God creates the heaven and the earth, along with all living beings, enjoining them to “be fruitful and multiply.” Beholding Creation, God sees that it is “very good.” God’s plan, however, is disrupted by sin: disobedience in the Garden of Eden, Cain’s slaying of Abel. God regrets the creation of the human race, but finds hope in Noah.
While the flood wreaks great destruction, life is preserved in Noah’s Ark. God establishes a covenant: Never again to destroy the earth. The generations of Noah’s descendants flourish. They build the Tower of Babel to pierce the heavens. God thwarts their efforts by confounding “the language of all the earth” and scattering its inhabitants.
Parashat Lekh L’kha
Abram answers God’s call and leaves Haran for Canaan. In the new land, Abram and Sarai establish themselves as prominent and righteous figures; they gain God’s blessing along with new names – Abraham and Sarah. Ishmael is born, Isaac’s birth is promised, and circumcision is instituted as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham.
God sends three messengers to visit Abraham, confirming that Sarah will indeed bear a son. They also announce the destruction of Sodom. Abraham challenges this decree, but when his conditions cannot be met, God destroys Sodom. Isaac is born. In response to Sarah’s demand, Abraham banishes Ishmael. God then tests Abraham’s devotion by commanding him to sacrifice his beloved Isaac.
Parashat Hayye Sarah
Upon Sarah’s death, Abraham acquires the Cave of Makhpelah as a burial ground. Before his own death, Abraham dispatches his servant, Eliezer, to Haran in search of a wife for Isaac from among his kin. Rebecca, Abraham’s great-niece, is gracious to Eliezer and agrees to the marriage.
Rebecca bears twin sons, Jacob and Esau, rivals from birth. Esau sells Jacob his birthright. Rebecca helps Jacob secure Esau’s blessing by deceiving Isaac, to Esau’s fury. Fearing for Jacob’s life, Rebecca implores Isaac to send Jacob off to her brother Laban, in Haran, to seek a wife.
As he begins his journey, Jacob dreams of angels, ascending and descending. Awed, he vows to return from this journey and follow God’s ways. After reaching Haran, he marries Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, sires children, and prospers while raising cattle for Laban. After twenty years, Jacob finally fulfills his pledge to return to Canaan.
As he prepares to face his brother Esau upon returning to Canaan, Jacob wrestles with an angel, who confers upon him the name Israel. The meeting with Esau goes well, yet Jacob, fearful still, is quick to part company with him. Jacob’s camp reaches Shekhem, where his daughter, Dinah, is raped; two of Jacob’s sons take brutal revenge. Jacob then builds an altar at Bethel, as God instructs. Rachel dies in childbirth; Jacob and Esau also bury Isaac.
Joseph offends his brothers with his dreams of grandeur. They sell him into slavery and lead Jacob to believe his son is dead. Yet Joseph, in Egypt, finds favor with his master. Even when thrown into prison, Joseph’s abilities are recognized. He interprets the dreams of his fellow prisoners, the steward and chief baker of Pharaoh.
When a dream troubles Pharaoh, his steward recalls Joseph’s gift for interpretation. Joseph is summoned and foresees seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Pharaoh believing Joseph, places him in charge of Egypt’s preparation for the lean years. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt for grain; Joseph chooses to conceal his identity from them. Joseph orders that his goblet be hidden in Benjamin’s sack; when it is found, Joseph detains him.
With Benjamin caught in Joseph’s trap, Judah begs to take his place for Jacob’s sake. Greatly moved, Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers at last. They reconcile, whereupon Joseph has them bring Jacob and the entire family to dwell in Goshen for the duration of the famine. The aged patriarch is formally received at Pharaoh’s court.
Jacob, nearing death, blesses Joseph and his sons, Menasheh and Ephraim: he then offers his final words to each of his twelve sons. Pharaoh gives Joseph permission to bury Jacob in Canaan. Later, as Joseph himself is dying, he instructs his kin to carry his remains back to Canaan one day, for surely, he says, God will remember them and return them to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.