"God created the human beings in [the divine] image, creating [them] in the image of God, creating them male and female."
The first chapter of the Torah tells us the story of creation, teaching us about God's relationship to the created world. It also teaches us about the nature of humanity, who God deems "very good." In this verse, we encounter one of Judaism's central values: b'tzelem Elohim, human beings are created in the image of God. The Reform Movement integrates this central belief into all that we do, creating Jewish communities and a world of belonging for all.
Cultivate a sense of the divine within yourself by exploring the practice of Mussar.
"'No more shall you be called Jacob, but Israel,' said the other, 'for you have struggled with God and with human beings, and you have prevailed.'"
Jacob and Esau, the sons of Rebecca and Isaac, have a tumultuous relationship. They fight as young men when Jacob maneuvers his way into receiving the blessing and birthright meant for Esau. After years apart, Jacob prepares to reunite with Esau at the banks of the river Jabok. Before meeting Esau, Jacob spends the night alone and struggles with an unknown "Other." At the end of the encounter, the Other tells Jacob that his name will be changed to Israel: God-wrestler. The Jewish people will come to be known by this lineage, as b'nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, along with the land and nation-state of Israel. Our ability to wrestle with ideas is inherent to our Jewishness.
Learn more about Reform Zionism.
"Then, Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Eternal One…"
As the Israelites run from Egypt, they cross the Red Sea. Moses leads the people by singing a song of gratitude. In the Torah scroll, the words are arranged in three columns, perhaps representing the Israelites crossing through the water to freedom. This portion of Exodus is known as the " Song of the Sea." There are several prayers and songs derived from Moses's poetic verses, the most famous of which is .
The Mi Chamocha is integral to Jewish worship as a song of freedom and joy. One way to become more spiritually empowered is learning about Jewish blessings and prayers, which can help you feel comfortable in services, at holiday celebrations, and around the Shabbat table.
Moses is not the only one who sings in this chapter! His sister Miriam also picks up her timbrel and leads the women of the community in celebratory music and dance.
"God spoke all these words, saying: I am the Eternal your God…"
The Israelites arrive at the foot of Mount Sinai in their journey to the Promised Land. This journey will determine who they are as a people. The people gather to hear the terms of the covenant which will connect them to God throughout the generations. In this stunning moment, the Ten Commandments are first revealed. We read this passage in Exodus every year during the portion of Yitro and also on Shavuot.
The fourth commandment details both an obligation and a gift: "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy." The Reform Movement believes in the beauty of crafting a Shabbat practice that allows for individual and communal understandings of sacredness and rest.
Find the Shabbat practice that is right for you by checking out our online resources!
"Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved…and let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
As the Israelites receive instructions for building God's tabernacle, the text highlights the importance of community. Each person in the community who is moved to give should contribute in some way to the creation of a holy space. God's presence is made manifest amongst the people. Reform Judaism continues to embrace the meaning of these words. Our movement seeks to create communities of belonging, where all can contribute and feel divine presence.
Looking for a Reform congregation near you? There are hundreds of Reform communities across North America. You can also learn more about congregational life in Reform Judaism.
"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Eternal."
In the middle of the book of Leviticus we read some of the most beautiful commandments in the Torah. Leviticus Chapter 19, read in the Reform Movement on Yom Kippur afternoon, is also known as the Holiness Code, due to the enduring sacredness of many of the found within it. This verse articulates the deep empathy at the heart of Jewish ethics.
Loving others is about action. This section of Leviticus enumerates many ways that we might turn our care for others into meaningful action. You can take action by getting involved with the Religious Action Center, working alongside your neighbors to make a more just world.
"Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: These are My fixed times, the fixed times of the Eternal, which you shall proclaim as sacred occasions."
This chapter establishes many of the Jewish holidays. It describes Shabbat, Passover, the counting of the Omer, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. Originally, these were tied to agricultural seasons. Today, these holidays remain deeply relevant.
Learn about how the Reform Movement mixes contemporary innovation with ancient values and traditions.
