is no sin involved. Unless, God forbid, they had committed murder! If a person developed a certain skin affliction or their house had a mold like growth on the walls [not regular disorders, but ‘supernatural’ growth identified by the kohen] they and it were declared tamei and cleansing procedures were to be followed. These rituals all served to impress upon God’s people the spiritual reality that sin and death are in opposition to life and righteousness. The profane conflicts with the holy, and they cannot coexist. Sin separates us from the life of God’s Presence.

As it was then, the challenge of walking in the Kingdom of God, which is Life, as opposed to the kingdom of darkness, which is death, is constantly before us  and our daily choices affect our eternal rewards.  We can rejoice that our Father God has given us the victory over sin and death through our Lord and Messiah Yeshua. The elements that would render us tamei are done away with in Him and, as we follow after and abide in Him, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Metzora – Leper  

metzora is not technically a ‘leper’ as the word indicates today, rather it is one who was sent outside the camp or community for a set time once they were declared ritually unclean by a kohen (priest). The condition basically was a spiritual one; in particular, according to ancient Jewish commentary, the sin of lashon ha’rah – undue slander and gossip stemming from arrogance.

A clear illustration of this is included in the purification ceremony we see described in this week’s portion. Once the metzora has repented and is declared healed by a kohen, he is able to return to the community after seven days. On the eighth day he brings offerings to the kohen and regains admittance into the Holy Temple – the Sanctuary of the Presence of God. We read in Matthew 8:2-4 how Yeshua healed a leper/metzora and then sent him to a kohen to complete the final ritual.

The kohen completes the purification by anointing – first with blood of the guilt offering then with oil – the metzora’s right ear lobe: indicating his willingness to hear God’s Word; the thumb of his right hand: submission of his actions to God; and the big toe of his right foot: submission of all his “comings and goings” to the Lord. Finally the kohen uses the remaining oil to anoint his head, indicating that his mind and whole being now are yielded to God.

 Acherei Mot – After the Death

In the biblical Festival Cycle, the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, takes place at the holiest place in the world on the holiest day of the year. This is the only day that the High Priest entered through the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies – the inner sanctum that housed the Ark of the Covenant. He took with him the blood of the offering, which he sprinkled on the cover of the Ark and in front of it. This was an awe-inspiring part of the Yom Kippur ritual. If the High Priest, in this case Aaron, did not enter the Holy of Holies in a state of purity, tahor, he stood to suffer the same fate as his sons, Nadav and Avihu, to whose death the title Acaherei Mot refers. It is said that, as a precaution, a cord was tied to one of the High Priest’s ankles so that, in the event of his death, the priests could retrieve his body!

Yom Kippur, however, is not the focus in this parasha. The emphasis rather is upon the role of the priests and their responsibility in preparing and purifying themselves and the Sanctuary for the awesome occasion. A passage from the parasha: chapter 16:4ff, is the Torah reading for the Yom Kippur morning service in synagogues. The passage is located in the annual reading cycle exactly six months before and six months after Yom Kippur. This indicates that, as the redeemed of God, it is fitting to walk throughout the year in an attitude of repentance and in awareness of our dependence upon the One who is the giver of, the reason for, and the purpose of life itself.

 ©  Keren Hannah Pryor –, 2014

Based on A Taste of Torah available via

Torah Portion Highlights – Exodus / Leviticus




Vayakhel – And Assembled 

In English translation, Vayak’hel is rendered: “and (Moses) assembled (or gathered).” From the Hebrew root (k,h,l), the word kahal is derived, meaning congregation or gathering. The calling of an assembly usually is for an important purpose, and this was no exception. The Lord had given Moses specific words of instruction for the people and they now gathered to pay close attention. All the materials were needed before building could commence, and Moses gave the people of Israel the opportunity to contribute whatever they could in goods and service as “an offering to the Lord.” They would need a “willing and generous heart” to give what was needed. After Moses dismissed them, we can imagine he waited in eager anticipation to see how they would react. How do we react to a call from the Lord? Do we respond with willing and generous hearts?

Pekudei – Accounts

The Hebrew word Pekudei means ‘accounts’ or inventory. As we read the account of the Tabernacle and its construction we are struck by the accounting that is made. Obviously, details are important to God! All we have, including our life, is from our Father and we will need to give an account when we return it to Him. Yeshua illustrated this principle clearly in the parable of the ‘talents’ (Matt. 25:14-30). We read of the master that “…he settled accounts!” May He find us to be faithful and responsible servants.

This marks the conclusion of the book of Exodus / Shemot.

Chazak, chazak ve’nitchazek!

Be strong, be strong, and may we continue to strengthen one another in our study and understanding of His Holy Word.

