Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen - First Aliya - 34 p'sukim - 1:1-2:3
This Aliya contains the first account of Creation.
FYI - The first portion of Breishit is seldom read at Mincha of the previous Shabbat. Only when Simchat Torah is Shabbat, is it read on the previous Shabbat, and in that case, at Shacharit and Mincha. Simchat Torah never falls on Shabbat in Chutz LaAretz, but it happens here every so often, including this year and last.
There is a dispute in the Gemara as to when the world was created - in Tishrei or Nissan. The word B'REISHIT is an anagram of ALEF B'TISHREI. If anagrams were an acceptable source, then we might be able to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, it's a nice anagram.
The Baal HaTurim points out that the G'matriya of B'REISHIT BARA is 1116, as is the numeric value of the phrase: B'ROSH HASHANA NIV'RA - on R.H. it (the world) was created. And again, if we could prove things with G'matriyas, then... But as is, the dispute stands. Our Calendar seems to side with the Tishrei opinion.
The First Rashi
We are the ones who need to see in the Torah that G-d is in control. This goes for Jews who feel that we are usurpers here, and this goes for proud Jews who feel that they have accomplished everything here without the help of G-d and without His okay. Whether the Arabs and other people accept what we claim from the Torah is one thing. Do we, the Jewish People, really believe that this Land is ours?
It is. And we should not be squeamish about asserting our possession of Eretz Yisrael.
The lesson of the famous first Rashi is for us. The Torah is not just a book of mitzvot and laws. It tells us other things. Hebron belongs to the Jewish People because Avraham Avinu bought it and passed its title to Yitzckak. It does not matter how many Arabs live there and how many Jews do or don't live there. Hebron is ours, Jerusalem is ours. Eretz Yisrael is ours. We do not have to apologize for it. We should seek out ways of living peacefully with our neighbors, how to deal fairly and safely with the Arabs who live among us. G-d has repeated the promises to the Avot so many times in the Torah, that we should have no doubts as to whose claim is legitimate.
Sadly, the protesters in Paris Square and their ilk, don't seem to get the point. But there are probably many points from the torah that they don't get.
I would, however, like to present again one of the main views about the two essential phases of Creation. There are other ways to understand the opening p'sukim of the Torah, but this is one...
The first two p'sukim describe the totally, exclusively Divine aspect of Creation of Something from Nothing — YEISH MEI'AYIN. Before B'reishit, perhaps nothing existed — except G-d. With the Divine Command of B'reishit, everything that now exists came into existence for the first time. All matter, all energy, thoughts, concepts, time — everything. According to this point of view, SHAMAYIM and ARETZ mean everything in the universe. The first form that all of Creation had was TOHU VAVOHU, chaos. That's the second pasuk. And here's an important aspect of this view — this stage of Creation occurred BEFORE day 1 of Creation. Not on the first day - before the first day. And not a day before, not an instant before nor and eon before. It is pointless speculation to attempt to give a time-frame for the first two p'sukim, because TIME has meaning only in the context of the ordered world that began to take shape on Day 1.
No wonder we are not supposed to concern ourselves with what had happened before the world was created.
And then came Day 1,2,3,4,5,6. And what happened on those days? G-d put everything in order, distinguished one thing from another. It was creation of Something from Something. YEISH MI'YEISH. Forming, shaping. The kind of Creation that we emulate in our daily lives.
And how long was one of these days of Creation? Maybe they each were a thousand years long. Or maybe they each were 24 hours long. Either that Torah talks "our language" or not. Take your pick. Either answer fits one of our angles.
Shabbat B'reishit is a time of rediscovery and re-creation. just like on Shavuot we read the events of Matan Torah and we try to put ourselves into the events, to make them fresh, as if today the Torah was given, so too should we enthusiastically read and hear the description of Creation and put ourselves into the position of discovering G-d through the world and nature that He brought into existence for us. Don't just see things as "once upon a time..." — get excited!
Next we have a restatement of Creation, focusing on Gan Eden, the formation of Adam, Adam's dominance over Nature, and his first prohibition - eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.
"It is not good that man shall be alone" is explained in different ways, including that only G-d is singular. man needs to know that as great as he can become, as much as he can accomplish, he is not a god.
All creatures were brought before Adam as "candidates" for partner-to-Adam. None was suitable, but Adam named them all (as people have done throughout the ages).
In the first account of Creation, Man was the final act of Creation, but not so much the purpose and focus of creation. In this second account, Man seems to be the focus of creation. We have to see things both ways.
