The Torah is composed of the five Biblical books of Genesis (Bereshit in Hebrew), Exodus (Shemot), Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bemidbar) and Deuteronomy (Devarim). Taken together, these five are called by many names: Torah, the Five Books of Moses, the Pentateuch, and Khumash (from the Hebrew word khamesh, “five”). Each of these five books is divided into many “portions,” each called a parashah. Every parashah has its own name. One parashah is read each week through the year until the Torah reading is complete (Simkhat Torah, just after Sukkot, is our annual celebration of the completion of this reading cycle).
Here’s an example of how it works. Consider Bereshit, the Book of Genesis. It is made up of many parshiyot (plural of parashah) each containing a number of chapters and verses (which vary in length from parashah to parashah). Chapters and verses are separated by colons; therefore, Genesis 1:1 ‑ 6:8 means “Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1, through Genesis, chapter 6, verse 8.” Here are the first 3 parshiyot for Genesis:
Bereshit ................ Genesis 1:1 ‑ 6:8
Noakh ................... Genesis 6:9 ‑ 11:26
Lekh Lekha ........... Genesis 11:27 ‑ 17:27
In order for all Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations to become “family” events, we want you – as a family – to select the Torah verses you will read at the Shabbat service during which you become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. You can’t select just any Torah verses, because the parashah from which you will read is determined by your Bar/Bat Mitzvah date. As the weeks and months pass, so do the parshiyot. And it’s almost always the same – from Woodlands to Jerusalem!
By the way, in “Jewish time” we refer to each Shabbat by the name of its parashah. So the Friday/Saturday during which the Jewish community reads the parashah called Lekh Lekha is known as Shabbat Lekh Lekha.
Now, together as a family, follow these guidelines to select the Torah section you will study to become Bar/Bat Mitzvah.
- Read these instructions carefully.
- Your parashah, according to the date on which you will become Bar/Bat Mitzvah, is noted on the front cover of this booklet as well as on the bookplate inside your copy of The Torah: A Modern Commentary.
- Consult the “Contents” pages in The Torah: A Modern Commentary to find your parashah and its corresponding page numbers.
- As a family, read through the entire Torah portion in The Torah: A Modern Commentary. For now, you need not read every word on every page. Instead, on the pages that contain Hebrew Torah text, read the translation located to the left of the Hebrew.
As you read through this English translation, you’ll find a lot of other material. Because the Torah is over 3000 years old, students of Torah use “commentaries” (that is, notes written by rabbis in earlier generations) to help us understand. The notes directly beneath the English translation can help you understand individual words and phrases. The short articles found elsewhere throughout these pages will help you understand some of the larger themes and messages. If, rather than clarifying, this only confuses you more, please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
- You’re looking for 12-15 consecutive verses that you find interesting and would like to read during the service in which you become Bar/Bat Mitzvah (Note: You can identify a single verse In The Torah: A Modern Commentary by finding the number and single bracket that always precedes it). In your search, try to select verses that are of interest to you, and that present a coherent section of Torah (in other words, try to stay within a complete story or subject area).
- Complete the form, “TORAH READING SELECTION & JEWISH NAME,” and send it to the temple office 10 months before your Bar/Bat Mitzvah date (at the latest, please).
Now, your next assignment…
As a family, read through the entire section in this handbook, “Student Guide to Becoming a Bar/Bat Mitzvah” and let the rabbi, cantor, temple educator, or youth director know if you have any questions.