Olive Branch


Leviticus or Vayikra is the shortest of the five books and is set in the center, at the heart as it were, of the Torah. It is poised between the revelation of God at Sinai, which culminates in the construction of His Tabernacle, and the subsequent wanderings in the wilderness. The opening portion, or parasha, includes the system of sacrificial offerings (korbanot). Why does God need sacrifices at all? One answer can be found in the Hebrew word itself. Korban is derived from the root word karav – to come close or draw near. The offering of the korban is then an act that allows one to draw closer to God. The heart of korban is teshuvah – repentance, which literally means to return – to restore something to its proper place. Selah! (Pause and think about that!)

Tzav – Command    

The name Tzav is related to the word mitzvah, commandment (plural mitzvot). Traditionally, God gave 613 commandments in the Torah. Of these, 248 are positive (things to do) and 365 are negative (things not to do). Interestingly, they correspond to the 248 bones and the 365 muscles of the human body – indicating that one should obey the commandments with all of one’s might!  It is physically impossible, however, for one person to obey all the 613 commands, as some apply only to priests, others only to men or to women, and some can be obeyed only when living in the Land of Israel. This reminds us that a whole people, working together as one Body, is required to perfectly fulfil the commands and directions of God that bring peace and life. The outworking of God’s Kingdom on earth was never intended to be a one-man operation.

When Jewish boys reach the age of 13, and girls the age of 12, they celebrate their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah respectively (literally: Son, or Daughter, of the Commandment). The ceremony marks a significant threshold of life and, with joy and honor, announces that they have reached the age of personal accountability for their deeds and spiritual growth. Living a life imbued with Torah, the teachings of God, and of mitzvot, doing what He commands in loving, joyful obedience, is considered in Judaism the most rewarding and fulfilling life  – a life filled with His blessing.

In the Brit Chadasha (New or Renewed Covenant). Yeshua says: “If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love… My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:10-12).  He condenses all God’s commands into the one, which is to be the foundation for them all.

© Keren Hannah Pryor –

Based on ‘A Taste of Torah‘ by Keren Hannah – available at

Artwork: Yoram Raanan,

Torah Portion Highlights – February 2016




Mishpatim – Judgments      

Mishpatim contains the first clear set of commandments, judgments or ordinances, given by God, which detail how He desires His covenant people to live. They illustrate that the God of Israel is passionate about justice, honesty, and morality.

In the flow of ordinances we find mention of the three major annual Feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles). The New Testament records the wondrous fulfilment of the first two in Yeshua, Mashiach ben Yosef – Messiah son of Joseph. Sukkot, or the Feast of Tabernacles, however, is a prophetic celebration of the End of the Age, when God will gather in His final, full harvest and there will be joy unspeakable at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-9) when Yeshua returns to reign as Mashiach ben David – Messiah son of David .

At the close of the portion we see Moses once again ascending the holy mountain, which still is covered with a thick cloud of God’s Presence. He will receive the stone tablets inscribed by the “finger of God” (31:18) with the Ten Words—the encapsulation of the Torah of God. We can imagine the intense delight Moses enjoyed for 40 days and nights as he basked in the glory of the Presence of God; as he saw Him “face to face” and re- ceived further instruction to share with His people.


 Terumah – Heave Offering

When Moses was called once more to ascend Mount Sinai, the Israelites no doubt watched in awe as he disappeared into the cloud and fire of God’s Presence. What great revelation would he now receive on behalf of the Almighty’s newly formed Covenant People? This week’s portion, Terumah, tells us that God had a very practical construction project in mind. He presents Moses with the blueprint containing detailed instructions including materials, items of furniture and their design. He wanted Israel to build Him a home! “Exactly as I show you – the pattern of the Tabernacle [Mishkan] and the pattern of all its furnishings – so shall you make it” (25:1-9).

The word ‘neighbor,’ shakhen, is from the same root as Mishkan, which indicates the close proximity God wants to enjoy with His people. Supplies for the construction of the Mishkan are to be given by the people as a free-will gift (terumah– uplifted donation/heave offering). Terumah is derived from the root “to be exalted and lifted up” – to be set apart for higher purposes. Any donations, tithes, or terumot given happily and freely lifted up to the Lord, including our hearts and lives, are set apart for His higher purposes.


 Tetzaveh – You Shall Command  

In the portion Tetzaveh the name of Moses is not mentioned. The primary focus now shifts to his brother, Aaron, whom God appoints as High Priest. Aaron and his sons are to be instituted and anointed to serve as kohanim (priests) before God in the Holy Tabernacle of His Presence. Moses irrefutably is the leader of the people, as well as God’s prophet and teacher of Torah (His instruction and guidance). Now, in the office of High Priest, Aaron is given the place of intermediary between God and His people in the procedures of worship and service in the Mishkan.