The accounts of Creation are very cryptic. Why have them at all? Perhaps it is to challenge each of us to understand some tiny point in this whole grand portion of the Torah that can make our existence more meaningful. (Hey, that was cryptic, too.)
The wording of the Torah implies that Adam was first created as a combined male-female being, then (still on Day Six) he was physically separated as Adam and Chava, with the command and challenge of recombining spiritually, emotionally, and in some ways, physically - "and they shall become one flesh".
Next the Torah tells us cryptically of the episodes of the Serpent's enticement of Chava, the eating from the Tree, the punishments for the Serpent, Chava, and finally, Adam.
The sin(s) of Adam and Chava are not just personal sins, but more importantly, they help us define and understand (a little) human nature.
This Aliya begins with the expulsion from Gan Eden, which is also seen as a metaphor for a re-definition of the role of humans in this world and of their (our) relationship with G-d.
The Torah continues with the "births" of Kayin and Hevel and Kayin's killing of Hevel following the attempt of each to make an offering before G-d.
It is possible that Kayin sired different species of humanoids. This is how some want to explain the evidence of the existence of pre-historic man. Kayin's whole line was destroyed in the Flood. (Almost, that is. Naama, who descended from Kayin, was No'ach's wife, the mother of us all.)
This portion contains the story of Lemech, the great-great-great-grandson of Kayin and his accidental killer, Lemech's two wives Ada and Tzila.
This portion also contains Lemech's lament for having killed Kayin.
Kayin and Hevel were not born in the conventional way, as we know it. Sheit is the first mentioned human to he conceived and born in the way all the rest of us were. His birth is mentioned in the end of Chamishi.
In case your Chumash does not have the same Aliya breakdown as is presented here, don't worry. There are different opinions.
Reading B'reishit after the long haul of the Holidays truly gives us the feeling of a clean start each year. A good feeling.
The lineage from Adam through Sheit (Seth) to No'ach (into the next Aliya) is set down, with the age of the father at the birth of the son, and each person's age at his death. These numbers help us construct the first part of our timeline. Although many sons and daughters are born to this list of patriarchs of the world, only one representative of each generation is named. Some say that only the named individual had the longevity that is recorded; the "average man and woman in the street lived much shorter lives. Others say that the lifespan of the human was much longer before the Flood.
Shishi concludes with mention of Chanoch, who was taken from this world (possibly not by death) at the relatively young age of 365.
Metushelach lived to 969 years, the oldest age recorded in the Tanach. According to Tradition, he died immediately prior to the Flood, which was held up for 7 days of mourning. The generations continue to be counted until No'ach appears on the scene. The Torah describes the deterioration of society and G-d's "regret" for having created Man. No'ach alone found favor in G-d's eyes.
When Rosh Chodesh is Sunday (or Sunday and Monday), then the special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh preempts the regularly scheduled Haftara of the week.
[For Trivia Buffs: Machar Chodesh itself is preempted on three occasions (each occurs from time to time - not every year) ...test yourself before you read any further... Parshat Sh'kalim, Parshat HaChodesh, and R'ei (it would also happen on Chanuka, but 29 Kislev cannot fall on Shabbat).]
The real question is why the Sages decided on a special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh in the first place. No other "erev" gets a special reading. Why does Machar Chodesh?
Perhaps it is because Rosh Chodesh is so understated and often ignored. This became a way - in addition to Rosh Chodesh benching - to say: Hear ye hear ye, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh. It seems that the connection is mainly in the opening words. Rabbi Jacobs points out in his A Haftara Companion that there are some lessons we learn from this passage in the Navi, and the knowledge makes us more aware of the specialness and sanctity of Rosh Chodesh. We see that Rosh Chodesh was celebrated with a special meal which was to be eaten in a state of ritual purity. Many have the custom today of marking Rosh Chodesh with a special meal. The Haftara also serves as a source of the minhag of abstaining or reducing one's work on Rosh Chodesh. Rabbi Jacobs refers to a deeper connection between Rosh Chodesh and the Jewish People (which might explain why we take the extra opportunities to highlight Rosh Chodesh). The cycle of the Moon alludes to Jewish History. For 15 days (or so) the Moon increases in brightness and fullness, corresponding to the 15 generations from Avraham Avinu to Shlomo HaMelech. This is followed by 15 days of decline, matching the 15 generations from Shlomo to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the Babylonian exile. But this is followed by MACHAR CHODESH. Tomorrow will see the brightening of the Moon and the fate of the People of Israel. The cycle continues until the Complete Redemption, when the Moon (and Klal Yisrael) will be completely restored.