Breishit (Genesis)The Book of Genesis is concerned with beginnings: the creation of the world and the origin of humanity. It quickly shifts its focus from universal history to the history of the Jewish people beginning in chapter 12, with the introduction of Abraham, the first Jew. The remainder of the book focuses on the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, and Joseph. The book ends with the entire family of Jacob descending into Egypt. There are fifty chapters, divided into twelve parashiyot. The parashiyot in Breishit are: Breishit, Noah, Lech Lecha, VaYera, Chaye Sarah, Toldot, VaYetze, VaYishlach, VaYeshev, Miketz, VaYigash and VaYechi.


Lech Lecha : It is not so much that Jews are the Chosen People, but that we are the Choosing People.

After explaining the origins of the universe and of humanity, in Lech Lecha the Torah now turns to the origins of what became known as the Jewish people. We are introduced to the powerful characters of Abraham and Sarah (originally known as Avram and Sarai before God changes their names) who are asked by God to leave their home in Haran and 'go' to the land that would be shown to them. In an act of great faith, they do go, with Lot their nephew and a large entourage, and arrive in Canaan, the land that God promises to Abraham and his descendants. But, due to famine, they are soon forced to leave Canaan. They go down to Egypt and then back again to Canaan, encountering adventure and adversity all along the way. God enters into a formal covenantal relationship with Abraham, promising to give him land and to make of his descendants a great people. Sarah and Abraham seem unable to conceive a child, and so, keeping with the custom of time, Sarah offers Hagar, her maidservant, to bear Abraham a son. Hagar does conceive, and gives birth to Ishmael, but this causes great jealousy in Sarah. As the portion closes, God instructs Abraham to circumcise himself and his son and all future male descendants as a sign of the eternal covenant.

Copyright: Kolel, The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.

These summaries and introductions are used with permission of Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning in Toronto, Canada. Kolel is a dynamic, pluralistic, egalitarian institution where men and women engage in Jewish learning which values both traditional and liberal interpretations. Kolel is a gateway into a richer expression of Judaism for each individual, wherever their journey of Jewish discovery may take them.

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