A beautiful prayer in the Daily Prayer Book, the Siddur, entitled: Yah Eli (Yah is my God), contains a poetic paragraph describing the connection between the Tabernacle and the heart: “The Lord of Hosts, with abundant miracles He connected His entire Tabernacle; in the paths of the heart may it blossom. The Rock, His work is perfect! Eternally will I praise You saying, ‘Praiseworthy are those who dwell in Your house’.”

We see a lovely echo in Ephesians: “…Yeshua the Messiah is the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God, by the Spirit” (2:22).

Ki Tissa – When You Take  

The primary focus of Ki Tissa, is Shabbat, the Sabbath. The most dramatic feature, however, is the idolatrous worship of the Golden Calf. Through this sin of idol worship the redeemed people of God cut themselves off from His Presence.

In the pattern of the Scriptures before and after their idolatrous worship [Tabernacle – Shabbat – Sin of Golden Calf – Sabbath – Tabernacle] we see that, together with the intercession of Moses on their behalf, the Lord already had provided a two-fold way of repentance and return. One, the Sanctuary of His Dwelling with the worship and services of the priests and, the other, the Sabbath, when His people, as a kingdom of priests, also can serve God in a special way in the “small sanctuaries” of their homes.

In the pattern noted above another concept is highlighted— the connection between “holy place” and “holy time”. Both are obviously of great importance, but God emphasizes that Shab- bat takes precedence over the Sanctuary. This special day is the first thing He calls holy. The “Sanctuary in Time” that we are to build takes priority over the construction of the physical Temple. God Himself sets the example, as we see at the time of the Creation: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He ceased from all the work of creating that He had done” (Genesis 2:3).

God says: “Be still and know that I Am God!” (Psalm 46:10). We need to “still” our busy minds and restless hearts and rest in His Presence. When we meet with Him at these appointed times in the rest and peace of the Lord of the Sabbath, Yeshua, we come to know our Father God with ever-increasing intimacy. Then we are enabled all the more to see and to savor His Presence in our lives.

~Keren Hannah Pryor 

Based on A Taste of Torah  available via

©  Keren Hannah Pryor –, 2014

Torah Portion Highlights – EXODUS : Shemot – Yitro


Week 1 – Shemot – Names

The focal point of this second book of the Torah is the Exodus from Egypt, which happened at a particular time in ancient history and yet, in each generation, the story is ever new. The lessons to be learnt and the meanings to be discovered are vitally real and accessible to each individual soul at the moment of searching.

The name of the second book of the Torah and this week’s portion is taken from the first verse’s listing of the Hebrew names (shemot) of the sons of Israel. As a result of Pharaoh’s senseless hatred and persecution (in what, in effect, is the first record of deliberate Anti-Semitism), these descendants of Jacob have lost their identity and become nameless slaves. Then a son is born to one of these lowly enslaved families, whose name will rise as a star in the history of the Jewish people and the nations—Moses, Moshe. God will choose this man to lead His people from the exile of Egypt into freedom and redemption.

We read that Moses, after his flight from Egypt into the Midian wilderness, marries Zipporah, the daughter of Jethro the wise Midianite priest, and serves his father-in-law by tending his sheep. Moses leads a settled,contented life until the day he encounters God in a bush that is burning but not consumed.

God speaks to him from the heart of the flames. He calls Moses to return to Egypt and to demand that Pharaoh let the Israelite people go that they might worship God in the desert. He assures Moses that He will be with him and reveals His Name to him: YHWH (yod, heh, vav, heh) the God who was who He was, is who He is, and will be who He will be. He is the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the God of Israel—yesterday, today, and forever.

Week 2 – Va’era – And I Appeared

The stage is set for a dramatic confrontation between the God of Israel and the ruler of the then known world—Pharaoh. God warns Moses that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened and he will not be willing to hear them. A battle of wills is imminent but the outcome will demonstrate the extent of God’s power above the gods of Egypt, chief of which is Pharaoh himself.

The simple, yet vital, tool of the shepherd in Moses’ hand becomes the symbol of God’s authority. A carved branch of wood is transformed to bear the miraculous power of the Almighty Creator of the universe. Through the process of the ten plagues God progressively demonstrates His power as Creator over water and land, over animals and people, and over life and death. Ultimately Pharaoh himself, although unwillingly, will also bow to His Name.

The four expressions in chapter 6, verses 6-7, represent the progressive stages of redemption from Egypt and provide the basis for the four cups of wine at the Passover Seder.

Ve’hotzati I will bring you out. God Himself will do it. The role of the people is one ofobedience in following His guidance. We only need to hear and to obey His voice; God does the rest.

I will rescue you. The Hebrew verb hitzil implies rescue from an impendingdanger. He goes before us to prepare the way, and is our protection and strength in times of trouble.

I will redeem you. Ga’al denotes redemption from an existing destructive process. The go’el, redeemer, steps in on behalf of an indebted or enslaved kinsman to pay the ransom and to gain his release. This role of Kinsman Redeemer in the wider universal application is perfectly filled by Messiah Yeshua.

I will take you to Myself as a people. This is the first statement of Israel’s destiny as a people set apart unto God. Their existence is founded upon Him and their destiny inextricably bound up with Him. Israel is His, forever.

Week 3 – Bo – Come      

In Genesis, God commands Abraham: “Lech! Go! Go… to the land that I will show you.”     It is a command that calls for the obedience of faith. Now God says to Moses: “Bo! Come!” He says, in effect: “Come to Me and we will go to Pharaoh together.” God is with him. Moses simply needs to join Him and cooperate with the plan already set in place.

Our Father has a unique plan for each of His children. When He calls us to participate in His plan we can only respond in loving trust, no matter the negative opposition or the challenging obstacles placed in our way.

The parasha contains an interesting emphasis on the new month, Aviv (Spring) that begins on the eve of the Exodus. “This month shall be for you the beginning of months (Rosh Chodashim); it shall be the first month of the year for you” (12:2). The Exodus from Egypt marks a fresh beginning in the history of mankind, and Israel is now given a new calendar based on the lunar cycle. Each new moon will mark the start of a new month, Rosh Chodesh.


Week 4 – BeShalach – When He Sent

BeShalach contains the inspiring Song of Moses sung at the edge of the Sea of Reeds. It is a spontaneous outburst of praise and rejoicing at the faithfulness of the God of Israel, evidenced in their deliverance from Pharaoh’s army by His miraculous act of redemption. In clear recognition of His mighty power and in surprised, joyful knowledge of His great love and protection, the Israelites now can say, “Zeh Eli! This is my God!” (Ex.15:2).

The bitterness of the past is redeemed and they are drawn to dance, and then called to walk, in the light of His Divine countenance. In the Song of praise they are raised to a higher place of beauty, hope and destiny as a people.

The Song of Moses gives voice to the desire of God’s heart that His people be the Temple of His Presence; that the nation be holy—set apart unto Him, and the individuals be priests in His service. When the only-too-human Israelites fall short of this aspiration, God gives detailed instructions for building the physical Tabernacle, the blueprint for the later Temple.

The newly birthed Israelites now move into the wilderness. The wonder and inspiration of their deliverance soon wanes and the murmuring and complaining begin. During three days of journeying they find no water and they criticize Moses. By means of another miracle Moses makes bitter water sweet. Next they grumble and complain of hunger. God responds by providing quails and manna—bread from heaven (16:12- 15). They are instructed to gather sufficient manna early each morning to satisfy their need for the day. On the sixth day they are to collect a double portion, to provide enough for the following day. This would be the Sabbath, on which they were to rest and do no work, but set it apart as holy to the Lord—a time of special meeting with Him (16:23).

At the culmination of the parasha they encounter an enemy; one who represents those who would seek the destruction of the people Israel throughout history—the evil Amalek.


Week 5 – Yitro – Jethro 

Yitro opens with an account of the arrival of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, together with Moses’ wife Zipporah and their two sons. As well as a family reunion it is a significant spiritual turning point for Jethro, a renowned priest in Midian. He has recognized the power of the God of Israel and he desires to unite his spiritual destiny with that of the Israelites.

The great highlight this week is the revelation of God and His Word at Mount Sinai. It is seven weeks, forty-nine days, since the deliverance from Egypt and, at the invitation of God, His people are prepared to meet with Him. They hear an extended blast of the Divine shofar, thunder booms, lightning flashes and, as tongues of flame shoot forth above them, God speaks the Ten Words that will change the world. The earth and the people tremble in fear. It is the first Pentecost.

The foundation charter, as it were, of God’s Kingdom is first presented here at Mount Sinai, in the magnificent Ten Words. They encapsulate the truth, wisdom, guidance and instruction of the complete Word of God and, in essence, define the yoke of His Kingdom. Thus Yeshua, the Incarnation of this Word, could say: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Upon the willing acceptance of this yoke of the Kingdom of God, one discovers it is a yoke of unfathomable love. Every word of instruction is for the good and highest well being of the subjects of the King.

~Keren Hannah Pryor 

Based on A Taste of Torah  available via