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Judaism 101: What is a parasha? Part 1

A Torah scroll
A parsha is the section of the Torah scroll that is read in shul every Shabbos.

At the heart of Judaism and every Jew is Torah.  Also known as the Five Books of Moses, or the Old Testament in the Bible, Jewish life today is still centered upon the words given to us at Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.  In shuls (Yiddish for synagogue) across the world, a yearly cycle begins after every Rosh HaShannah in which the whole Torah is read out loud in weekly installments.  These parts are called a parsha.  The literal translation of parasha is a portion or section, but the closest meaning in English would be a chapter.  However, a parsha is not necessarily equivalent to the biblical chapters we recognize today which were first used in the Geneva Bible published in 1560 by William Whittingham.

A parasha is the original division of the Torah maintained through the generations through a yearly cycle of public readings on Mondays, Thursdays, Shabbos and holidays.  Each week of the year, beginning with Rosh HaShannah, has its own parasha which is read consecutively on Shabbos.  The Torah is broken up into five (5) books within which there is an average of ten (10) parashos.  The names of the books (i.e. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) are Greek in origin; the Hebrew names for each of the parashos are taken from the first word of the parasha and the name of the book is the name of the first parsha in the book (underlined below).  They are as follows:

Genesis: Bereishis, Noach, Lech Lecha, Vayeira, Chayei Sarah, Toldos, Vayetzei, Vayishlach, Vayeshev, Mikeitz, Vayigash, and Vayechi.

Exodus:  Shmos, Va’eira, Bo, Beshalach, Yisro, Mishaptim, Trumah, Tetzaveh, Ki Tisa, Vayakhel, and Pekudei.

Leviticus:  Vayikra, Tzav, Shmini, Tazria, Metzora, Acharei Mos, Kedoshim, Emor, Behar, and Bechukotai.

Numbers:  Bamidbar, Naso, B’halos’cha, Shlach, Korach, Chukas, Balak, Pinchas, Matot, and Masay.

Deuteronomy:  Devarim, V’etchanan, Ekev, Re’eh, Shoftim, Ki Tetzei, Ki Tavo, Nitzavim, Vayelech, Ha’azinu, and V’Zot HaBracha.

What to expect in part 2:

Next time, we will discuss the importance of the parashos and why the entire Torah is studied year after year.


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