Friday, October 12, 2012 - 26 Tishrei, 5773

Torah Reading: Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 - 6:8)
Candle Lighting Time: 6:01 PM

Shabbat ends: 6:59 PM
Shabbat MeVarchim - We Bless the New Month of MarCheshvan



This parsha, the one with which the Torah begins, certainly contains important and fundamental lessons for us. This includes the narrative concerning the first human beings born: the twins Cain and Abel. Cain is the first person to bring an offering to G‑d and it is rejected by Him. Abel follows suit, but his offering is accepted.

The question many commentators grappled with is, why? Wouldn’t Cain have scored some points by being the first person to think of the idea of bringing an offering to G‑d, whereas Abel was merely following his brother’s example? Isn’t there any merit in being a pioneer? And why did G‑d come down so harshly on Cain, as if he actually committed a crime?


Rashi’s approach is that Cain brought mediocre, or even inferior, vegetation for his offering. His heart was clearly not in it; whereas Abel brought his choice lambs and demonstrated an eagerness and passion for this offering.

The idea of an offering to G‑d that does not involve our entire heart is anathema to Judaism. And while Judaism places the greatest emphasis on action, it does not allow us to be satisfied with just dry and mechanical action.

This is especially true about the first offering. While one can tolerate a compromised effort, one cannot build the foundation of humanity and its relationship with its Creator on platitudes and on half-baked efforts.

One can ask a simple question. Where do we find a hint of the compromised nature of Cain’s offering? True, the mere fact that G‑d didn’t accept Cain’s offering means that G‑d had looked into his heart and saw no passion. The question is, how can we tell whether someone’s efforts are sincere or perfunctory?

One answer is to look at the results. The end result of Cain’s offering was that it led to an exacerbation of his rivalry with his brother to the point that he murdered him! One can often tell that someone’s approach to doing good is seriously flawed by seeing what they do in the end.
We can see that a person’s charitable offering would be flawed if they resorted to angry violent behavior when it was rejected instead of searching his or her own soul to find what could be wrong.
It’s All in the Name

Another approach to the contrast between Cain and Abel’s offerings is rooted in the symbolism of their names:

Cain was named by his mother because she said, “I acquired a man with G‑d.” Cain symbolizes the idea of acquiring things. Cain had an insatiable need to acquire more and more of the world’s resources. Despite the fact that he had only three other people around, the Midrash tells us that his quarrel with Abel was territorial. The more we have the more we seem to need to acquire and the less we want to give away unless there is a quid-pro-quo.

An Educated Consumer

A Cain type individual can be a more sophisticated consumer. One can crave spiritual acquisitions. Indeed, the Talmud tells us that the word for a Torah scholar is zaken, which is a contraction of “zeh shekanah-the one who has acquired.” The word knowledge is absent in the word zaken because the assumption is that there is nothing more worthy of acquiring than knowledge; it is the ultimate acquisition. The Talmud refers to a person who lacks knowledge as the ultimate pauper.

Now, despite the fact that spiritual acquisitions are the most noble of acquisitions, it is still a far cry from the ultimate ideal represented by the name Abel. Abel in Hebrew—Hevel—means vanity. Hevel can also be translated as breath; something that has no substance. Abel, commentators tell us was not interested in acquisitions. To him all of the physical world’s resources had no intrinsic value.

Cain to Gain Without Pain

We can now appreciate the difference between Cain’s offering and that of Abel. Cain brought an offering in order to acquire something from G‑d. Sure, it was a spiritual acquisition, but his goal was to receive a benefit in return. Cain, true to his name and personality, sought to gain something from G‑d. His offering was thus not one of giving—which is what an offering should be—it was one of receiving, acquiring—“Cain-ing”.

Abel, on the other hand, sought to give. Obviously, G‑d does not need his gift, but that is not the point. He could not truly give anything because in his mind he did not acquire or own anything—it was all G‑d’s. His offering was just a confirmation and affirmation that he and his belongings were actually G‑d’s.

This attitude, which G‑d appreciated, is actually alluded to in the wording employed by the Torah in its description of Abel’s offering: “Abel also offered from the firstborn of his flocks.”

A more literal translation, however, yields the following: “And Abel offered he too with the firstborn of his flocks.” In other words, Abel gave himself to G‑d. He affirmed that he had no private independent identity that was outside of G‑d.

“Hide and Seek”

There is yet a third message contained in the contrast between Cain and Abel’s offerings that explains why G‑d was receptive to Abel even though Cain was the one who had initiated the idea of bringing an offering to G‑d.

If we assume that Abel’s offering was made after he learned of G‑d’s rejection of Cain’s offering, this incident provides us with a powerful lesson about how we should react when we witness G‑d’s rejection of our efforts. Abel was entitled to say to himself, “If my older brother’s offering was not accepted, am I so presumptuous to think that mine would be accepted?” Instead, Abel was not disheartened by G‑d’s rejection of Cain and he resisted all arguments that would have dissuaded many others from trying to repeat the same offering for fear of rejection. Others might have opted to remain passive until they got a signal that their efforts were desired.

Indeed, despite the fact that Cain was the first one to bring an offering, Abel was the first one to bring an offering when all indications were that G‑d was not so excited about the idea of receiving an sacrifices. Abel was the pioneer in not accepting G‑d’s rejection of an offering.

The Jews admirably emulated Abel’s example when they protested after G‑d prevented them from bringing the Paschal offering in the desert because they were ritually impure. They cried: “Why should we be left out?” And G‑d acceded to their demands and gave them another opportunity to bring the paschal offering.

The lesson we can learn from this is that even when it appears that G‑d does not want our efforts, we do not give up. We keep on trying to get it right. Indeed, G‑d’s rejection of our initiatives is His way of testing the strength of our resolve and desire to get closer to Him.

This approach can be compared to a loving parent who punishes his or her child by distancing the child. Obviously, the parent wants the child to reject that state and do everything to come back into the parent’s embrace.

Alternatively, it has been compared to a father who plays hide and seek. When the father finds a good hiding place and the children give up looking for him, it troubles him to no end. The father is hiding so that the children look for him.

This entire story serves as a model for us in the days of exile. G‑d hides His face so that we continue searching for Him. We must follow the pioneering lead of Abel and the example of the Jews of the desert generation and demand that G‑d show His face to us by Moshiach and the final Redemption.

Moshiach Matters

Rashi begins his commentary on the Torah by saying that G‑d created the whole world and has the right to give any land to any nation. He chose to give Israel to the Jews. As time moves on, even the non-Jews will come to the realization that the entire Land of Israel belongs solely to the Jews. This will be totally obvious when Moshiach comes and the nations of the world will help the Jews settle Israel - and not, G‑d forbid, hinder them.

Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit