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Bereishit (parsha)

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Bereishit, Bereshit, Bereishis, B'reshith, Beresheet, or Bereshees (בְּרֵאשִׁית — Hebrew for "in beginning,” the first word in the parshah) is the first weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading. The parshah consists of Genesis 1:1–6:8. Jews read it on the first Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in October. Jews also read the beginning part of the parshah, Genesis 1:1–2:3, as the second Torah reading for Simchat Torah, after reading the last parts of the book of Deuteronomy, parshah V'Zot HaBerachah, Deuteronomy 33:1–34:12

In the parshah, God creates the world, and Adam and Eve. They commit the first sin, however, and God expels them from the Garden of Eden. One of their sons, Cain, becomes the first murderer by killing his brother Abel out of jealousy. Adam and Eve also have other children, whose descendants populate the Earth, but each generation becomes more and more degenerate until God, despairing, decides to destroy humanity. Only one man, Noah, finds grace in the eyes of God.

Genesis on egg cropped

The first chapter of Genesis written on an egg in the Israel Museum.


Creation of Light

Creation of Light (illustration by Gustave Doré)


When God began creation, the earth was unformed and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and God’s wind swept over the water. (Genesis 1:1:2)

God spoke and created in six days:

  • First day: God separated light from darkness. (Genesis 1:3–5)
  • Second day: God separated the waters, creating sky. (Genesis 1:6–8)
  • Third day: God gathered the water below the sky, creating land and sea, and God caused vegetation to sprout from the land. (Genesis 1:9–13)
  • Fourth day: God set lights in the sky to separate days and years, creating the sun, the moon, and the stars. (Genesis 1:14–19)
  • Fifth day: God had the waters bring forth living creatures, and blessed them to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:20–23)
  • Sixth day: God had the earth bring forth living creatures, and made man in God’s image, male and female, giving man dominion over the animals and the earth, and blessed man to be fruitful and multiply. (Genesis 1:24–28) God gave vegetation to man and to the animals for food. (Genesis 1:29–30)
  • Seventh day: God ceased work and blessed the seventh day, declaring it holy. (Genesis 2:1–3)
God2-Sistine Chapel

The Creation of Adam (painting by Michelangelo)

The Garden of Eden

Before any shrub or grass had yet sprouted on earth, and before God had sent rain for the earth, a flow would well up from the ground to water the earth. (Genesis 2:4–6) God formed man from the dust, blew the breath of life into his nostrils, and made him a living being. (Genesis 2:7) God planted a garden in the east in Eden, caused to grow there every good and pleasing tree, and placed the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and bad in the middle of the garden. (Genesis 2:8–9) A river issued from Eden to water the garden, and then divided into four branches: the Pishon, which winds through Havilah, where the gold is; the Gihon, which winds through Cush; the Tigris, which flows east of Asshur; and the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:10–14) God placed the man in the garden of Eden to till and tend it, and freed him to eat from every tree of the garden, except for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, warning that if the man ate of it, he would die. (Genesis 2:15–17)

Cole Thomas The Garden of Eden 1828

The Garden of Eden (painting by Thomas Cole)

Announcing that it was not good for man to be alone and that God would make for him a fitting helper, God formed out of the earth all the beasts and birds and brought them to the man to name. (Genesis 2:18–19) The man Adam named all the animals, but found no fitting helper. (Genesis 2:20) So God cast a deep sleep upon the man and took one of his ribs and fashioned it into a woman and brought her to the man. (Genesis 2:21–22) The man declared her bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, and called her woman. (Genesis 2:23) Thus a man leaves his parents and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24) The man and the woman were naked, but felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25)


Adam and Eve

The serpent, the shrewdest of the beasts, asked the woman whether God had really forbidden her to eat any of the fruit in the garden. (Genesis 3:1) The woman replied that they could eat any fruit other than that of the tree in the middle of the garden, which God had warned them neither to eat nor to touch, on pain of death. (Genesis 3:2–3) The serpent told the woman that she would not die, but that as soon as she ate the fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be like divine beings who knew good and bad. (Genesis 3:4–4) When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing in appearance, and desirable as a source of wisdom, she ate some of its fruit and gave some to her husband to eat. (Genesis 3:6) Then their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked; and they sewed themselves loincloths out of fig leaves. (Genesis 3:7)

Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden

Adam and Eve Driven out of Eden (illustration by Gustave Doré)

Hearing God move in the garden, they hid in the trees. (Genesis 3:8) God asked the man where he was. (Genesis 3:9) The man replied that he grew afraid when he heard God, and he hid because he was naked. (Genesis 3:10) God asked him who told him that he was naked and whether he had eaten the forbidden fruit. (Genesis 3:11) The man replied that the woman whom God put at his side gave him the fruit, and he ate. (Genesis 3:12) When God asked the woman what she had done, she replied that the serpent duped her, and she ate. (Genesis 3:13) God cursed the serpent to crawl on its belly, to eat dirt, and to live in enmity with the woman and her offspring. (Genesis 3:14–15) God cursed the woman to bear children in pain, to desire her husband, and to be ruled by him. (Genesis 3:16) And God cursed Adam to toil to earn his food from the ground, which would sprout thorns and thistles, until he returned to the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis 3:17–19)

Adam named his wife Eve, because she was the mother to all. (Genesis 3:20) And God made skin garments to clothe Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:21)

