The weekly Torah portion popularly called parashah or parashah or parsha is a section of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) read in prayer services, mainly on Shabbat – Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. The Torah is read publicly over the course of a year, with one major portion read each week in the Shabbat morning service, except when a holiday coincides with Shabbat. The Torah is traditionally divided into 54 parashiyot or parshas (plural).
Each weekly Torah portion adopts its name from one of the first unique words in the Hebrew text. The first Parshat, for example, is Parshat (Genesis) Bereishit, which covers from the beginning of Genesis to the story of Noah.
Dating back to the time of the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE) public Torah reading mostly followed an annual cycle beginning and ending on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, with the Torah divided into 54 weekly portions to correspond to the lunisolar Hebrew calendar, which contains up to 55 weeks, the exact number varying between leap years and regular years. In the course of a year, the entire Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) is read in Sabbath services. During non-leap years, there are 50 weeks, so some of the shorter portions are doubled up.
The last portion of the Torah is read right before a holiday called Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Law), which occurs in October, a few weeks after Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets). On Simchat Torah, the last portion of the Torah is read, and proceed immediately to the first paragraph of Genesis, showing that the Torah is a circle, and never ends.
In the service, the weekly parashah is followed by a passage from the prophets, which is referred to as a haftarah. Contrary to common misconception, “haftarah” does not mean “half-Torah.” The word comes from the Hebrew word meaning “Concluding Portion”. Usually, haftarah portion is no longer than one chapter, and has some relation to the Torah portion of the week and is taken from the Prophetic writings, not the Torah.
The Names of the First Five Books of the Bible
The Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is the foundation of all that follows. And every word of the Bible is important. In Hebrew even the names of the books of the Bible are important. But they are different in our English Bible translations and as such we miss their significance. The translators, over the centuries, didn’t just take the original Hebrew names of these books and translate them, they changed the names to reflect what they thought was the subject of the book. This changed the cultural and linguistic understanding of these important writings In the Hebrew Bible, the names of these books are derived from a word or phrase within the first verse. In Hebrew names are an important part of the culture and language. In the Bible, the meaning of names is part of the substance of the narrative which contains them. So let’s look at the Hebrew names of the first five books of the Bible and see what they mean.
Genesis – Breisheit:
The book of Genesis is in the Hebrew Bible is called “Bresheet”, which means “in the beginning.” “In the beginning” would be a strange title in English language and culture, as well as many other western cultures, but makes perfect sense in Hebrew.
#7225 in the Strong’s Dictionary. re’shiyth, ray-sheeth’ from the same as #7218; the first, in place, time, order or rank (specifically, a first fruit):–beginning, chief(-est), first(-fruits, part, time), principal thing.
By adding the letter beit to the beginning of the word, it adds the meaning “in” or “into,” hence it is translated as “in the beginning.”
Exodus – Shemot:
Exodus, is just that, the story of the Exodus. But the Hebrew name is Shemot, which means “These are the Names.”
#8034. shem, a primitive word (perhaps rather from #7760 through the idea of definite and conspicuous position; compare #8064); an appellation, as a mark or memorial of individuality; by implication honor, authority, character:–+ base, (in-)fame(-ous), name, renown, report.
By adding the letter tav to the end of the word, it becomes a plural form, names.
Leviticus – Acherei-Mot:
Leviticus is in Hebrew Bible the book of Viyikra which means “called out.”
#7121. qara’, kaw-raw‘. A primitive root. To call out to (i.e. properly, address by name, but used in a wide variety of applications):–bewray (self), that are bidden, call (for, forth, self, upon), cry (unto), (be) famous, guest, invite, mention, (give) name, preach, (make) proclaim(- ation), pronounce, publish, read, renowned, say.
By adding a Vav and a yood to the beginning of, we get vayikra which means “he called” or in the context of the verse, “the LORD called out.”
Numbers – Bemidar:
When we think of the book of numbers, that is exactly what we think of, long lists of numbers. The book starts out with a census and contains an accounting of the generations of the children of Israel. Name after name, list after list, story after story, the book of Numbers reads like an accountant’s ledger. But it is really about their time in the wilderness which is the Hebrew name for this book, Bamidbar.
#4057. midbar, mid-bawr’ from #1696 in the sense of driving; a pasture (i.e. open field, where cattle are driven); by implication, a desert; also speech (including its organs):–desert, south, speech, wilderness.
Again, as with Bresheet, by adding the letter beit to the beginning of the word, we get “in the wilderness.”
Deuteronomy – Devarim:
The last book of the Torah is Deuteronomy. The name Deuteronomy is of Greek origin and literally means “second words”, referring to this book being a restatement of the “nomos”, or the law. In Hebrew this book is called Devarim. It comes from the word dabar.
#1697. dabar, daw-bawr’ from #1696; a word; by implication, a (spoken) matter or thing; manner, matter, message, oracle, saying, sentence, song, speech, talk, task, tidings, word, work.
Adding the yood and a mem to the end of we get a plural form, Devarim. In this word the letter beit is pronounced with a “v” sound. Devarim opens with “These are the words that Moses spoke…” The words are those of God, His words, His law, His Torah! So what is the combined meaning of the Hebrew names of these books, the Torah of God?
In the beginning / these are the names / the LORD called out / in the wilderness / and these are His words.
The first five books of the Bible are collectively known as the Torah in Hebrew. The word Torah is most often translated in English as “law” which is derived primarily from the Greek “nomos.” Torah, in turn, comes from the Hebrew word yarah.
#3384. yarah, yaw-raw’ a primitive root; to point out (as if by aiming the finger or in archery, aiming an arrow), to teach, direct, inform, instruct (ion), lay, teaching.
But, as we see here, Torah is far more than a law as we would understand it in English. Torah is literally an “instruction” or “teaching.” The Torah was given to the Children of Israel and the mixed multitude with them, after their redemption from Egypt, after their release from their bondage and slavery. The Torah is instruction from God so that we, as a descendant of Israel (Jacob) or as part of the mixed multitude (the Nations or Gentiles), can fellowship and draw near to God, our redeemer!
The Torah is multi-faceted. It is the story of our redemption, it is our instruction in living a sanctified life, it is our “constitution” governing our relationships to one another and it contains the entire redemption plan for man and is the story of the Messiah. The word Torah itself is a sign of things to come.
- Many Hebrew words, when taking into account the meaning of the individual letters, give us a kind of word picture. Here is a word picture of the word Torah: Hebrew is read right to left.
Torah = Hey-Resh-Tav
- Tav: Cross, covenant or sign of the covenant
- Resh: Person especially the highest person, head
- Hey: Reveal. At the end of a word hey means what comes from or out of, belonging to
- The covenant secured by the highest person revealed or,
- Revealing the highest person nailed to the cross. (read backwards)
The beauty of a picture language – Even the letters of a word tells a story and validates the meanings. God made sure the change in language over 4000 years would not change the picture letters or their meanings.
- Genesis – Breisheit:
- Exodus – Shemot:
- Leviticus – Acherei-Mot:
- Numbers – Bemidar:
- Deuteronomy – Devarim:
- Feasts – Special Readings: