Unlike a Reader’s Digest version of the Torah, which would cut out much of the law and all of the lists, a description of the Torah following each weekly portion reflects the real rhythms of the text. Reprinted with permission from The Bible: Where Do You Find It and What Does It Say?, published by Jason Aronson.
The First of the Five Books of Moses begins with the creation of the world out of the void. It ends with the last days of Moses. Each week a different sidrah (Torah portion) is read on Saturday morning in traditional synagogues. Here is a list of the Torah portions for the entire year and a brief summary of their contents.
The creation of the world. The patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob and his sons go down to Egypt. Jacob blesses his sons before his death.
Bereshit (1:1-6:8) The world is created in six days.
Noah (6:9-11:32) A flood destroys the world. God’s rainbow promises that the world will never again be destroyed in its entirety.
Lekh-L’kha (12:1-17:27) Abraham leaves Mesopotamia for the Promised Land.
Vayera (18:1-22:24) Abraham welcomes three angels into his tent and learns that his wife Sarah will give birth to a son.
Haye Sarah (23:1-25:18) Abraham’s servant finds a suitable wife, Rebecca, for Abraham’s son Isaac.
Toldot (25:19-28:9) The birth of Esau and Jacob. Isaac blesses Jacob.
Vayetze (28:10-32:3) God appears to Jacob in a dream. Jacob works fourteen years and marries Leah and Rachel.
Vayishlah (32:4-36:43) Jacob and Esau reunite after twenty years. Rachel dies and is buried in Bethlehem.
Vayeshev (37:1-40:23) Joseph‘s brothers strip him of his coat of many colors and throw him into a pit.
Miketz (41:1-44:17) Joseph successfully interprets Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph is appointed viceroy.
Vayigash (44:18-47:27) Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, who are dumbfounded.
Vayehi (47:28-50:26) Jacob blesses his sons. Joseph dies at end of book at age 110.
The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt. Moses receives the Ten Commandments. The Israelites build a tabernacle.
Sh’mot (1:1-6:1) Moses is saved by Pharaoh’s daughter. God appears to Moses at the burning bush.
Vaera (6:2-9:35) God brings plagues upon the Egyptians. Pharaoh’s heart hardens and he refuses to let the Israelites go.
Bo (10:1-13:16) Egyptian firstborn children are slain by God. The Israelites hastily leave Egypt and bake matzah from unleavened dough.
B’shalah (13:17-17:16) The waters of the Red Sea divide to make a path for the Israelites.
Yitro (18:1-20:23) Jethro, Moses’ father-in law, advises him to appoint judges so as to ease his burden. Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
Mishpatim (21:1-24:18) Moses instructs the Israelites in the Law.
Terumah (25:1-27:19) The tabernacle is constructed.
Tetzaveh (27:20-30:10) Aaron and his sons are put in charge of the menorah. The priestly garments are described in great detail.
Ki Tissa (30:11-34:35) The Israelites build a golden calf; when Moses sees it he shatters the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.
Vayakhel (35:1-38:20) The people bring an array of gifts for the tabernacle until they are told to stop.
Pekudei (38:21-40:38) The cloud of glory covers the completed tabernacle as the Israelites stand in the distance.
The priestly code; the rules pertaining to sacrifices, diet, and morality; and the Land of Israel and festivals are discussed.
Vayikra (1:1-5:26) God reveals the sacrificial laws.
Tzav (6:1-8:36) Moses anoints Aaron and his sons as priests.
Shemini (9:1-11:47) Laws describing kosher and nonkosher animals are enumerated.
Tazria (12:1-13:59) Cleanliness and uncleanliness are defined in relation to childbirth and leprosy.
Metzora (14:1-15:33) The laws for the purification of the leper after he has healed are discussed.
Ahare Mot (16:1-18:30) Aaron’s sons die. Aaron chooses by lot a goat and a scapegoat.
Kedoshim (19:1-20:27) More laws are set forth, including, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Emor (21:1-24:23) Festival seasons are described in detail.
B’har (25:1-26:2) The sabbatical and jubilee years are discussed.
B’hukotai (26:3-27:34) The punishment for rejecting God’s covenant is discussed.
The Census. More statutes and laws. Adventures of the Hebrews en route to Canaan through the desert.
B’midbar (1:1-4:20) Description of the Israelites’ encampments during their journeys through the desert.
Naso (4:21-7:89) Regulations concerning Nazirites and the threefold priestly benediction.
B’ha’alotekha (8:1-12:16) Kindling of the menorah. Seventy elders are delegated to serve under Moses.
Shelah (13:1-15:41) Twelve spies are dispatched to survey the land of Canaan. Two of the spies return with a positive report.
Korah (16:1-18:32) Korach refuses to accept the leadership of Moses and Aaron. He and his assembly are killed by an earthquake.
Hukkat (19:1-22:1) The laws regarding the red heifer are enumerated. Moses strikes the rock and water gushes forth.
Balak (22:2-25:9) Balak, king of Moab, sends Bilaam to curse the Israelites. Instead, Bilaam gives his blessing to them.
Pinhas (25:10-30:1) The daughters of Zelophechad are given their father’s inheritance. Moses chooses Joshua as his successor.
Mattot (30:2-32:42) Moses informs the tribal heads regarding the laws of vowing.
Masei (33:1-36:13) The detailed account of the various way stations on the Israelites’ route to the Promised Land. Reference is made to the cities of refuge.
A recapitulation of the laws with some additions. Moses addresses the children of Israel and presents them with some warnings.
D’varim (1:1-3:22) Moses explains and interprets the law to the people.
Va’et’hanan (3:23-7:11) The Ten Commandments are repeated, with slight variations. The cities of refuge are mentioned. The first section of the Shema is begun with, “You shall love the Lord your God.”
Ekev (7:12-11:25) The Shema continues with the second paragraph, which deals with the theme of reward and punishment.
Re’eh (11:26-16:17) Moses continues his address, telling the people that obedience will bring them blessing, whereas disobedience will bring them curses.
Shoftim (16:18-21:9) Moses warns the people against idolatry. He also reminds the people of the importance of pursuing justice.
Ki Tetze (21:10-25:19) Moses reviews a variety of laws intended to strengthen family life and human decency in Israel. Those laws refer to lost property, the educational responsibility of parents to their children, and kindness to animals, among other things.
Ki Tavo (26:1-29:8) The laws of tithing and first fruits arc discussed.
Nitzavim (29:9-30:20) Moses continues his farewell speech and God tells the people to choose life.
Vayelekh (31:1-30) Joshua is appointed successor to Moses. Moses completes the writing of the Torah.
Ha’azinu (32:1-52) Moses’ farewell song—a beautiful poem in which he calls upon heaven and earth to witness God’s dependability.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronunced: TORE-uh, Origin: Hebrew, the Five Books of Moses.