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Bereishit(Genesis 1:1-6:8)

What Did Cain Say?

In the story of Cain and Abel, we see the first ever act of wanton violence. It didn't take us long and, unfortunately, it was just a taste of things to come.

Let's recap for a moment: God accepts Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's (because Cain brought second rate goods whereas Abel brought the best). Cain is upset and angry. God questions his reaction, telling him that good and evil are completely his to choose. There is no need to be upset, merely to choose. The fact that he has made a mistake has not made him a bad person. He still has the same ability to choose good as he had before he made his mistake.

All well and good, but then comes a very strange sentence: "...Cain said to his brother Abel and then, when they were in the field, he rose up and killed him..."

The Sages point out that surely there are some missing words here. The verb "said" has no object. What exactly did Cain say? And why would the Torah say he said something if it's not going to tell us what he said?!

The Sages explain: What Cain said is irrelevant. What is relevant is that he said. Cain was picking a fight. He could have said anything; it wouldn't really have mattered. He was looking for an excuse to blame someone else for his own failures and shortcomings.

Is this not the root of so much strife and argument in our own lives? We are dissatisfied with our situation, and rather than look inside to find the fault and its solution, it is far easier to shift the blame to someone else. Very often those "someone elses" are the people we love the most.

The Sages tell us that when we are upset and frustrated with anyone, but especially those we love, the first question we must ask ourselves, and answer with all honesty is this: Is it their problem or mine? Much of the time, the problem is our own. We need to be brave and honest enough to recognize that. For as long as we seek to blame others for our own frustrations and shortcomings, we will never change.


September 22, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 6

(5) Neicee, October 10, 2015 6:51 PM

Words that pack wisdom

So few words with such an impact. I never liked the story much because I always felt there was more to it than just the first murder, besides the first hint of what lurks in the heart of all mankind. Thank you, I get it now.

(4) jay, October 25, 2008 2:26 PM

bad offerings

I have one problem with this...."Second Rate Offering" Come on the guy tried.

M.T., October 9, 2015 2:53 AM

Cain & Abel

but he was given the chance to fix it and do better. He wasn't told you lost your chance and you're finished.

(3) David Douglass, October 19, 2008 9:08 AM

Cain's Real Problem

The writer of this passage has an intended purpose which addressed the needs of the people of his day. Cain and Abel provide a perfect picture of mankind's responsibility to their Creator. Cain's profession after the Fall of his parents was to create vegetative foods (I always wondered how many times he gazed as the Tree of Life which he could no longer access--did he attempt to reproduce it?) while Abel's profession was to produce livestock for both food and clothing. The offerings were not equal in personal representation of the offerer, Cain offered symbolic accomplishment, while Abel offered the opposite -- symbolic failure, i.e. death. Both offerings represented the individual's understanding of the reality of their relationship with their Creator. Only Abel's depicted the truth of mankind's moral status as the Creator defined it. When Cain spoke, what he said matters not, for how can anything be said after such a simple truth was demonstrated and approved by personal communion and fellowship. So Cain's answer was simple, he offered his own brother as his offering to the Creator since the Creator approved of him and his offering. This lesson supplied the crucial truth that Israel and Egypt needed to examine since the Creator was still involved with both nations even though some at the time of the writing of this scripture probably didn't think He was. It turned out that the way demonstrated by Abel was still the only acceptable offering the Creator respected, and Cain's was rejected and accompanied with an appeal to choose the truth of rightness as the Creator defined it. God's Peace Upon You.

(2) Scott Granowski, October 5, 2007 4:51 PM

Cain's (and my) Craziness

When I'm upset, no matter what the situation, I know that there is something wrong with me or my spiritual condition. As with Cain, I have typically made a decision which places something else before God. When things don't work out well (as is inevitable when God's not primary), then I look for the fault - everywhere but in me. Great article!

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