The Torah

Five books of story, law, and poetry.

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In the works of the prophets, and in many of the writings, narrative elements from the Torah like the exodus from Egypt are re-used to make new points. Laws from the Torah like the specifics of Sabbath law prohibitions are also commented upon and expand their scope in later works. Another set of connections between the Torah and the Prophets is indicated by the weekly Prophetic portions (haftarot), which are paired with each of the 54 weekly Torah portions (Parshat haShavua). 

bible quizThe English names for each of the Torah's five book are actually Greek, and like the Rabbinic names for the books, they are descriptive of the contents. The common names for the books come from a significant word in the beginning verses of the book. The following are the names of the five books and a brief summary of each:

Bereishit ("In the Beginning") / Genesis ("Origins") tells the story of creation, Noah and the flood, and the selection of Abraham and Sarah and their family as the bearers of God's covenant.  Stories of sibling conflict and the long narratives of Jacob and his favorite son Joseph conclude with the family dwelling in Egypt.

Shemot ("names") / Exodus ("The Road Out") tells of how the family of Jacob grew and then was enslaved in Egypt.  The baby Moses, born of Israelites but adopted by Pharaoh, becomes God’s prophet who, after bringing 10 plagues down upon Egypt, leads the Israelites through the Red Sea to freedom and to the revelation at Mt. Sinai. The story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, which follows soon after the revelation at Mt. Sinai, is almost obscured by lengthy materials on the building of a sanctuary in the wilderness.

Vayikra ("And God Called") / Leviticus ("Laws of the Levites”) deals mostly with laws of Israelite sacrificial worship. Related rules include the basis for Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and issues of purity and impurity.  The holiness code, which describes a sanctified communal life, is a highlight of the book.

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