Parshat Bereshit Summary

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Parshat Bereshit is the 1st parsha in Sefer Bereshit (also known as Genesis).

This parsha is verses Genesis 1:1 – 6:8, or a total of 146 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Introduction

Before I start the summary, let me mention something about studying this parsha.

First, this is a long parsha with lots of fundamental concepts. Very few of us can quickly read these verses and grasp their meaning. It’s hard for a summary like this to do it justice.

I strongly urge you to set aside time to study Parshat Bereshit. Pick a commentator and dive in as deeply as you can.

Second, I don’t think the Torah is meant to teach us science. There are many interesting scientific questions raised by the opening chapter of Bereshit. However, our task is to understand the moral and ethical lessons of these verses.

I’ll admit it, I also find the scientific questions interesting. However, this summary is not the place to consider them.

We should not be too concerned if modern science and the Bible have conflicts. There are always 3 possible reasons for the conflict:

  • Our interpretation of the verses may be wrong.
  • Our knowledge of the science may be wrong.
  • Science and the Torah actually agree but are dealing with different questions.

The third point might seem strange, so let me give a simple example of what I mean. What if I asked, “What is the biggest state?” Here are 3 possible answers:

  • Alaska because its land area is over 570,000 square miles.
  • California because its population is over 39 million.
  • Texas because its land area is almost 262,000 square miles and more of its land is habitable than Alaska.

As you can see, what I mean by “biggest” will determine which is the better answer.

With that introduction, let’s dive into the summary.

Aliyah 1: Genesis 1:1 – 2:3, 34 verses

The Torah begins with the famous words, “In the beginning God …”

God created the heavens and the earth. The world we know has not always existed. God brought it into existence and continues to sustain it.

The Torah next informs us, in broad terms, what happened on each “day” of creation:

  • Day 1: God created light and made a distinction between light and darkness.
  • Day 2: God made a separation between “waters” that were above and below by means of a barrier of some sort.
  • Day 3: God gathered the lower waters into one place and dry land appeared. The dry land sprouted with grasses and fruit trees.
  • Day 4: God created the sun and the moon. These bodies were created to give light to the earth and to serve as signs for measuring time on earth.
  • Day 5: God created the animals who live in water and those who fly in the air. He commanded them to multiply.
  • Day 6: God created the land animals. God created Man in His image and gave him dominion over the earth. God commanded “them” to multiply and fill the earth. He gave “them” grasses and fruits to eat.
  • Day 7: God completed the creation He had begun. He blessed the 7th day and made it holy.

Bereshit - Genesis man and stars

Aliyah 2: Genesis 2:4 – 2:19, 16 verses

Verse 2:4 begins with the words “these are the generations” (in Hebrew: eileh toldot). These two words are used throughout Genesis to indicate a change in focus in the text.

The Torah now describes what some people refer to as “the second creation.”

These verses are a retelling of the creation, but it’s not a different creation. Rather, it is a change of focus.

In Genesis Chapter 1 we’re told in broad terms about all of creation.

Now in Chapter 2 the text focuses on man and his unique status in God’s creation.

The first few verses inform us that certain plants had not yet sprouted because there was no man.

God formed man from the ground and gave him a soul.

Also, God planted a garden in Eden and placed man in that garden. Every beautiful tree and every tree that was good for food was in the garden. There also grew in this garden the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A river flowed from the garden and then split into four separate rivers.

God commanded the man to eat from any tree in the garden except for Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God showed the man the other animals He had created to see if any of them were a suitable match for him.

Aliyah 3: Genesis 2:20 – 3:21, 27 verses

The man named all of the animals, but none of them were a suitable match for him.

God took a part of the man and formed it into a woman. Both of them were naked but they felt no shame.

The serpent tempted the woman. He challenged her about what trees they were permitted to eat from.

The woman told the serpent that they could eat from any tree. However, they could not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden. Also, she claimed, they were not allowed to touch that tree. They would die if they either touched it or ate from it.