Remarking that the man had become like God, knowing good and bad, God became concerned that he should also eat from the tree of life and live forever, so God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil. (Genesis 3:22–23) God drove the man out, and stationed cherubim and a fiery ever-turning sword east of the garden to guard the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Death of Abel

Death of Abel (illustration by Gustave Doré)

Cain and Abel

Eve bore Cain and Abel, who became a farmer and a shepherd. (Genesis 4:1–2) Cain brought God an offering from the fruit of the soil, and Abel brought the choicest of the firstlings of his flock. (Genesis 4:3–4) God paid heed to Abel and his offering, but not to Cain and his, distressing Cain. (Genesis 4:4–5) God asked Cain why he was distressed, because he had free will, and if he acted righteously, he would be happy, but if he didn't, sin crouched at the door. (Genesis 4:6–7) Cain spoke to Abel, and when they were in the field, Cain killed Abel. (Genesis 4:8) When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain replied that he did not know, asking if he was his brother’s keeper. (Genesis 4:9) God asked Cain what he had done, as his brother’s blood cried out to God from the ground. (Genesis 4:10) God cursed Cain to fail at farming and to become a ceaseless wanderer. (Genesis 4:11–12) Cain complained to God that his punishment was too great to bear, as anyone who met him might kill him. (Genesis 4:14) So God put a mark on Cain and promised to take sevenfold vengeance on anyone who would kill him. (Genesis 4:15) Cain left God’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (Genesis 4:16)

Lamech followed Cain

Cain had a son, Enoch, and founded a city, and naming it after Enoch. (Genesis 4:16) Enoch’s great-great-grandson Lamech took two wives: Adah and Zillah. (Genesis 4:17–19) Adah bore Jabal, the ancestor of those who dwell in tents and amidst herds, and Jubal, the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. (Genesis 4:20–21) And Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who forged implements of copper and iron. (Genesis 4:22) Lamech told his wives that he had slain a lad for bruising him, and that if Cain was avenged sevenfold, then Lamech should be avenged seventy-sevenfold. (Genesis 4:23–24)

Piero della Francesca 035

The Death of Adam (painting by Piero della Francesca)

Adam’s line

Adam and Eve had a third son and named him Seth, meaning “God has provided me with another offspring in place of Abel.” (Genesis 4:25) Seth had a son named Enosh, and then men began to invoke the Lord by name. (Genesis 4:26) After the birth of Seth, Adam had more sons and daughters, and lived a total of 930 years before he died. (Genesis 5:4–5) Adam’s descendants and their lifespans were: Seth, 912 years; Enosh, 905 years; Kenan, 910 years; Mahalalel, 895 years; and Jared, 962 years. (Genesis 5:6–20) Jared’s son Enoch walked with God 300 years, and when he reached age 365, God took him. (Genesis 5:22–24) Enoch’s son Methuselah lived 969 years and his son Lamech lived 777 years. (Genesis 5:21–31) Lamech had a son Noah, saying that Noah would provide relief from their work and toil on the soil that God had cursed. (Genesis 5:28–29) When Noah had lived 500 years, he had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Genesis 5:32)

Wickedness among men

Divine beings admired and took wives from among the daughters of men, who bore the Nephilim, heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:2–4) God set the days allowed to man at 120 years. (Genesis 6:3) God saw how great man’s wickedness was and how man’s every plan was evil, and God regretted making man and became saddened. (Genesis 6:5–6) God expressed an intention to blot men and animals from the earth, but Noah found God’s favor. (Genesis 6:7–8)

Key words

Words used frequently in the parshah include:

Blake ancient of days

Ancient of Days (etching and watercolor by William Blake)


The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve (watercolor by William Blake)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld - Verstoßung

banishment from Eden (illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

In early nonrabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 2

The Book of Jubilees interpreted God’s warning to Adam in Genesis 2:17 that “on the day that you eat of it you shall die” in the light of the words of Psalm 90:4 that “a thousand years in [God’s] sight are but as yesterday,” noting that Adam died 70 years short of the 1000 years that would constitute one day in the testimony of the heavens. (Jubilees 4:29–31; see also Justin Martyr Dialogue with Trypho 81.) And the Books of 4 Ezra (or 2 Esdras) and 2 Baruch interpreted Genesis 2:17 to teach that because Adam transgressed God’s commandment, God decreed death to Adam and his descendents for all time. (4 Ezra 3:7; 2 Baruch 23:4.)


Rabbi Jonah taught not to investigate what was before (illustration from Camille Flammarion's 1888 L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire)

In classical rabbinic interpretation

Genesis chapter 1

Hebrew letter bet

the Hebrew letter bet

Rabbi Jonah taught in the name of Rabbi Levi that the world was created with a letter bet (the first letter in Genesis 1:1, which begins בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, Bereishit bara Elohim, “In the beginning God created”) because just as the letter bet is closed at the sides but open in front, so one is not permitted to investigate what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind. Similarly, Bar Kappara reinterpreted the words of Deuteronomy 4:32 to say, “ask not of the days past, which were before you, since the day that God created man upon the earth,” teaching that one may speculate from the day that days were created, but one should not speculate on what was before that. And one may investigate from one end of heaven to the other, but one should not investigate what was before this world. (Genesis Rabbah 1:10.)

