- Start DateJanuary 27, 2019
In this course we study selected texts from the Torah, following its traditional Jewish division into weekly portions. Each lesson focuses on one or two themes from one weekly portion. We explore the texts in their original Torah context, raise interpretive and theological questions, and also learn how the texts were understood and interpreted by later generations, focusing on New Testament references to the Torah.
Dr. Shira Golani
Dr. Shira Golani is an Israeli-American scholar of the Hebrew Bible, born, raised and based in Jerusalem. Her academic interest and expertise encompass biblical historiographical…
Ya’akov Dolgopolsky-Geva believes studying an ancient text means searching for the lost world in which it was composed – its environment, its author and its…
“For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Julia is a teacher and a writer. She teaches two biblical courses…
We begin the course with some necessary introductions: What is a “pārāšāh”? How is the Tôrāh divided into weekly portions and how are they actually read?
We discover when and how Jews began reading the Tôrāh in a common reading cycle, and how it is done today. We learn about the customs and rituals involved in the current Jewish practice of Tôrāh readings, and explore the tradition of accompanying each Tôrāh portion with a text from the Prophets (called hap̄ṭārāh) in such a way that the two texts shed new light on each other. This practice of reading other biblical texts in light of portions from the Tôrāh is ancient, and can also be seen in the New Testament.
Pārāšaṯ Bərēʼšîṯ (“In the Beginning”)
Picking out of the multitude of religious and narrative themes found in the first pārāšāh of the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 1:1-6:8), we focus in this lesson on two themes. One is the concept that the world was created through speech – that words and thoughts played a part in the very genesis of the universe. The other is sin – humanity’s first (and some would say most prominent) contribution to the world: what is the of that first disastrous sin in the Garden of Eden?
Pārāšaṯ Nōaḥ (Noah)
In Pārāšaṯ Nōaḥ (Gen. 6:9-11:32) God deals with the sinful behavior of an entire generation of mankind. Having decided to obliterate that generation altogether, God practically destroys the entire creation. But God does this using water, the ultimate source of life. From the Second Temple period onwards, the deluge has been perceived as a means of purification, paving the way for a new creation. We learn how this story portrays God, demonstrating both the power of God’s wrath and mercy.
Pārāšaṯ Leḵ Ləḵā (“Go Forth”)
In Pārāšaṯ Leḵ Ləḵā (Gen. 12-17) Abraham puts his faith in God and leaves his homeland toward the unknown – the new land that God promises to show him. We learn about Abraham’s unique righteousness and its reward. We also encounter Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-19), the enigmatic High Priest and king whom Abraham meets in his new land of Canaan. We see both characters through the lenses of the New Testament as well: Abraham as the father of all believers (Rom. 4:16) and Melchizedek as the type of Jesus.
Pārāšaṯ Wayyērāʼ (“And He Appeared”)
In Pārāšaṯ Wayyērāʼ (Gen. 18-22) we focus on the story of the binding of Isaac. The dramatic account in 22:1-19 leaves the reader with many questions: Where is the mountain where it happened? How old was Isaac? Why did God command this cruel test? And what is the message of this horrific tale altogether? We explore the story, the questions it raises, and later traditions – Biblical and post-Biblical, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, that re-tell the story in their attempt to find answers.
Pārāšaṯ Wayyēṣēʼ (“And He Left”)
This week we arrive at Pārāšaṯ Wayyēṣēʼ (Gen. 28:10-32:2), the story of Jacob, as he leaves Beer-Sheba to find his fortune and wife in Haran. We learn about the dream he has at Bethel, of a ladder between Heaven and Earth. We discuss this special type of dream and the presentation of Bethel as a place where the boundaries between heaven and earth may be crossed. We pay special attention to the reflection of this dream in the New Testament, in the words of Jesus (John 1:47-51).
Pārāšōṯ Wayyēšeḇ and Miqqēṣ (“And He
Dwelled” and “After Two Years”)
This lesson joins together two consecutive pārāšōṯ (Gen. 37-40, 41:1-44:17) that introduce Joseph and begin his eventful story. Joseph’s multifaceted character, as exemplified in the events of his early years, is presented, as we learn about the ups and downs in his life – from the preferred younger son in his family to the Viceroy to Pharaoh, the second most important man in Egypt.
