1. It Is the First of the Five Books of Moses

The Torah, given by G‑d to Moses at Mount Sinai, is divided into five books (hence the names “Chumash” and “Pentateuch,” based on the Hebrew and Greek words for “five”). The first of these books is Bereishit (Genesis), followed by Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy).

Read: What Are the Five Books of Moses?

2. It Means “In the Beginning”

The name “Bereishit” is taken from the first word of the first verse of this book, and indeed of the entire Torah: “In the beginning G‑d created the heavens and the earth.”1 The Torah thus begins with an affirmation that the world is not the product of chance natural processes, but was deliberately brought into existence by a Creator. This leads to the obvious conclusion that every entity He created has a mission to fulfill—a foundational idea upon which everything else rests.

Read: Something From Nothing

3. It Is Commonly Known as Genesis

In English, this book is typically referred to as Genesis, “origin,” since it tells the story of the origin of our reality.

In scripture, it is also known as “Sefer Hayashar”—“The Book of the Upright,”2 as it portrays the lives of the Patriarchs and describes their upright conduct.

Read: A Summary of the Book of Genesis

4. It Spans Over 2,300 Years

The Book of Bereishit covers more than double the timespan of all other 23 books of Scripture combined. It begins with the creation of the world in the year 1 (3760 BCE) and concludes with the death of Joseph in the year 2309 (1452 BCE). The death of Ezra, the primary figure in the book of the same name, chronologically the final book of Scripture, occurred merely 1139 years later, in 3448 (313 BCE).

5. It Begins With Adam, Eve, and Noah

The Book of Bereishit starts with the seminal account of how G‑d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. The next several narratives do not paint a pretty picture: Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge; Cain murders his brother Abel; and Noah’s generation is wiped out in the Great Flood.

Read: The Story of Adam and Eve in the Bible

6. … and Continues With the Patriarchs and Matriarchs

Bereishit takes an upward turn with the birth of Abraham, father of monotheism and the Jewish nation. Over half of Bereishit focuses on the lives of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs, shedding light on our origin as a people and depicting the unique stories of those who charted its path. These include the Binding of Isaac and Jacob’s marriages and challenges.

Read: The Patriarchs

7. Nearly 25% is Devoted to Joseph and His Brothers

The final quarter or so of the book discusses the narrative of Joseph and his brothers, in which Joseph is sold to Egypt and ultimately appointed as viceroy, saving the region from famine. As a result, Jacob and his family relocate from the Land of Canaan to Egypt. This creates the backdrop for the next book, Shemot, whose first primary theme is the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt and the subsequent Exodus.

Read: The Story of Joseph in the Bible

8. It Also Teaches Some Mitzvot

The Book of Bereishit focuses on the lives of our ancestors, not the mitzvot, which begin in earnest in the Book of Shemot. Nevertheless, a select few mitzvot do find their source in this book, such as procreation, circumcision, and refraining from consuming the gid hanasheh, the sciatic nerve. G‑d confirmed these early instructions when He gave the Torah at Mt. Sinai, at which point they became incumbent upon all Jews.3

Watch: Be Fruitful and Multiply

9. It Has the Most Portions of Any Chumash

Each of the Five Books of Moses is split into weekly Torah readings, with one parshah (and sometimes two) being studied and read in the synagogue each week.

Among the five books, Bereishit beats the record for having the most portions. While Vayikra and Bamidbar have 10 each, and Shemot and Devarim—11, Bereishit tops the list with 12 parshahs.

Read: Who Divided the Torah Into Weekly Readings?

10. It Is Also the Name of a Weekly Parshah

The first parshah of the Book of Bereishit is named—you guessed it—Bereishit. The names of the portions are culled from their opening words, causing the first parshah of each Chumash to share a title with its host.

Explore our Bereishit Home Page

11. We Begin Learning It on Simchat Torah

The Torah reading follows an annual cycle that both begins and ends on the holiday of Simchat Torah. This occasion is celebrated with hakafot, in which the Torah scrolls are removed from the Ark and carried around the bimah with spirited dancing and singing. By celebrating the conclusion of the Torah, we express our joy at being able to study G‑d’s most precious gift and apply it in our lives. And we make sure to start the Book of Bereishit that very day, to show that our connection to Torah is ongoing and fresh.

Read: 15 Simchat Torah Facts Every Jew Should Know

12. It Begins With a ‘Bet’

The opening letter of Bereishit and the entire Torah is the second of the Hebrew alphabet, bet. Many reasons are given as to why bet was given priority over the first letter aleph. Here are two:

1. Bet is the first letter of the Hebrew word berachah, blessing.

2. The Torah is G‑d’s wisdom, inherently beyond human grasp. In His great kindness, He has allowed us a glimpse of His infinite wisdom. Therefore, when studying Torah, your intellectual grasp of the subject matter is secondary (like the letter bet), while the number one prerequisite is to recognize the Torah’s divinity.

Read: Bet: The Second Letter of the Hebrew Alphabet

13. It Conveys Lessons With Stories

Although stories, not mitzvot, are Bereishit’s claim to fame, in no way does this minimize the book’s importance. G‑d did not need to follow a chronological storyline; if His goal in inscribing the Torah was to convey His Will, He could have put mitzvot first and stories second. Placing these narratives in the opening book underscores their vital significance.

The stories of our ancestors’ lives contain innumerable lessons with unfailing relevance in every time, place, and society. They impart both messages of global impact and personalized guidance for our daily struggles. All we need to do is delve a little deeper.

Read: If Torah Is Divine Wisdom, Why Doesn’t It Read That Way?