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First Day of Creation (illustration from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle)

A midrash (rabbinic commentary) explained that six things preceded the creation of the world: the Torah and the Throne of Glory were created, the creation of the Patriarchs was contemplated, the creation of Israel was contemplated, the creation of the Temple in Jerusalem was contemplated, and the name of the Messiah was contemplated, as well as repentance. (Genesis Rabbah 1:4.)

Rab Zulra bar Tobiah said in the name of Rab that the world was created with ten things: (1) wisdom, (2) understanding, (3) reason, (4) strength, (5) rebuke, (6) might, (7) righteousness, (8) judgment, (9) loving-kindness, and (10) compassion. The Gemara cited verses to support Rab Zulra’s proposition: wisdom and understanding, as Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; and by understanding established the heavens”; reason, as Proverbs 3:20 says, “By His reason the depths were broken up”; strength and might, as Psalm 65:7 says, “Who by Your strength sets fast the mountains, Who is girded about with might”; rebuke, as Job 26:11 says, “The pillars of heaven were trembling, but they became astonished at His rebuke”; righteousness and judgment, as Psalm 89:15 says, “Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of Your throne”; and loving-kindness and compassion, as Psalm 25:6 says, “Remember, O Lord, Your compassions and Your mercies; for they have been from of old.” (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a.)

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Second Day of Creation (illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle)

The Mishnah taught that God created the world with ten Divine utterances. Noting that surely God could have created the world with one utterance, the Mishnah asks what we are meant to learn from this, replying, if God had created the world by a single utterance, men would think less of the world, and have less compunction about undoing God’s creation. (Mishnah Avot 5:1.)

Nuremberg chronicles - f 3r

Third Day of Creation (illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle)

Rab Judah said in Rab’s name that ten things were created on the first day: (1) heaven, (2) earth, (3) chaos (תֹהוּ, tohu), (4) desolation (בֹהוּ, bohu), (5) light, (6) darkness, (7) wind, (8) water, (9) the length of a day, and (10) the length of a night. The Gemara cited verses to support Rab Judah’s proposition: heaven and earth, as Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”; tohu and bohu, as Genesis 1:2 says, “and the earth was tohu and bohu”; darkness, as Genesis 1:2 says, “and darkness was upon the face of the deep; light, as Genesis 1:3 says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’”; wind and water, as Genesis 1:2 says, “and the wind of God hovered over the face of the waters”; and the length of a day and the length of a night, as Genesis 1:5 says, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” A Baraita taught that tohu (chaos) is a green line that encompasses the world, out of which darkness proceeds, as Psalm 18:12 says, “He made darkness His hiding-place round about Him”; and bohu (desolation) means the slimy stones in the deep out of which the waters proceed, as Isaiah 34:11 says, “He shall stretch over it the line of confusion (tohu) and the plummet of emptiness (bohu).” The Gemara questioned Rab Judah’s assertion that light was created on the first day, as Genesis 1:16–17 reports that “God made the two great lights . . . and God set them in the firmament of the heaven,” and Genesis 1:19 reports that God did so on the fourth day. The Gemara explained that the light of which Rab Judah taught was the light of which Rabbi Eleazar spoke when he said that by the light that God created on the first day, one could see from one end of the world to the other; but as soon as God saw the corrupt generations of the Flood and the Dispersion, God hid the light from them, as Job 38:15 says, “But from the wicked their light is withheld.” Rather, God reserved the light of the first day for the righteous in the time to come, as Genesis 1:4 says, “And God saw the light, that it was good.” The Gemara noted a dispute among the Tannaim over this interpretation. Rabbi Jacob agreed with the view that by the light that God created on the first day one could see from one end of the world to the other. But the Sages equated the light created on the first day with the lights of which Genesis 1:14 speaks, which God created on the first day, but placed in the heavens on the fourth day. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a.)

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Fourth Day of Creation (illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle)

The Rabbis reported in a Baraita that the House of Shammai taught that heaven was created first and the earth was created afterwards, as Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” But the House of Hillel taught that the earth was created first and heaven was created afterwards, as Genesis 2:4 says, “In the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.” The House of Hillel faulted the House of Shammai for believing that one can build a house’s upper stories and afterwards builds the house, as Amos 9:6 calls heaven God’s “upper chambers,” saying, “It is He Who builds His upper chambers in the heaven, and has founded His vault upon the earth.” The House of Shammai, in turn, faulted the House of Hillel for believing that a person builds a footstool first, and afterwards builds the throne, as Isaiah 66:1 calls heaven God’s throne and the earth God’s footstool. But the Sages said that God created both heaven and earth at the same time, as Isaiah 48:13 says, “My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has spread out the heavens: When I call to them, they stand up together.” The House of Shammai and the House of Hillel, however, interpreted the word “together” in Isaiah 48:13 to mean only that heaven and earth cannot be separated from each another. Resh Lakish reconciled the differing verses by positing that God created heaven first, and afterwards created the earth; but when God put them in place, God put the earth in place first, and afterwards put heaven in place. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a.)

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Seventh Day of Creation (illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicle)

Rabbi Jose bar Hanina taught that “heaven” (שָּׁמַיִם, shamayim) means “there is water” (sham mayim). A Baraita taught that it means “fire and water” (eish u’mayim), teaching that God brought fire and water together and mixed them to make the firmament. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 12a.)