The serpent assured her that they would not die. Rather they would become godlike and know good and evil.

The woman ate from the tree and gave to the man, who also ate. They now felt ashamed that they were naked and made garments out of fig leaves.

Then God confronted the man about what he had done.

  • The man blamed the woman …
  • The woman blamed the serpent …
  • The serpent was not given a chance to blame anyone else.

God delivered his verdict in the reverse order:

  • God cursed the serpent more than all other animals.
  • Women will now experience pain in childbirth and become dependent on their husbands.
  • Men will now have to deal with a land that sprouts thorns and thistles and requires great effort to produce crops.

The man (Adam) called the woman, his wife, Eve.

God made garments of animal skin for Adam and Eve.

Aliyah 4: Genesis 3:22 – 4:18, 21 verses

It was no longer appropriate for Adam and Eve to stay in the Garden of Eden. God sent them out and placed guards to prevent them from returning.

Adam and Eve had relations and Eve conceived. She gave birth to Cain and then Abel. According to Jewish tradition, Cain and Abel were born before the expulsion from the Garden.

Abel was a shepherd. Cain was a farmer.

Cain brought an offering to God from his produce. Abel brought an offering to God from the best of his flock.

God accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. God assured Cain that he could do better.

Cain murdered his brother Abel.

God confronted Cain. Cain denied responsibility and asked God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (In case you are wondering, the answer to Cain’s question is, “Yes!”)

God decrees that the land will no longer support Cain. He is to become a wandered about the earth.

Cain had these descendants:

  • Enoch
  • Irad
  • Mehujael
  • Methushael
  • Lamech

Aliyah 5: Genesis 4:19 – 4:22, 4 verses

Lamech had two wives: Adah and Zillah.

Adah had these sons: Jabal and Jubal.

Zillah had a son Tujbal-cain and a daughter Naamah.

Aliyah 6: Genesis 4:23 – 5:24, 28 verses

After mentioning some descendants of Cain, the Torah tells us about the descendants of Seth. Seth is the son born to Adam and Eve after the murder of Abel.

The list of Adam’s and Seth’s descendants tells us the age of the man when his principle son was born, how many additional years he lived, and how old he was when he died.

These details allow us to calculate the birth and death years of each man who is listed:

  • Adam born in year 0 – died in year 930, lived 930 years
  • Seth 130 – 1042, 912 years
  • Enosh 235 – 1140, 905 years
  • Kenan 325 – 1235, 910 years
  • Mahalalel 395 – 1290, 895 years
  • Jared 460 – 1422, 962 years
  • Enoch 622 – 987, 365 years
  • Methuselah 687 – 1656, 969 years
  • Lamech 874 – 1651, 777 years
  • Noach 1056 – 2006, 950 years

I’ve listed all of the details for Noach even though they cannot be computed from these verses. We’ll get the rest of the details for Noach later on (see Genesis 7:6, 9:28 – 29).

Aliyah 7: Genesis 5:25 – 6:8, 16 verses

The opening verses in this reading conclude the list of Adam’s and Seth’s descendants.

According to Jewish tradition, people started worshiping idols during the generation of Enosh (see Genesis 4:26 with Rashi’s comment).

The verses in chapter 6 hint to us about other sins that people committed. God decides to destroy mankind, but also grants them a grace period of 120 years.

Haftarah Summary

Ashkenzic tradition: Isaiah 42:5 – 43:10

Sefardic tradition: Isaiah 42:5 – 42:21

The Torah begins by telling us that God created (past tense) the heavens and the earth. We might think that means creation only happened in the past.

However, in the haftarah, we are told that God creates (present tense) the heavens and the earth. God maintains His creation moment by moment.

Even though people sin, God has assigned the Jewish people to be a light to the nations.

Further Reading

I don’t have any other articles on Parshat Bereshit. If you want you can look ahead to Noach.

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