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.


VaYeshev: With great power, comes great responsibility.

The parasha begins the concluding drama of the book of Genesis, the story of Joseph and his 11 brothers, their estrangement and eventual reunion. Jacob is now settled in Canaan with all his family around him. Joseph is the favoured son, and to show his favour Jacob presents him with the multi-colored coat. Because of his haughty attitude, and their own jealousy, Joseph's brothers conspire to kill him. But big brother Reuben intervenes, and they decide instead to sell him into slavery. They grab him, throw him into a pit, and then sell him to a passing caravan en route to Egypt. They then tell their father Jacob that his beloved Joseph was attacked by a wild beast, presenting the bloody coat to him as proof. The Joseph narrative is then interrupted by the story of Jacob's son Judah, who is experiencing some problems of his own. His son has died, leaving his wife Tamar a childless widow. Following the tradition of Leverite marriage, he gives his next son to her to father a child, but the next son perishes childless as well. Having already lost two sons, Judah refuses to give his youngest son to Tamar to provide her with a child. Tamar then decides to take decisive action. She dresses like a prostitute, entices Judah to sleep with her, and thereby becomes pregnant. Judah is outraged when he finds out what has happened, but, in the end, Tamar is vindicated, and gives birth to twins. Joseph ends up in Egypt, serving in the home of Potiphar, the King's chief steward, and he quickly makes his way up the ranks of the servants to head up Potiphar's household. Potiphar's wife notices Joseph, and tries to seduce hum. When he refuses her advances, she has him thrown into prison, where he puts his skills as a dream interpreter to good use. He ends up interpreting the dreams of Pharoah's servants, which eventually brings him to the attention of Pharoah himself.

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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