Rabbi Judah ben Pazi noted that a similar word appears in both Genesis 1:6 — where רָקִיעַ, rakya is translated as “firmament” — and Exodus 39:3 — where וַיְרַקְּעוּ, vayraku is translated as “and they flattened.” He thus deduced from the usage in Exodus 39:3 that Genesis 1:6 taught that on the second day of creation, God spread the heavens flat like a cloth. (Jerusalem Talmud Berakhot 6a.) Or Rabbi Judah ben Simon deduced from Exodus 39:3 that Genesis 1:6 meant “let a lining be made for the firmament.” (Genesis Rabbah 4:2.)


Behold now Behemoth (watercolor by William Blake, from his Illustrations of the Book of Job)

Rabbi Johanan taught that the words “and God created the great sea-monsters” in Genesis 1:21 referred to Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent, also referred to in Isaiah 27:1 Rab Judah taught in the name of Rab that God created all living things in this world male and female, including Leviathan the slant serpent and Leviathan the tortuous serpent. Had they mated with one another, they would have destroyed the world, so God castrated the male and killed the female, preserving it in salt for the righteous in the world to come, as reported in Isaiah 27:1 when it says: “And he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” Similarly, God also created male and female the “Behemoth upon a thousand hills” referred to in Psalm 50:10 Had they mated, they also would have destroyed the world, so God castrated the male and cooled the female and preserved it for the righteous for the world to come. Rab Judah taught further in the name of Rab that when God wanted to create the world, God told the angel of the sea to open the angel’s mouth and swallow all the waters of the world. When the angel protested, God struck the angel dead, as reported in Job 26:12, when it says: “He stirs up the sea with his power and by his understanding he smites through Rahab.” Rabbi Isaac deduced from this that the name of the angel of the sea was Rahab, and had the waters not covered Rahab, no creature could have stood the smell. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 74b.)

The Mishnah taught that in Second Temple times, Jews would acknowledge God’s creation and read the verses of the creation story when representatives of the people would assemble (as what were called ma’amadot) to participate in sacrifices made in Jerusalem on their behalf. (Mishnah Megillah 3:6; Babylonian Talmud Megillah 30b.) The people of the delegation would fast four days during the week that they assembled. On the first day (Sunday), they would read Genesis 1:1–8 On the second day, they would read Genesis 1:6–13 On the third day, they would read Genesis 1:9–19 On the fourth day, they would read Genesis 1:14–23 On the fifth day, they would read Genesis 1:20–31 And on the sixth day, they would read Genesis 1:24–2:3 (Mishnah Taanit 4:3; Babylonian Talmud Taanit 26b.) Rabbi Ammi taught that if had not been for the worship of these delegations, heaven and earth would not be firmly established, reading Jeremiah 33:25 to say, “If it were not for My covenant [observed] day and night, I would not have established the statutes of heaven and earth.” And Rabbi Ammi cited Genesis 15:8–9 to show that when Abraham asked God how Abraham would know that his descendants would inherit the Land notwithstanding their sins, God replied by calling on Abraham to sacrifice several animals. Rabbi Ammi then reported that Abraham asked God what would happen in times to come when there would be no Temple at which to offer sacrifices. Rabbi Ammi reported that God replied to Abraham that whenever Abraham’s descendents will read the sections of the Torah dealing with the sacrifices, God will account it as if they had brought the offerings, and forgive all their sins. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 31b.)

Man Made in the Image of God (crop)

The Garden of Eden (illustration from Bible card published 1906 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

Genesis chapter 2

The Mishnah taught that God created humanity from one person in Genesis 2:7 to teach that Providence considers one who destroys a single person as one who has destroyed an entire world, and Providence considers one who saves a single person as one who has saved an entire world. And God created humanity from one person for the sake of peace, so that none can say that their ancestry is greater than another’s. And God created humanity from one person so that heretics cannot say that there are many gods who created several human souls. And God created humanity from one person to demonstrate God’s greatness, for people stamp out many coins with one coin press and they all look alike, but God stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like another. Therefore, every person is obliged to say, “For my sake the world was created.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.)

Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda expounded on the words, “Then the Lord God formed (וַיִּיצֶר, wa-yitzer) man,” in Genesis 2:7. Rav Nahman bar Rav Hisda taught that the word וַיִּיצֶר, wa-yitzer is written with two yuds (יי) to show that God created people with two inclinations (yetzerim), one good and one evil. Rav Nahman bar Isaac demurred, arguing that according to this logic, animals, of which Genesis 2:19 writes וַיִּצֶר, wa-yitzer with a single yud, should have no evil inclination, but we see that they injure, bite, and kick, plainly evincing an evil inclination. Rather, Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi explained that the two yuds by saying, “Woe is me because of my Creator (yotzri), woe is me because of my evil inclination (yitzri)!” Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi thus indicated that the two yuds indicate the human condition, where God punishes us for giving in to our evil inclination, but our evil inclination tempts us when we try to resist. Alternatively, Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar explained that the two yuds reflect that God created two countenances in the first man, one man and one woman, back to back, as Psalm 139:5 says, “Behind and before have You formed me.” (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 61a.)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld - Die Erschaffung Evas

the creation of woman (illustration by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld)