Pārāšaṯ Wayyiggaš (“And He Approached”)
Pārāšaṯ Wayyiggaš (Gen. 44:18-47:27) continues the story of Joseph. Here we see how repentance, forgiveness and reestablished family ties come together with the divine plan to allow Joseph to save his family and the whole of Egypt. As Joseph and his brothers meet again, we notice how much has changed, but also how past events and character traits are difficult to overcome, as manifested in the interaction between the brothers and the role into which Benjamin is introduced.
Pārāšaṯ Šəmōṯ (“Names”)
Opening the book of Exodus, Pārāšaṯ Šəmōṯ (Exod. 1:1-6:1) transports us several generations ahead, to an era of multitudes of the Israelites in Egypt, enslaved by a new Pharaoh. In this lesson, we introduce the character of Moses, the man destined to lead his people out of slavery, uncover the unique role played by women in bringing about Israel’s salvation, and gather some insights on God’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush.
Pārāšaṯ Bōʼ (“Go in to Pharaoh”)
In this lesson, we focus on a major theme in Pārāšaṯ Bōʼ (Exod. 10:1-13:16) - that of sacrifice and redemption. Sacrifice of a śeh (either a lamb or a kid) is the core of the ancient Pesaḥ ritual (chap. 12), and this pārāšāh also records the ancient notion that the firstborn child and the firstling of every animal essentially belong to God and should either be redeemed or sacrificed (13:11-13). We learn about these traditions and their connection to the development of Jewish Passover and Christian Easter.
Pārāšaṯ Bəšallaḥ (“When He Released”)
The people of Israel are finally set free and leave Egypt. Yet, their exodus from Egypt is a chain of complaints and lack of faith, intermittent with extraordinary divine acts. We learn about two such instances, that occur in Pārāšaṯ Bəšallaḥ (Exod. 13:17-17:17) - on the shore of the Red Sea (Exod. 14, 15:22-27) and in collecting the manna (Exod. 16). We examine what caused the Israelites to complain, and how God uses these instances to instruct them.
Pārāšaṯ Yiṯrô (Jethro)
The climax of Pārāšaṯ Yiṯrô (Exod. 18-20) are the Ten Commandments, given to the Sons of Israel directly by God in speech at Mount Sinai (20:1-17). Fundamental as this set of rules may be in Western culture, much remains unclear about the biblical Commandments themselves: In what way are these ten different from the many laws, presented throughout the Tôrāh, all of them of Divine source? Are the Ten Commandments more important than other Biblical laws? And are there really ten of them?
Pārāšōṯ Tərûmāh (“Offering”) and Təṣawweh (“You Shall Command”)
Pārāšōṯ Tərûmāh (Exod. 25:1-27:19) and Təṣawweh (27:20-30:10) are essentially a highly-detailed set of instructions for the establishment of the Miškān – “dwelling place”, usually known in English as the “Tabernacle”. The Miškān is the first cult center established by the Sons of Israel, and given their temporary status as a group of tribes wandering in the desert, it is a portable one – a temple in a tent. As we learn from these pārāšōṯ, it resembles in many details the later Jerusalem Temple, but its unusual status is a constant reminder that it is not the physical location of a shrine that is holy, but its essence as a place of worship and communication with God.
Pārāšaṯ Kî Tiśśāʼ (“When You Count”)
Did you know that there is a very specific rule about how the Israelites may be counted, and dire consequences if it is not kept? Pārāšaṯ Kî Tiśśāʼ (Exod. 30:11-34:35) starts with this intriguing law of the census, which gave it its name. Later in this pārāšāh is the story of Moses bringing the tablets with God’s commandments to the people. When he discovers that the people have made a golden calf, Moses pleads to God on their behalf, to spare their lives. This episode teaches us much on Moses, and the example he sets as to the prophet’s role as a mediator between heaven and earth.
