Friday, October 5, 2018

Enabling Citizen Cain

Our weekly Torah reading has once again cycled back to the Book of Genesis, returning to the stories and moral lessons of the earliest days of civilization. In addition to the ethical underpinnings of human civilization and its spiritual leanings, the vignettes and events of our forebears in the book of Genesis are also the source for so many of man’s vices, poor habits and evil behaviors.

After the story of Creation and the tragic story of Adam, Eve and the serpent in the Garden of Eden, we learn about the second generation of humankind: Cain and Abel. Put yourselves in the shoes of Cain and Abel: the first human beings with human parents. They both chose to serve God and offer sacrifices. Cain, a bit more frugal, offered vegetation, fruits of the field, while Abel offered a more valuable animal sacrifice. God accepted Abel’s offering, but not that of Cain. Cain rose up to kill his brother, and alas, the first murder, death, homicide and human injury took place.

While the Torah implies that the murder was due to Cain’s jealousy that Abel’s offering was accepted, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 22:7) sees the battle between the first brothers as more profound. One Midrash teaches that they fought over how to divide the world--one would own the land and the other would assume mastery over the moveable items. Others claim they each wanted the future Temple to be built on their land. Finally, another opinion suggests that after Eve died, they fought over the only other woman in the world, born as a twin to Abel, the younger brother. Alas, as the great 20th century Bible Commentator, Nehama Leibowitz, taught, based on the aforementioned Midrash, that wars are fought over these 3 paradigms: land/possessions, religion and ego/power.

Think of all the wars between nations and the rationales that are employed to justify those battles. Think of fights that individuals have with one another. We have so much to learn and so much to improve, yet we have not even begun to solve the first challenges found in the Torah.

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