A friend of mine, who is also a rabbi, once tried a new way of reading the Torah in his congregation. He chose to follow an ancient form of the triennial cycle in which the Torah was divided into 150 portions and read consecutively over a three year period. (The modern triennial cycle divides each portion into thirds and reads the first third of every portion in the first year of the cycle, the middle third in the second year and the last third in the third year.) In the ancient cycle, a congregation would begin reading the Book of Genesis in the fall, right after Sukkot, and instead of finishing the book in 10 weeks would finish it in six months. My friend experimented with this ancient cycle but ultimately abandoned it because his congregation thought it was awkward to be out of sync with the Torah reading cycle followed by the rest of the world.
It was a nice idea, though, because it enabled the congregation to dwell on many of the stories and lessons in the Torah without feeling rushed. As my friend once told me, “while the rest of the world is reading about animal sacrifices we’re still savoring the juicy stories of Genesis and Exodus (of course, while the rest of the world was on Numbers and Deuteronomy they were “savoring” Leviticus!).
I feel that way about the Book of Genesis. There are so many wonderful stories and messages contained in each portion that it’s a shame to pass them by so quickly. This week’s portion—Lech Lecha—is a good example. The parasha spans chapters 12-17 of Genesis. There’s simply too much material to read and study all of it. Usually there’s one D’var Torah offered during the synagogue service, and maybe those who attend a class or a meeting will hear a second D’var Torah. Once we finish reading the parasha in the synagogue on Shabbat morning, we set it aside until we return to it next year.
One thing we can do to savor the stories of the Book of Genesis is to spend some extra time reading and studying on our own. There happen to be many books on the Genesis narratives. Some of them are written by psychologists, some by scholars, and some by lawyers. So I encourage you to acquire some of these books and spend some time delving into the juicy stories of Genesis during the next couple of months as we read this fascinating book in the synagogue. I guarantee that you’ll find something of meaning to enhance your life and your relationships with family and friends.
Below are some of the better books on the stories found in Genesis. Most of them are very readable and accessible. Pick one or two and get ready for some enjoyable insights into everyday life.
By Norman J. Cohen
By Leon Kass
By Naomi Rosenblatt
By Alan Dershowitz
By Bruce Feiler
By Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
By Bill Moyers
By Burton Visotzky
By Peter Pitzele
And…no list of books about Genesis would be complete with a wonderful book by Oheb Shalom’s own Ada Feyerick. Genesis: World of Myths and Patriarchs is a marvelous book about the civilizations that gave rise to the world of Genesis.