The book of Genesis, Sefer Bereishit, is the first of the Five Books of Moses. Bereishit begins with a detailed description of the creation of the world. It continues with a brief history of the generations from Adam until Abraham, and then focuses on the lives of the Jewish patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, culminating with the Joseph story and the descent of the family of Jacob to Egypt.
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the famed medieval commentator known by his acronym Rashi, asks a compelling question. If the Torah is essentially a book of law, why did God choose to start it with the stories of creation? Would it not have made more sense to begin with the first law commanded to the Jewish people? Quoting the verse from Psalms 111:6, Rashi responds “The strength of His works He related to His people, to give them the inheritance of the nations.” He explains that the Lord began His Torah with Creation in order to give the people of Israel a response to anyone who accuses them of stealing the Land of Israel. Since God is the creator of the world, it is His to give it to whomever he chooses. Though He initially gave it to the seven nations of Canaan, when they were no longer worthy He chose to take it from them and give it to the Children of Israel.
This theme of choosing is present throughout the Book of Genesis. Bereishit is the book of creation. Most obviously, it describes the creation of the world, but beyond that it is about the creation of a people; the nation chosen by God to be his representatives in this world and to carry out His divine mission of being a light unto the nations. In every generation in the Book of Genesis, there is a person or group of people that stands out from the rest in the areas of morality and recognition of God, that is chosen by God. Once a person is chosen, the continuation of the Torah focuses on him and his offspring, often emphasizing their positive qualities. Seth is the chosen son of Adam, Noah is chosen to survive his entire generation, and the Bible then focuses on the descendants of Noah’s son Shem. Ultimately, God chooses Abraham, his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob. With Jacob, the choosing is complete and a nation is born.
As Rashi implies, the Torah is much more than a book of laws; it is the legacy of the Jewish people. It tells of the creation of a nation, chosen by God to be His emissaries of kindness, justice, goodness and recognition of the one true Creator. And, it starts with the creation of the world so that there would be no question that the Land of Israel belongs to them. From the very beginning of the world, God intended for the People of Israel to do His holy work from the holy Land of Israel, and that from there their light would emanate. May our study of Sefer Bereishit strengthen the goodness within each of us and our appreciation for the Land of Israel.
The Portion of BereishitThe book of Genesis, and indeed the entire Torah, opens with the story of creation. We are told that God took six days to create the world we know, and on the seventh day He rested. Once man walks the Earth, the story shifts its focus to him. We are told of Adam and Eve’s… Read More >>
The Portion of NoahOur portion, which is the fifth longest single reading of the Torah, relates the story of Noah and his descendants. God expresses His disappointment in humankind, but singles out Noah and his family for salvation from the destruction He is planning to send. He commands Noah to build an ark and carry with him two… Read More >>
The Portion of Lech LechaThis week’s portion is a busy one! Abram is commanded by God to leave the land he knows and journey to a place “that I will show thee”. Once there, Abram almost immediately experiences famine, family tension and war. Through it all, however, God is with him, promising him greatness. At the end of the… Read More >>
The Portion of VayeiraOur portion continues the story of Abraham as he establishes the foundation for the Jewish nation. Having circumcised himself at God’s command, he now encounters three visitors as he recuperates. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed in this portion, and Abraham and Sarah find themselves sojourning in Gerar. The birth of Isaac is recorded in this… Read More >>
The Portion of Chayei SarahThis week’s portion focuses on the death of Sarah and Abraham’s quest to find a wife for their son, Isaac. Although Abraham disapproves of the local women, he does not want Isaac to leave the Land of Israel to find his wife. Abraham thus sends a servant in his place to find the right woman… Read More >>
The Portion of ToldotOur portion tells the story of Jacob and Esau, from birth through their famous feud. It also includes Isaac’s experiences in the land of Gerar, where he re-digs the wells of his father. Read More >>
The Portion of VayeitzeiThis week’s portion tells of Jacob’s journey to find a suitable wife among his mother’s relatives. Along the way he dreams his famous dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder. In the home of his uncle, Laban, Jacob marries his two cousins and their two maidservants, who between them bear him twelve children. Jacob… Read More >>
The Portion of VayishlachIn this week’s portion, Jacob prepares to face his brother after many years apart, cognizant of Esau’s vow to destroy him one day. He readies his camp and prays, and sends gifts to appease his brother. Before the encounter, Jacob struggles with an angel who blesses him and gives him a new name. When Jacob… Read More >>
The Portion of VayeishevThis action-packed portion tells the story of Joseph’s sale and early years in Egypt, before his rise to fame and fortune. Joseph’s dreams and the attention he garners from his father prompt his brothers’ jealousy, and they set out to destroy him. Initially throwing him in a pit, they fish him out, sell him to… Read More >>
The Portion of MikeitzThe portion of Mikeitz continues the story of Joseph in Egypt. Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh's dream and is made viceroy over all of Egypt. He successfully steers the country through both abundance and famine, so that it becomes the destination for hungry families from nearby countries seeking food for purchase. Among the buyers are Joseph’s… Read More >>