Pārāšaṯ Wayyaqhēl (“And He Gathered”)
The focus of Pārāšaṯ Wayyaqhēl (Exod. 35:1-38:20) goes back to the Miškān, and speaks of the craftsman Bezalel son of Uri, divinely chosen to build it and all its vessels, big and small. Bezalel is said to be filled with “the spirit of God” (rûaḥ ʼĔlōhîm), and is donned with “wisdom” (ḥoḵmāh) in his work – this allows us to explore the meaning(s) of these concepts in the sphere of Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Israel: What is divine in human craftsmanship? We will see that for the New Testament writers this Tabernacle points to the Heavenly Tabernacle with Jesus as Eternal High Priest (Heb.9:11–12, 24–28)
Pārāšaṯ Wayyiqrāʼ (“And He Called”)
Offerings are the main theme of Pārāšaṯ Wayyiqrāʼ (Lev. 1-5). This week we learn about the different types of offerings and their various functions, among which thanksgiving to God and atoning for sins. Just as important for the development of Judaism and Christianity are the debates regarding the offerings system. Their centrality provoked much criticism within the Hebrew Bible itself, as well as in later literature, including the New Testament: Why should one behave morally if an offering may atone for all sins?
Pārāšaṯ Šəmînî (“Eighth Day”)
In studying Pārāšaṯ Šəmînî (Lev. 9-11) we focus on the theme of pure and impure animals (chap. 11). Pārāšaṯ Šəmînî explains these categories, lists pure and impure animals and sets rules related to impure animals, the most famous of which are the dietary laws, which forbid eating the flesh of impure animals. This theme has been the focus of constant debates, of which we also learn this week: Why is there such a distinction between animals and what is the rationale underlying it? Is this merely a set of rules or does it also have a symbolic meaning?
Pārāšōṯ Tazrîaʽ and Məṣōrāʽ (“Gives Birth” and “Leper”)
The main theme of these two short pārāšōṯ (Lev. 12-13 and 14-15), frequently joined together, is leprosy: identifying leprosy, the duties of the priests in purifying the impurity it entails, and the fate of the leper, deemed impure and not allowed to stay within the camp. We discuss the issues of the sickness, cleanliness and curing of lepers, as well as a few famous biblical lepers and the New Testament theme of cleansing lepers (Matt. 8:2-4, Luk. 17: 11-19)
Pārāšōṯ ʼAḥărê Môṯ and Qədōšîm (“After the Death” and “Holy People”)
What does it mean to be “holy” (qādōš in Hebrew)? How can a person, or an entire nation become holy? The concept of holiness (qədûšāh) is a main theme in Pārāšōṯ ʼAḥărê Môṯ and Qədōšîm (Lev. 16-18, 19-20), and it has fascinated people from antiquity until our days. The different notions of holiness within the Hebrew Bible and in later texts, including the New Testament, are the subject of this week’s lesson.
Pārāšaṯ Bəmidbar (“In the [Sinai] Desert”)
With Pārāšaṯ Bəmidbar (Num. 1:1-4:20) we enter the book of Numbers, and the first batch of its many lists of names and numbers. These lists raise interesting questions on why the Israelites are counted and organized at this time and place. Why do we need all these details? In this lesson, we explore the notions reflected by the new positioning of each tribe in relation to the others, and the special place given to the Levites and Priests that are singled out and receive their own position and marching orders. We also discuss the New Testament understanding of “wilderness”: Why was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tempted there?
Pārāšaṯ Bəhaʽălōṯḵā (“When You Set Up the Candles”)
The subject of our lesson about Pārāšaṯ Bəhaʽălōṯḵā (Num. 8-12) is the Mənôrāh – the seven-branched candelabra. We learn about the Mənôrāh, about its symbolic structure in holding seven candles, and its function within the Miškān and later, the First and Second Temples. We discuss the meaning of the number seven as well as go into the Mənôrāh’s history – as an object and as a symbol.
Pārāšaṯ Šəlaḥ Ləḵā (“Send Out”)
The main theme of Pārāšaṯ Šəlaḥ Ləḵā (Num. 13-15) is that of the twelve spies sent ahead to explore the Land of Canaan. Their story is what we learn this week: Who were they? What exactly were they sent to do? What is their sin? And how does this story resonate in later episodes, when the Israelites are finally about to enter the Land of Canaan? We also learn how the New Testament connects the evil reports with the absence of faith (Heb. 11:6) and what it says about Israel’s failure in the wilderness (Heb. 3:7-4:13).
Pārāšaṯ Ḥuqqaṯ (“Law of the Torah”)
Pārāšaṯ Ḥuqqaṯ (Num. 19:1-22:1) contains several stories about events that happened during the people of Israel’s journey in the desert, stories of complaints and of miracles. One specifically curious story is that of the bronze serpent (nəḥaš hannəḥōšeṯ) Moses made and lifted up on a banner, in order to save the Israelites, punished by bites from divinely sent serpents (Num. 21:4-9). We learn the exact nature of the Israelites’ sin, the nature of the punishment and Moses’ role in ending it.