"May God bless you and keep you.
May God's light shine upon you, and may God be gracious to you.
May you feel God's presence within you always, and may you find peace."
These are the words God instructs Moses to share with Aaron and the priests so that they may bless the community. An amulet from the First Temple period, inscribed with these words, is the oldest known archaeological find inscribed with Biblical text. This blessing is recited throughout the Jewish lifecycle. It is often bestowed upon children when they are welcomed into the community and receive their Hebrew names, when children become b'nei mitzvah, or in the celebration of a wedding. Children may be blessed with these same words as part of a weekly Shabbat blessing.
Finding a way to connect your family to your Jewish community makes these blessings real. Check out our many resources for Youth, Family, and Community.
"How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!"
This line in Numbers is frequently sung as part of the morning liturgy-you may recognize Mah Tovu, the first words of this verse in Hebrew. These words of awe at the beauty of the Israelite camp came out of the mouth of a foreign prophet, Balaam, as he was trying to curse the Israelites! Judaism helps us make sense of difficult feelings or circumstances, allowing us space to eventually find beauty and blessing in spite of those feelings.
The origin story of the Jewish people features a lot of camping in tents in the desert. While these days we have cabins and more sturdy dwelling places, we still love to camp! Check out how our summer camps create experiences for the children in your life that are as beautiful to witness as the Israelites' tents in the desert.
"The daughters of Zelophehad…came forward…They stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains, and the whole assembly, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, and they said, 'Our father died in the wilderness…and he has left no sons…Give us a holding among our father's kinsmen!'"
Five sisters, Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, stand in front of their entire community to ask that the laws of inheritance be adjusted to include the daughters of men without sons. They are among many women in the Torah whose courage and intellect have inspired generations. They model a foundational principle in Judaism: the importance of asking questions. Judaism has always encouraged wrestling with different texts and ideas. In the Reform Movement, we love asking and answering new questions.
Do you have questions about the Reform Movement or Jewish traditions? Check out our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions in Answers to Jewish Questions. Learn about The Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), who continue to build on the legacy of powerful women from Jewish history.
"Listen, O Israel. The Eternal is our God, The Eternal is One."
Many of Judaism's prayers come straight from the Torah or the Sh'ma is no exception. It first appears in Deuteronomy and has become an important expression of Jewish faith. In the Torah scroll, the last letter of the first word and the last letter of the last word are bolded and written slightly larger. The two letters spell the Hebrew word ed, "witness." The Sh'ma is a way of witnessing the oneness of the sacred. This verse is not just a testament to God's oneness, but that of the Israelites as a people, bound in their relationship with the Divine. One of the beautiful things about Judaism is its diversity.; the
You can learn about Jewish Life in Israel and Around the World on reformjudaism.org. To experience the diversity of Jews and Jewish traditions through food and storytelling, check out Our Story, Your Table.
If you want to learn to decode the Hebrew letters of the Sh'ma and more, join our Learn to Read Hebrew for Adults course.
"Justice, justice you shall pursue."
Pursuing justice is central to the Reform Movement. The prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible, with their outcry against the injustices of their day, were foundational in the development of Reform Judaism. Social Justice and the Reform Movement go hand in hand. This line from Deuteronomy has become a rallying cry for contemporary activists. It is a reminder that the pursuit of justice is a Jewish value.
"Give ear, O heavens, let me speak;
Let the earth hear the words I utter!"
Moses, aware of his imminent death, recites a poem. It is inscribed in the Torah in two bold columns. These final moments of the Torah are stirring. The scroll ends with Moses' death and the declaration that "never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses - whom the Eternal knew, face to face." It's a sad scene, yet there's something hopeful about it; as we reach the end of the Torah cycle, we start again. On Simchat Torah, the final verses and the opening verses of Torah are read. The story and the learning come full circle, and we all have the chance to begin again.
Practice this cycle of knowledge and growth by getting involved with our Adult Learning Opportunities at the URJ!