Rab and Samuel offered different explanations of the words in Genesis 2:22, “And the rib which the Lord God had taken from man made He a woman.” One said that this “rib” was a face, the other that it was a tail. In support of the one who said it was a face, Psalm 139:5 says, “Behind and before have You formed me.” The one who said it was a tail explained the words, “Behind and before have You formed me,” as Rabbi Ammi said, that humankind was “behind,” that is, later, in the work of creation, and “before” in punishment. The Gemara conceded that humankind was last in the work of creation, for God created humankind on the eve of the Sabbath. But if when saying that humankind was first for punishment, one means the punishment in connection with the serpent, Rabbi taught that, in conferring honor the Bible commences with the greatest, in cursing with the least important. Thus, in cursing, God began with the least, cursing first the serpent, then the people. The punishment of the Flood must therefore be meant, as Genesis 7:23 says, “And He blotted out every living substance which was upon the face of the ground, both man and cattle,” starting with the people. In support of the one who said that Eve was created from a face, in Genesis 2:7, the word וַיִּיצֶר, wa-yitzer is written with two yuds. But the one who said Eve was created from a tail explained the word וַיִּיצֶר, wa-yitzer as Rabbi Simeon ben Pazzi said, “Woe is me because of my Creator (yotzri), woe is me because of my evil inclination (yitzri)!” In support of the one who said that Eve was created from a face, Genesis 5:2 says, “male and female created He them.” But the one who said Eve was created from a tail explained the words, “male and female created He them,” as Rabbi Abbahu explained when he contrasted the words, “male and female created He them,” in Genesis 5:2 with the words, “in the image of God made He man,” in Genesis 9:6. Rabbi Abbahu reconciled these statements by teaching that at first God intended to create two, but in the end created only one. In support of the one who said that Eve was created from a face, Genesis 2:22 says, “He closed up the place with flesh instead thereof.” But the one who said Eve was created from a tail explained the words, “He closed up the place with flesh instead thereof,” as Rabbi Jeremiah (or as some say Rav Zebid, or others say Rav Nahman bar Isaac) said, that these words applied only to the place where God made the cut. In support of the one who said that Eve was created from a tail, Genesis 2:22 says, “God built.” But the one who said that Eve was created from a face explained the words “God built” as explained by Rabbi Simeon ben Menasia, who interpreted the words, “and the Lord built the rib,” to teach that God braided Eve's hair and brought her to Adam, for in the seacoast towns braiding (keli'ata) is called building (binyata). Alternatively, Rav Hisda said (or some say it was taught in a Baraita) that the words, “and the Lord built the rib,” teach that God built Eve after the fashion of a storehouse, narrow at the top and broad at the bottom so as to hold the produce safely. So Rav Hisda taught that a woman is narrower above and broader below so as better to carry children. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 61a.)

The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that if an orphan applied to the community for assistance to marry, the community must rent a house, supply a bed and necessary household furnishings, and put on the wedding, as Deuteronomy 15:8 says, “sufficient for his need, whatever is lacking for him.” The Rabbis interpreted the words “sufficient for his need” to refer to the house, “whatever is lacking” to refer to a bed and a table, and “for him (לוֹ, lo)” to refer to a wife, as Genesis 2:18 uses the same term, “for him (לוֹ, lo),” to refer to Adam’s wife, whom Genesis 2:18 calls “a helpmate for him.” (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 67b.)


God forbids Eve to pick the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (marble bas-relief by Lorenzo Maitani on the Orvieto Cathedral)

Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar interpreted the words, “and he brought her to the man,” in Genesis 2:22 to teach that God acted as best man to Adam, teaching that a man of eminence should not think it amiss to act as best man for a lesser man. (Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 61a.)

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Cain leads Abel to death (painting by James Tissot)

Genesis chapter 3

Judah ben Padiah noted Adam’s frailty, for he could not remain loyal even for a single hour to God’s charge that he not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, yet in accordance with Leviticus 19:23, Adam’s descendants the Israelites waited three years for the fruits of a tree. (Genesis Rabbah 21:7.)

Genesis chapter 4

The Mishnah taught that court officials admonished witnesses testifying in capital cases to beware that the blood of the defendant and all the defendant’s offspring to the end of the world depended on the witness, for Genesis 4:10 says concerning Cain that “the bloods of your brother cry . . . from the ground,” using the plural “bloods” to signify the victim’s blood and the blood of the victim’s offspring. The Mishnah reported that another interpretation of “brother's bloods” was that Abel’s blood spattered in several places on the surrounding trees and stones. (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.)

Genesis chapter 5

The Mishnah taught that Genesis 5:1–31 enumerated ten generations from Adam to Noah to demonstrate how patient God is, for according to the Mishnah, all those generations provoked God, until God brought on them the waters of the flood. (Mishnah Avot 5:2.)

Rabbi Tanhuma taught in Rabbi Banayah's name, and Rabbi Berekiah taught in Rabbi Eleazar's name, that God created Adam a shapeless mass, and Adam lay stretching from one end of the world to the other, as Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes did see my shapeless mass.” Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Simon taught that while Adam lay a shapeless mass before God, God showed Adam every succeeding generation of mankind and its Sages, judges, scribes, interpreters, and leaders. God told Adam, in the words of Psalm 139:16, “Your eyes did see unformed substance,” Adam’s potential descendants, and God told Adam that all of those descendants had already been written in the book of Adam, as Genesis 5:1 says: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” (Genesis Rabbah 24:2.)

