If one wants to get a quick overview of a book one tends to read the introduction or perhaps the opening pages. That is where a typical author sets out the major themes of their work. One would not look to the end of the book, or each chapter – unless perhaps one wants to take away any potential suspense.

Yet in regards to the Torah at least, it is instructive to look not only at the opening words[1] of each of the chumashim but the last words of each of the books of the chumash. These last words tell – in a nutshell – the story of the Jewish people.

Sefer Breisheet begins by telling the story of the creation of man[2], his descent and thus the need for the choosing of a special nation that would carry out G-d’s initial plan for humanity. Who will be part of the nation is the central focus of much of sefer Breisheet. Lot, Yishmael, Nachor[3], and Eisav all could have been part of G-d’s chosen nation but did not have the necessary moral character. Only with the reconciliation of Yosef and his brothers do we begin to transition from a family – with one lonely successor in each generation – to a nation where all the descendants of Yaakov’s many children will form this great nation.

In order to become a great nation the Jewish people would need to experience slavery in Egypt. They would need to learn from the greatest civilization to achieve technological greatness but even more importantly to see how technical greatness is no indicator of moral greatness. The Jewish people would need to learn first and foremost the importance of treating the stranger properly. It is Egypt that is the incubator of the Jewish nation and hence the final word of sefer Breisheet is Mitzraim, Egypt.

But Egypt was only a pit stop. Sefer Shemot details our journey from Egypt to Sinai. Hence the last word of sefer Shemot is masaihem, their journey and the last word of sefer Vayikra Har Sinai as we journeyed from Egypt to Sinai. Sefer Shemot details the many stops on the way to Sinai and sefer Vayikra, taking place in a time warp, enumerates many of the mitzvot we received at Sinai. Vayikra pretty much ends with the laws of Shmitta – which the Torah specifically mentions were given at Sinai – followed by the blessings we will receive if we follow these teachings from Sinai.

Sefer Bamdibar opens with the census and formation of the nation as they prepare to soon enter the Land of Israel. Alas, this was not to be. The recently freed slaves were, quite understandably, not quite up to the task. Bamidbar is the book of missed opportunities, detailing what could have been but was not to be. The book thus ends with the words “yarden Yericho, by the Jordan at Jericho", where one can see the land from afar.

Close as they were there was no guarantee that this second generation would be the one to conquer the Land. Moshe was afraid that they too would miss the opportunity and thus right at the opening of sefer Devarim, Moshe recounts and warns the people not to repeat the mistake of their parents, specifically mentioning the sin of the meraglim.

This second generation apparently learned their lesson and the book and the entire Torah ends with the word Yisrael, indicating their imminent capture of the Land.

Just by looking at the last words of each of the five books of the chumash we can see that in the beginning the Jewish people travelled to Egypt, journeyed Sinai, encamped at yarden Yericho as they readied themselves to enter the Land of Israel.

Rashi wonders why the Torah begins with the story of Creation as opposed to the first mitzva given to the Jewish people, that of establishing a calendar. He answers that the Torah wants to teach our right to the Land of Israel. But it took a long time for that right to come to fruition and the Torah details that long journey, up too but not including actually entering the Land. 

We can now appreciate why we complete the reading of the Torah on Sukkot [4]. We sit in sukkot to recall the 40-year journey in the desert, but in the desert only. Once we arrived in the Land of Israel we no longer dwelled in sukkot. It is the journey, the opportunity for growth, that we celebrate. We aim to come closer to the destination but the journey can never end. There are always new destinations and new challenges to conquer. We may have reached the end on Simchat Torah but we immediately start a new journey, learning from the past as we look to the future.

[1] As we discussed here the opening words of the Chumash indicate that it is a book of G-d’s love of the people; the Torah being a description of that love. 
[2] All that was created before Adam was done for man's benefit, both physically and morally. Man came into a world that had been prepared for his arrival; yet if man is unworthy he is reminded that even an and preceded him.

[3] It is for this reason the Torah follows the Akeidah detailing the birth of the 12 sons of Nachor – eight from his wife and four from his concubine.

[4] While it is no longer technically Sukkot when we read Vzot haBracha, Shemini Atzeret (the biblical holiday that later morphed into Simchat Torah) is clearly connected to Sukkot, hence the name Shemini, the eighth day.