Numbers in [brackets] are the mitzva-count according to the Sefer HaChinuch. Other counts vary.
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 NEVER the Shabbat Mincha reading in Chutz LaAretz, since it can be so only if Simchat Torah falls on Shabbat – which cannot happen outside of Israel. But it can happen here, and it did this year (and next). Shabbat Simchat Torah produces some interesting riddles. E.g. in Israel lastShabbat, we read from the same sedra in the morning and the afternoon. When else does this happen? Last Shabbat, we read the Torah three times – Maariv, Shacharit, Mincha. (That is, unless you follow Minhag Yerushalayim, which is not to read the Torah at night.) There are more; I leave some for you to discover.
Oh, here’s one more. In Israel, we read from B’reishit on Shabbat (Simchat Torah) morning and in the afternoon. On Monday, and on Thursday. That’s 4 times before the Shabbat of the Parsha. Most frequent, of course, is three – Shabbat Mincha, Monday and Thursday. It is fewer than three times when Rosh Chodesh, Chanuka, FastDays, etc. replace a Monday and/or Thursday. Are there other examples of reading from Parshat HaShavua 4 times before Shabbat? How about 5? Sorry. I get carried away on this kind of thing.
How Old is the World?
The following is one of many ways of explaining the age of the Earth. There are many ideas which input into a more complete presentation; here is just an appetizer… or shall I say, a tidbit.
One traditional view holds that the first day of Tishrei of year number 1 was Day Six of Creation, the day that mammals, including humans, were created. The day that Adam and Chava were placed in Gan Eden. The day they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The day they were expelled from Gan Eden. Assuming that the days of Creation were days as we know them (maybe they were and maybe they weren’t; it is not a point that is included in this piece), we can backtrack to Day One of Creation and date it as 25 Elul, before year one began (let’s call it Year Zero).
There are significant opinions that the account of Day One of Creation begins with the third pasuk of the Torah, And G-d said – Let there be light. What about the first two p’sukim. B’reishit (let’s say, in the beginning) G-d created the Heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void… When? When did B’REISHIT happen?
One way to understand creation is to divide it into two phases. The first is the creation of something from nothing – YEISH MEI’AYIN – Creatio ex nihilo. This act of creation by G-d brought the Heavens and the Earth – in other words, everything into existence, but in a chaotic mixture.
Matter and energy and time and nature and ideas and laws of nature and who knows what were there, without function and order, pending the second phase of creation. The first phase of creation is summarized by the first pasuk of the Torah; the result of that creation of something from nothing is described by the second pasuk.
From the third pasuk, we see the description of the second phase: Creation of something from something. G-d, so to speak, commanded different components of the Creation-mixture to diffrentiate, to separate themselves from the TOHU VAVOHU and assume a distinct identity. Light was not commanded into existence on Day One (accordingto this view of Creation), it had already been created B’REISHIT; light was distinguished from the primordial mixture and the laws of physics that apply to light were inaugurated, so to speak, on Day One. So too for the rest of Creation Week.
When was Day One of Creation? A bit more than 5760 years ago (let’s say). When was B’REISHIT? The Torah does not say. In fact, it is really a meaningless question, since time was also part of the mix and not operational until Phase Two of Creation. One need not “wait” for Day Four and the placement of the heavenly bodiesto consider questions of time – Vay’hi Erev Vay’hi Voker… will do fine. But not from B’REISHIT. That was before time had meaning.
There are several other factors that input.
The First Rashi
Rashi quotes Rabbi Yitzchak who explains why the Torah begins with B’REISHIT and not with the mitzvot and halachic texts in Parshat BO. He says that if the nations of the world will accuse us of stealing the Land of Israel from others who have occupied it through the generations, we will be able to point to the events inthe historical portions of the Torah and see that G-d takes land from whom He pleases and gives it to whom He pleases.