Rabbi Eleazar read the words of Genesis 5:2, “male and female created He them, and called their name ‘man,’” and deduced that one cannot be called a complete “man” unless one is married. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 63a.)

Noting that Genesis 5:24 says of Enoch not that he died, but that “God took him,” some sectarians (Judeo-Christians or Christians) challenged Rabbi Abbahu, saying that they did not find that Enoch died, but that God “took” him, just as 2 Kings 2:1 says that God would “take” Elijah. Rabbi Abbahu reasoned that one could read the verb “took” in Genesis 5:24 just as “take” is used in Ezekiel 24:16, which says, “Behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes,” and there definitely refers to death. (Genesis Rabbah 25:1.)

Also interpreting Genesis 5:24, Rabbi Aibu taught that Enoch was a hypocrite, acting sometimes righteously and sometimes wickedly. So God removed Enoch while Enoch was acting righteously, judging Enoch on Rosh Hashanah, when God judges the whole world. (Genesis Rabbah 25:1.)


The Deluge (illustration by Gustave Doré)

Genesis chapter 6

Rabbi Levi, or some say Rabbi Jonathan, said that a tradition handed down from the Men of the Great Assembly taught that wherever the Bible employs the term “and it was” or “and it came to pass” (וַיְהִי, wa-yehi), as it does in Genesis 6:1, it indicates misfortune, as one can read wa-yehi as wai, hi, “woe, sorrow.” Thus the words, “And it came to pass when man began to multiply,” in Genesis 6:1, are followed by the words, “God Saw that the wickedness of man was great,” in Genesis 6:5. And the Gemara also cited the instances of Genesis 11:2 followed by Genesis 11:4; Genesis 14:1 followed by Genesis 14:2; Joshua 5:13 followed by the rest of Joshua 5:13; Joshua 6:27 followed by Joshua 7:1; 1 Samuel 1:1 followed by 1 Samuel 1:5; 1 Samuel 8:1 followed by 1 Samuel 8:3; 1 Samuel 18:14 close after 1 Samuel 18:9; 2 Samuel 7:1 followed by 1 Kings 8:19; Ruth 1:1 followed by the rest of Ruth 1:1; and Esther 1:1 followed by Haman. But the Gemara also cited as counterexamples the words, “And there was evening and there was morning one day,” in Genesis 1:5, as well as Genesis 29:10, and 1 Kings 6:1. So Rav Ashi replied that wa-yehi sometimes presages misfortune, and sometimes it does not, but the expression “and it came to pass in the days of” always presages misfortune. And for that proposition, the Gemara cited Genesis 14:1, Isaiah 7:1 Jeremiah 1:3, Ruth 1:1, and Esther 1:1. (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 10b.)

Reading the words of Genesis 6:2, “the sons of God (בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים, bene elohim) saw the daughters of men,” Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai called them “the sons of nobles,” and Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai cursed all who called them “the sons of God.” Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai taught that all real demoralization proceeds from the leaders, as they are in a position to stop it. Rabbi Haninah and Resh Lakish reasoned that Genesis 6:2 calls them “the sons of God” because they lived a long time without trouble or suffering. (Genesis Rabbah 26:5.)

Rav Huna said in Rav Joseph's name that the generation of the flood were not blotted out from the world until they composed nuptial songs (or others say, wrote marriage contracts) in honor of pederasty and bestiality. (Genesis Rabbah 26:5.)


According to the Sefer ha-Chinuch, a noted authority on the commandments, there is one positive commandment in the parshah:

(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, 1: 82–85. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-515-8.)

Maimonides, however, attributes the commandment to Genesis 9:7 (Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Positive Commandment 212. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180. Reprinted in Maimonides. The Commandments: Sefer Ha-Mitzvoth of Maimonides. Translated by Charles B. Chavel, 1:228. London: Soncino Press, 1967. ISBN 0-900689-71-4.)

Most rabbis agree, based on the Shulchan Aruch, that one does not have to have children but merely try to. Raising adopted children as your own also fulfils this mitzvah. (Ask the rabbi at Ohr Somayach. Retrieved October 15, 2006.)


Isaiah (painting by Michelangelo)


The haftarah is a text selected from the books of Nevi'im ("The Prophets") that is read publicly in the synagogue after the reading of the Torah. The haftarah usually has a thematic link to the Torah reading that precedes it. The haftarah for Bereishit is:

The parshah and haftarah in Isaiah  42 both report God’s absolute power. Genesis  1:1–2:4 and Isaiah  42:5 both tell of God’s creation of heaven and earth. The haftarah in Isaiah  42:6–7, 16 echoes the word “light” (and God’s control of it) from Genesis  1:3–5, but puts the word to broader use. And the haftarah puts the idea of “opening . . . eyes” (in Isaiah  42:7) in more favorable light than does the parshah (in Genesis  3:5–7).

In the liturgy

The first word of Genesis 1:1, bereishit, and thus God’s role as Creator, is recited in the Aleinu, a prayer near the end of each of the three prayer services. (Reuven Hammer. Or Hadash: A Commentary on Siddur Sim Shalom for Shabbat and Festivals, 11, 51, 183. New York: The Rabbinical Assembly, 2003. ISBN 0916219208.)

God’s creation of heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1 is reflected in Psalm 96:5,11, which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Hammer, at 16.)

Kaufmann Haggadah p 014

A page from the Kaufmann Haggadah

The waters of creation in Genesis 1:2 may be reflected in Psalm 29:3, which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Hammer, at 20.)

