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Cain and Abel: Anger At Others

The story of Cain and Abel always intrigued me. But I never understood what they were fighting about. The text doesn’t really say. Can you shed some light for me?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. When harvest time comes, Cain and Abel bring offerings to God as a way of giving thanks. Abel offers "the first and fattest sheep of his flock," but Cain decides that's overdoing the gratitude thing, and he gives some of his poorer crops. God isn't very impressed with this, and He tells Cain so. Cain becomes depressed, and decides to take it out on Abel (God being too tough, and too far away to fight with). Cain picks a fight with Abel about which one of them God loves more, and then Cain kills Abel.

In His most innocent voice, God asks Cain: "What happened to your brother Abel?"

"I don't know," says Cain. "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:1-9)

What does Cain have in common with the woman who snarled at you in traffic?

Violence has nothing to do with the victim. Cain commits murder because he's depressed and angry. He could think about the failures of his own life, and try to fix them, but that would take a lot of work. It's easier to blame Cain.

Blaming your problems on others is a cheap way to avoid the difficulty of change and growth. In today's society, it sometimes seems no one wants to accept responsibility for his behavior. In one particularly silly (but true) illustration of this, a woman bought a cup of coffee from McDonald's, put the cup between her legs, and drove off. When the coffee spilled and burned her, she sued McDonald's!

Not accepting responsibility is often the reason for violence in families as well. A husband comes home frustrated at the end of a difficult day. He's looking for someone to blame. Who's around to hurt? His wife and kids! Why is his frustrating day their fault? It isn't, of course, but within a few minutes of arriving home, some provocation arises, and he lets them have it.

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