The Annual Reading Cycle

Richard Spurlock

One of the most satisfying traditions of the faith of the Bible is the annual reading schedule. It is a tradition that has all Israel reading the same verses of Scripture each week. It is a very ancient tradition that dates back to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Our family has read the weekly Scripture portion for years. Each year we see more, and apply more. It is a family-building and community-building experience. It is one that all believers should embrace. It was the custom of our Master to go to the synagogue. In that custom, He also embraced and used the weekly readings (Luke 4:15-21).

Because this tradition predates the numbering of Scripture portions by chapter and verse, the passages are determined chronologically and called “parashot” (parasha, or parashat is the singular). A passage is also known as a “sidra.”

In addition to reading the prescribed chronological sections from the Torah, there are “haftarah” readings from the Prophets. While the Torah readings are chronological, and are named for a word or phrase in the first or second verse, the haftarah readings are either thematically linked to the Torah reading, or are linked to events on the biblical calendar.

Those who are disciples of Messiah Yeshua often read accompanying readings from the Apostolic Scriptures as well, either chronologically, or thematically. There is evidence that the first disciples of Yeshua used the Gospels in such a liturgical way.

Parashat Bereshit – ‘In the beginning’ (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Why does the Torah not begin with the greatest commandment, to love HaShem (Deuteronomy 6:5)? So many think that the Torah is a book of “Law” – and if it was, it might have begun with this preeminent command. But it does not. Instead the Torah, and this week’s portion begins with this:

Bereshit bara Elokim et ha-shamayim v’et ha’arets…
In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth…

All in all, we don’t get to our first “law” until Exodus 16. So, is the Torah a book of “Law” or not? Beloved, the Torah is not “Law” – it is the self-revelation of the Holy One, blessed is He. So it is fitting that the first two chapters are solely about how the Sovereign King of the Universe went about His work of creating. It is all about Him and His acts of love.

This week as you read the parasha, notice the way that HaShem is proactive in creation. These verses reveal a G-d Who not only created, but is active in creation.

Often lost in the arguments over the beginning (evolution, intelligent design creation) is this single fact: G-d’s creative work reveals His persistent presence in the events of the universe. And this is the main reason why all but the “biblical creation” positions exist – to refute that fact. All of the various theories are trying to discount that G-d not only cares about the affairs of men, but He is actively engaged in ordering events. Notice this reminder:

So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day G-d ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which G-d had created and made. This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that HaShem G-d made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 1:31b – 2:4

The Erev Shabbat Kiddush prayer (evening of Shabbat family service) recites these verses.

Vayehi erev, vayehi voker, yom hashishi.
Vayechulu hashama’yim v’ha’aretz v’chol tzeva’am.
Vayechal Elohim ba’yom hash’vi’i melach’to asher asa;
Vayishbot ba’yom hash’vi’i mikol m’lachto asher asa.
Vayevarech Elohim et yom ha’shvi’i vayekadesh oto,
Ki vo shavat mikol melach’to
Asher bara Elohim la’asot.
Genesis 1:31b – 2:4

This prayer is recited by the man of the home in families around the world, each Friday evening. It is G-d’s intimate involvement in the creation; and the instituting of His Shabbat that reminds us who we are in Him. It reminds us of the beginning. Each week, we pause to remember the work of the beginning. It is the work of the Almighty alone. It is a picture of grace. In it, we are reminded of His intimate care for us; and we are reminded of His love for us, His creation.

The Kiddush continues:

Baruch Atah HaShem, Elokeinu Melech ha olam,
Blessed art Thou, HaShem our G-d, King of the Universe

Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’ratza vanu,
Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and favored us;

V’shabat kod’sho b’ahava uv’ratzon hinchilanu,
and His holy Shabbat, with love and with favor He gave us as a heritage,

Zikaron l’ma’asei v’reisheet.
a remembrance of the work of the beginning.

(Note: “HaShem” and “Elokeinu” are circumlocutions for the Name and title of the Almighty – used in reverence for Him).

This is the weekly call – a reminder of our G-d Who created us, and loves us. It is the call that reminds us that we have been invited to participate in the work of the Almighty – in service to His throne.

This week’s portion also details why we are often so ineffective in our worship of Him – namely because of our sin. Our sin, like the sin of our ancestors Adam and Chava [Eve], separates us from Him. And yet, like the animal that provided the skins to cover our ancestors in Gan Eden [Garden of Eden], Messiah Yeshua has provided an atonement for us and for our sin. So that our deeds can (and will) be righteous before Him.

The work of the beginning reminds us that we are His instruments in bringing light into a dark world. His words remind us that we have been called to join the Almighty in His creative acts – by obeying His commandments, we display His righteousness to all creation. He created us for that purpose.

For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which G-d prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

As you begin your Shabbat this week, reflect upon the relationship between the creation of b’reshit [in the beginning] and the Seventh Day, Shabbat.

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