At the beginning of the K’riat Sh’ma prayer service, following the Barchu, Jews recite a blessing that acknowledges God’s miracle of creation, noting, among other acts, God’s “separating day from night,” as recounted in Genesis 1:18. (Hammer, at 28.)

In the Passover Haggadah, if the Seder takes place on Friday night, then many Jews recite Genesis 1:31–2:3 or 2:1–3 at the beginning of the Kiddush section of the Seder. (Menachem Davis. The Interlinear Haggadah: The Passover Haggadah, with an Interlinear Translation, Instructions and Comments, 29. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-57819-064-9. Joseph Tabory. JPS Commentary on the Haggadah: Historical Introduction, Translation, and Commentary, 79. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8276-0858-0.)

Following the Kabbalat Shabbat service and prior to the Friday evening (Ma'ariv) service, Jews traditionally read rabbinic sources on the observance of the Sabbath, including an excerpt from Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 119b. In Shabbat 119b, Rava instructed that one should recite Genesis 2:1–3 on the eve of the Sabbath. (Hammer, at 26.)

The Lekhah Dodi liturgical poem of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service reflects the role of the Sabbath described in Genesis 2:2–3, characterizing the Sabbath as the “last of the work (of Creation)” (sof ma’aseh). (Hammer, at 21.)

Reuven Kimelman found in the “awake and arise” stanza of the Lekhah Dodi poem a play between the root or, from which stems the word for “skin” or “leather,” and the homonym or that means “light.” In Genesis 3:21, Adam exchanged garments of light for garments of leather; the Lekhah Dodi poem calls on God to exchange our current garments of skin for garments of light. (Hammer, at 21.)

The “Divine beings” or “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:2 are reflected in Psalm 29:1, which is in turn one of the six Psalms recited at the beginning of the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service. (Hammer, at 20.)

The Weekly Maqam

In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardi Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parshah. For parshah Bereshit, Sephardi Jews apply Maqam Rast, the maqam that shows a beginning or an initiation of something. In this case it is appropriate, because we are initiating the Book of Genesis.

See also

Further reading

The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:


Gilgamesh tablet





Early nonrabbinic

Classical rabbinic

  • Mishnah: Taanit 4:3; Megillah 3:6; Yevamot 6:6; Sanhedrin 4:5, 10:3; Avot 5:1–2; Chullin 5:5; Mikvaot 5:4. Land of Israel, circa 200 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
  • Tosefta: Peah 4:10; Chagigah 2:6; Ketubot 6:8; Sotah 3:7, 9, 4:11, 17–18, 10:2; Sanhedrin 13:6; Keritot 4:15. Land of Israel, circa 300 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
  • Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 6a–b, 83b, 84b, 86b, 90a; Peah 8a; Kilayim 4b, 5b–6a; Sukkah 7b. Land of Israel, circa 400 C.E. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 1–3, 5, 22. Brooklyn: Mesorah Pubs., 2005–2009.
  • Genesis Rabbah 1:1–29:5; 30:7–8; 31:1; 32:7; 33:3; 34:9, 13; 38:4, 9; 42:3; 44:17; 49:2; 50:7; 51:2; 53:8; 54:1; 61:4; 64:2; 65:13; 73:3; 80:5–6; 82:14; 85:2; 89:2; 92:6, 8; 97; 100:7. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Leviticus Rabbah 1:9; 6:6; 9:3, 6, 9; 10:5, 9; 11:1, 2, 7; 13:5; 14:1; 15:1, 9; 18:2; 19:6; 20:2; 22:2; 23:3, 9; 25:3; 27:1, 5; 29:11; 30:4; 31:1, 8; 33:6; 35:6, 8; 36:1, 4. Land of Israel, 5th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
First page of the first tractate of the Talmud (Daf Beis of Maseches Brachos)



  • Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:13, 25; 4:5; 6:11; 8:1; 9:8; 10:2. Land of Israel, 9th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Leviticus. Translated by H. Freedman and Maurice Simon. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Sefer Yetzirah. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Aryeh Kaplan. Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation; In Theory and Practice. Boston: Weiser Books, 1997. ISBN 0-87728-855-0.
  • Exodus Rabbah 1:2, 14, 20, 32; 2:4; 3:13; 5:1; 9:11; 10:1–2; 12:3; 14:2; 15:7, 22, 30; 21:6, 8; 23:4; 25:6; 29:6–8; 30:3, 13; 31:17; 32:1–2; 33:4; 34:2; 35:1; 41:2; 48:2; 50:1; 52:5. 10th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
Ibn Gabirol