Pārāšaṯ Bālāq (Balak)
The main character in Pārāšaṯ Bālāq (Num. 22:2-25:9) is not the king of Moab, whose name it bears, but Balaam – the unusual prophet Balak hired to curse Israel. This clumsy prophet raises important questions about the essence of prophecy, and his figure has always been in dispute: was he a righteous man or an opportunist? The name Balaam occurs also in the New Testament. What are its meaning and connotations there? We also learn about the phrase “there shall come a star out of Jacob” (Num. 24:17) taken from Balaam’s prophecy, and often understood in Christianity as referring to Jesus.
Pārāšōṯ Maṭṭôṯ and Masʽê (“Tribes” and “Travels”)
In our lesson about Pārāšōṯ Maṭṭôṯ and Masʽê (Num. 30:2-32:42, 33-36) we focus on the cities of refuge, the establishment of which is ordered for the first time in Num. 35:9-34. We learn about the concepts of involuntary manslaughter and revenge, and of cities of refuge. We learn about their distribution across the Land of Israel, as well as their practical operation: how did it actually work?
Pārāšaṯ Dəḇārîm (“Words”)
Dəḇārîm (Deut. 1:1-3:22) is the first pārāšāh in the Book of Deuteronomy, the traditional name of which – Mišneh Tôrāh in Hebrew or Deuteronomion in Greek – means simply “second law”, because much of it consists of new versions for laws previously presented in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Appropriately, the first pārāšāh in the Book is a historical survey in the form of a speech by Moses, summarizing past events. We learn how this summary interprets those events and sets the stage for the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of Canaan.
Pārāšōṯ Wāʼeṯḥannan and ʽĒqeḇ (“And I Besought” and “If You Heed”)
The duo Pārāšōṯ Wāʼeṯḥannan (Deut. 3:23-7:11) and ʽĒqeḇ (7:12-11:25) are full of fundamental issues. Revisiting the Sinai revelation, Moses repeats the Ten Commandments, with some variations in details. The revelation is followed by the Šəmaʽ (Deut. 6:4-9) – Israel’s call to hear and pronounce their faith in God, and in God’s oneness, as well as to constantly recite God’s commandments. The meaning and function of this text are the focus of this lesson.
One more point of discussion is the origin of the saying, made famous in the gospels, “one does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3).
Pārāšaṯ Rəʼēh (“Behold”)
Of the many laws in Pārāšaṯ Rəʼēh (Deut. 11:26-16:17) we focus this week on just a selection. Special attention is given to the warning against false prophets (13:2-6), that reveals how common prophecy actually was in the everyday life of ancient Israel. For what purposes were prophets consulted? How can one confirm the reliability of a prophet? And what does the New Testament say about false prophets? (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Pārāšaṯ Šōp̄əṭîm (“Judges”)
Right and wrong, allowed and forbidden practices – stand in the center of this lesson about Pārāšaṯ Šōp̄ṭîm (Deut. 16:18-21:8). It offers specific and detailed laws made to ensure judicial justice, to all members of society and in all matters.
Another issue in this pārāšāh echoes and complements the subject of the previous pārāšāh (Rəʼēh): warning against practitioners of a multitude of forbidden types of sorcery. All these were seen as means of approaching the divine: divination, consulting the dead and many more. What are these practices? Who are the men and women who practiced them? And what evidence do we have about their use in ancient Israel and its neighbors?
Pārāšōṯ Haʼăzînû and Wəzōʼṯ Habbərāḵāh (“Give Ear” and “And This is the Blessing”)
The Book of Deuteronomy and the entire Tôrāh are coming to a close. As Moses’ last day approaches, and Israel is about to enter the Land under new leadership, we read of the blessings of Moses to each of the tribes, as well as some final warnings.
With the two short final pārāšōṯ ¬¬– Haʼăzînû (Deut. 32) and Wəzōʼṯ Habbərāḵāh (Deut. 33-34) – we follow Moses as he goes up Mount Nebo to survey the Promised Land, and finish with the Torah’s final tribute to this one-of-a-kind leader.
The wording in the blessings to the tribes and in Moses’ farewell evoke discussion in the New Testament.
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