But what happens if the nations of the world do not accept the lessons of the Torah? Perhaps, they are not the ones that need convincing. We have confidence in the prophecies of the time when the nations will recognize the G-d of Israel and accept our role in this world and our relationship with Him.
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 Torahis 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 nor how many Jews. 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.
We have to continuously pay our rent to the Landlord, in the form of faithfulness, keeping of the mitzvot, learning and living Torah. This is our commitment to G-d, our deal with Him. Let us hope that more and more Jews will make a stronger commitment to Torah and to Eretz Yisrael.
As was mentioned before, the first Aliya contains the first account of Creation, including the frist Shabbat. Maybe, one of these years, we’ll have a decent presentation of this first portion. Unfortunately, it won’t be happening this time.
But here are some shareable SDTs – use them well.
The Ba’al HaTurim and others point out that the Sofei Teivot – final letters of the opening three words of the Torah, spell the word EMET – truth. Psalm 119:160 says, ROSH D’VORCHA EMET, the beginning (head) of your words is TRUTH. One of the Chasidic masters puts it like this: an author will often embed his mark in thebeginning of his work. G-d’s “seal” is EMET, appearing on the first set of Sofei Teivot. Similarly, the account of creations ends with three words whose final letters spell EMET. We are thus clued into the idea that the entire process of creation is saturated with G-d’s TRUTH, without which the world would be incapableof existing.
The Moon was diminished, but was compensated – (a) by shining during the daytime too (sometimes – the Sun doesn’t shine at night), and (b) by having the countless stars as “companions”.
As different as the Sun and Moon are, they appear to us to be exactly the same size. Reality is one thing, but our perception is a reality too.
Levi Second Aliya -16 p’sukim – 2:4-19
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 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.
Baal HaTurim and others point to the word with the small HEI – B’HIBAR’AM and rearrange the letters to spell “with Avraham”, indicating that in the merit of Avraham the world was created. Aside from the anagram, the small HEI supports this idea, since Avraham did not always have a HEI in his name.
Sh’lishi Third Aliya – 27 p’sukim – 2:20-3:21
The wording of the Torah implies that Adam was first created as a combined male-female being, then (still on Day Six) he (they) was (were) 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 human nature.
R’vi’i Fourth Aliya – 21 p’sukim – 3:22-4:18
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.
Kayin’s punishment and fate is presented, as is his lineage.
It is possible that Kayin sired different species of humanoids, which did not survive the Flood. This could explain certain fossil finds.
Chamishi Fifth Aliya – 8 p’sukim – 4:19-26
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. The Torah mentions more descendants of Kayin and their roles as the “firsts” in various fields of human activity.
This portion also contains Lemech’s lament for having killed Kayin.
Noteworthy among the descendants of Kayin that are mentioned by the Torah is the sister of Tuval-Kayin, Na’ama. Rashi (quoting B’reishit Rabba) says that she was the wife of No’ach. What is significant about that is that Kayin’s line was not completely severed by the Flood. Although we refer to all of mankind as Bnei No’achwho descended from Adam through Sheit, on the mother’s side there is Na’ama and before her, 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.
Shishi Sixth Aliya – 24 p’sukim – 5:1-24
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 life-span of the human was much longer before the Flood (in antediluvian times – how’s that for an old SAT word, like akimbo & pusillanimous).
Shishi concludes with mention of Chanoch, who was taken from this world (possibly not by death) at the relatively young age of 365.
Sh’vi’i Seventh Aliya – 16 p’sukim – 5:25-6:8
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 deteriation of society and G-d’s “regret” forhaving created Man. No’ach alone found favor in G-d’s eyes.
Haftara 25 p’sukim -Shmuel Alef – 20:18-42
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.
Machar Chodesh itself is preempted on three occasions (each occurs from time to time – statistics to follow) …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 connection between the Haftara and Erev Rosh Chodesh is obvious. The opening words are: And Yonatan said to him, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh… 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? Perhapsit 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 learnfrom 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 servesas 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) theMoon 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 seethe 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.