Ibn Gabirol

Rashi woodcut


  • Rashi. Commentary. Genesis 1–6. Troyes, France, late 11th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., Rashi. The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated. Translated and annotated by Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg, 1:1–63. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995. ISBN 0-89906-026-9.
  • Judah Halevi. Kuzari. s:Kitab al Khazari/Part Two 2:14, 20; 3:1, 73; 4:3, 25; 5:10. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 89–91, 94, 135, 193, 195, 209, 229, 235, 254–56. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
  • Zohar 1:1a, 3b, 11b, 15a–59a, 59b, 60b, 70b–71a, 73a–b, 76a, 79b–80a, 82b, 85a, 95b, 97a–b, 102b, 103b, 105b, 115a, 124a, 128b, 130b–131a, 138a–b, 141b, 143a–b, 144b, 148b, 154b–155a, 158a, 162b–163a, 165a–b, 166b, 171a, 177a, 179a–b, 184a, 194a, 199b, 208a, 216a, 224a, 227b, 232a, 240a; 2:10a–b, 11b–12a, 15b, 23a, 24b, 27a–b, 28b, 34a, 37a–b, 39a, 51a, 54b–55a, 63b, 68b, 70a, 75a, 79a, 85b, 88a, 90a, 94b, 99b, 103a, 113b, 127b, 147b, 149b, 167a–168a, 171a, 172a, 174b–175a, 184a, 192b, 201a, 207b, 210b–211b, 219b, 220b, 222b, 224b, 226a, 229b–230a, 231a–b, 234b–235a; 3:7a, 9b, 19a–b, 24b, 35b, 39b–40a, 44b, 46b, 48a–b, 58a, 61b, 83b, 93a, 107a, 117a, 148a, 189a, 261b, 298a. Spain, late 13th Century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.
Thomas Hobbes (portrait)





William Butler Yeats by George Charles Beresford


JohnSteinbeck crop


File:Eli Wiesel US Congress.jpg
  • Bruce Springsteen. "Adam Raised a Cain." In Darkness on the Edge of Town. New York: Columbia Records, 1978.
  • Mayer I. Gruber. “Was Cain Angry or Depressed?” Biblical Archaeology Review 6 (6) (November/December 1980).
  • Harry M. Orlinsky. “Enigmatic Bible Passages: The Plain Meaning of Genesis 1:1–3.” Biblical Archaeologist 46 (1983).
  • Michael Blumenthal. “Light, at Thirty-Two.” In Days We Would Rather Know. Viking, 1984. ISBN 0670776122.
  • Ronald S. Hendel. “When the Sons of God Cavorted with the Daughters of Men.” Bible Review. 3 (2) (Summer 1987).
  • Victor Hurowitz. “When Did God Finish Creation?” Bible Review 3 (4) (Winter 1987).
  • Bernard Batto. “When God Sleeps.” Bible Review. 3 (4) (Winter 1987).
  • Pamela J. Milne. “Eve and Adam: Is a Feminist Reading Possible?” Bible Review 4 (3) (June 1988).
  • Jon D. Levenson. Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. ISBN 0-06-254845-X.
  • Marc Gellman. Does God Have a Big Toe? Stories About Stories in the Bible, 1–17, 23–25. New York: HarperCollins, 1989. ISBN 0-06-022432-0.
  • Nahum M. Sarna. The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation, 3–47, 375–76. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989. ISBN 0-8276-0326-6.
  • Adrien Janis Bledstein. “Was Eve Cursed? (Or Did a Woman Write Genesis?)” Bible Review 9 (1) (February 1993).
  • Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 5. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
  • Jacob Milgrom. “Sex and Wisdom: What the Garden of Eden Story Is Saying: There is a plain, unambiguous meaning to the story: It is about sexual awareness and the creativity of which that is a part.” Bible Review. 10 (6) (December 1994).
Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


  • Phyllis Trible. “Eve and Miriam: From the Margins to the Center.” In Feminist Approaches to the Bible: Symposium at the Smithsonian Institution September 24, 1994. Biblical Archaeology Society, 1995. ISBN 1880317419.
  • Marc Gellman. God’s Mailbox: More Stories About Stories in the Bible, 3–23. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1996. ISBN 0-688-13169-7.
  • Adin Steinsaltz. Simple Words: Thinking About What Really Matters in Life, 16, 25, 39, 46, 105–07. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. ISBN 068484642X.
  • Lawrence E. Stager. “Jerusalem as Eden.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 26 (3) (May/June 2000): 36–47, 66.
  • Jennifer Michael Hecht. “History.” In The Next Ancient World, 20. Dorset, Vermont: Tupelo Press, 2001. ISBN 0-97103-10-0-2.
  • Pamela Tamarkin Reis. “Genesis as Rashomon: The Creation as Told by God and Man.” Bible Review 17 (3) (June 2001): 26–33, 55.
  • Alan Lew. This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, 118, 121. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 2003. ISBN 0-316-73908-1.
  • Joseph Telushkin. The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life, 30–32, 214–17, 292–95. New York: Bell Tower, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4509-6.
  • Robert Alter. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, xxv, xxxii–xxxiii, xxxv–xxxvi, xli, 17–40. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004. ISBN 0-393-01955-1.
  • David Maine. Fallen. St. Martin's Press, 2005. ISBN 0-312-32849-4.
  • Anthony Hecht. Naming the Animals. In Collected Later Poems, 64. New York: Knopf, 2005. ISBN 0375710302.
  • Lawrence Kushner. Kabbalah: A Love Story, 11, 69. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7679-2412-6.
  • R.W.L. Moberly. “The Mark of Cain — Revealed at Last?” Harvard Theological Review 100 (1) (January 2007): 11–28.
  • Esther Jungreis. Life Is a Test, 50, 62, 133–34, 165, 178–80, 209. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2007. ISBN 1-4226-0609-0.
  • James A. Diamond. “Nachmanides and Rashi on the One Flesh of Conjugal Union: Lovemaking vs. Duty.” Harvard Theological Review. 102 (2) (Apr. 2009): 193–224.

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