Bereishit: The Book of Genesis

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Bereishit

The Essence of Names

After placing Adam in the Garden of Eden, the Torah recounts that God paraded all the animals before Adam to see what he would call them: “and whatever Adam called each creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Adam, according to Kabbalah and Chassidut, assessed the fundamental nature of each animal and identified the Hebrew […]

Rectifying the world

The Torah concludes the story of Creation with the following verse: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it for on it He rested from His work which God created to make” (Genesis 2:3). The Rabbis have noted that the infinitive “to make” appears to be redundant and somewhat contradictory: if the verse has just […]

Cain and Abel

Once, in the period following Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that three human emotions – jealousy, anger, and sadness – prevent human beings from receiving the Divine effluence of newness and renewal that flows into the world at the year’s beginning. He explained that each of these emotions prevents the mind and the heart […]

Noach

Noach and Shabbat

Lamech gave birth to Noah and prophetically exclaimed: “This one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which God has cursed” (Genesis 5:29). The word “Noah” is related to the word “rest.” According to Rashi, man would now be able to more easily work the […]

Torah and the Environment

And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. He sent out the raven, and it kept going and returning until the waters dried from upon the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him to see whether the waters […]

The Sixth Millenium

Although the Zohar, the Kabbalah’s foundational text, is not a prophetic book as such, it does contain the following two predictions. Commenting on the verses, “In the six hundredth year of Noahs’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the foundations of the great deep burst […]

Lech Lecha

Abraham the Hebrew

In this week’s portion Abraham is referred to for the first time as “Abraham the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13). The root of the Hebrew word for “Hebrew” (ivri) literally means “to cross over.” Why does the Torah give Abraham this name? One opinion is that he gained this name because in coming to Israel he left […]

Vayeira

The Silence of Abraham

Akeidat Yitzchak (the Binding of Isaac) is among the most profound stories in the Torah. The symbolism and the archetypal nature of this incident have awed commentators and readers for millennium. Not only Jews but Christians and Moslems as well have incorporated the lessons and the imagery of this account of faith and sacrifice into […]

A Three-fold Cord

“A three-fold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). This verse refers to the three patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed, the Torah relates: “On the third day; and Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar” (Genesis 22:4). The Zohar (Parashat Va’eira 495) teaches […]

Chayei Sarah

Elevating the Land of Israel and the Entire World

The Torah concludes the story of Abraham’s purchase of Sarah’s burial plot by stating that the field with its cave “rose up … unto Abraham for a purchase” (Genesis 23:17-18; 23:20). Rashi explains that the phrase “rose up” literally means “entered the possession of.” However, he also explains the phrase metaphorically, citing the Midrash from […]

Coming into Days

Immediately following the section recounting Sarah’s death and burial the Torah states: “And Abraham grew old, coming into days, and God blessed Abraham with everything” (Genesis 24:1). The Sages teach that the Hebrew word for “old” (zaken) means not only aged but also wise. The mystically inclined understand the enigmatic phrase, “coming into days,” as […]

Toldot

Digging Wells

After Abraham passes away, the Torah recounts that the Philistines filled all the wells he had dug with earth (Genesis 26:15). The Talmud teaches that whenever water is mentioned in the Torah it is a remez, an allusion, to Torah itself (Bava Kamma 17a). Just as organic life cannot grow or even continue to exist […]

Torah and Prophecy

As discussed in the introduction, our Sages teach that the Torah has seventy faces. The Arizal posits that there are 600,000 faces, each one corresponding to a letter in the Torah and a Jewish root soul spark. These faces represent the multi-faceted Torah perspectives revealed within the manifold levels of reality, especially as revealed through […]

Vayetzei

Praying in the Darkness

Between the portion’s opening verse and Jacob’s dream, there is only one verse: “And he came upon the place and slept there for the sun had set; he took from the stones of the place and placed them around his head, and he laid down in that place.” The Sages explain that the Hebrew word […]

Awakening from Below

The depiction of the angels as first ascending and then descending alludes to yet another concept, referred to by Kabbalists and Chassidut as “Awakening from Below.” In this process a human being “arouses” him or herself, taking the initiative and mustering the strength and spirit to draw closer to God. Optimally, we reach God in […]

The Place

“Jacob awoke from his sleep and said: Surely God is in this place and I did not know” (Genesis 28:16). Rashi comments that had Jacob known that God was present he certainly would not have slept in such a holy place. A deeper reading of the text suggests that Jacob was expressing an unexpected new […]

Vayishlach

Esau’s Four Hundred Men

In the portion of Chayei Sarah we briefly discussed the number 400’s significance. In that portion, Abraham symbolically took possession of the Land of Israel – which the Sages declare is 400 parsah by 400 parsah – by buying Sarah’s burial plot and the surrounding land for 400 silver pieces. The number 400 reappears in […]

Small Vessels

The Torah tells us that the night before his confrontation with Esau, Jacob took his wives, children, and possessions to safety on the other side of the Yabbok stream. Then it relates that “Jacob was left alone and a man wrestled with him till the daybreak” (Genesis 32:24). The oral tradition picks up on this […]

Vayeishev

Torah and Prophecy

The theme of prophecy occurs throughout the Torah. In addition to the words of the prophets and prophetic dreams or visions, the Torah explicitly predicts some future events and subtly alludes to others. Beginning, with the portion of Lech Lecha, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs allude to the future dynamics of Jewish history […]

Miketz

Joseph the Tzaddik

The biblical character who most embodies the ability to not just conquer the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, but to guide the imaginative faculties that fuel this drive in a positive direction was Joseph. His ability to fend off Potiphar’s wife’s constant sexual advances earned him the appellation “Joseph the Tzaddik” – Joseph the Righteous. […]

Throwing Caution to the Wind

One of the laws governing the physical universe is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This same principle operates in the spiritual worlds as well; for instance, Divine justice is meted out “measure for measure” throughout the Torah. Likewise, human beings possess good and evil inclinations, and there is even […]

Vayigash

The Spirit of Prophecy and Song

When Jacob first hears the news that Joseph is alive and the vizier of Egypt, he refuses to believe it. Only when he heard Joseph’s message and saw the wagons Joseph had sent to transport him to Egypt does the Torah relate that “the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Genesis 45:27). Rashi, quoting the […]

The Meaning of Money

At the end of Vayigash, the Torah describes in great detail how Joseph managed to centralize all the wealth of Egypt in Pharaoh’s hands. In the process, he reconfigured the entire structure of Egyptian society. Chassidut explains that on a deeper level Joseph was transferring the wealth from the realm of the “evil inclination” to […]

Vayechi

The Shema

“And then Jacob called to his sons and said: Gather together and I will tell you what will happen to you in the End of Days” (Genesis 49:1). Rashi, as mentioned in the previous section, quotes the Talmud and the Midrash to explain why this portion is a closed portion: Jacob wanted to reveal his […]

The End of Days

Although God did not allow Jacob to openly reveal the End of Days, he was permitted to embed different parts of his overall vision in the blessings. Rashi points out many of these prophetic allusions in his commentary. Judah’s blessing, for instance, contains some quite explicit and other more subtle references to the future: Judah […]