Torah Blog


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Entries in cain (2)


Fruit for fruit

Genesis 4:3

And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.

Why motivated Cain to bring an offering of the fruit of his land to God?

Many answers could be given, but in the dozens of Bibliodramas I have done with this story, one intriguing suggestion pops up quite frequently: Cain had heard all about the wonderful Garden of Eden in which his parents started their lives, standing in stark contrast with the laborious, demanding life they were now living. He wished to get back to that Garden; he wished to get back into God's graces. 

So he reasoned: God became upset when my mother took a fruit. I will give back fruit. 

This has logic. Yet he is not successful - God ends up accepting Abel's offering and rejecting that of Cain. Again, many explanations for this may be offered. But perhaps one message emerging from this is that you cannot fix things simply by reversing them. If you have hurt someone with offensive words, you cannot simply say to them the opposite or "I didn't mean it" or "I was joking". Rather, a process of apology and genuine conciliation, and a true process of repentance, must take place.

This was Cain's mistake. He ought to have tried to rectify the root cause of his parents' sin inside himself. Instead, he thought a technical action would do the trick.

Abel, on the other hand, brought the choicest of his flock. In this he was putting God above his own desires; and this, perhaps, was a (partway?) rectification of Eve's sin in priveleging her desires above God. Hence, his was accepted.



When our face falls

I've spent quite a bit of time with the story of Cain (I won't call it "Cain and Abel" here, because the brothers undergo different challenges - the challenge of failure is not the same as the challenge of success), and I think it's amazing. This is the first time in the Torah that we get to see a human whirling giddily in the eye of a storm of emotions: Anger, jealousy, frustration and more.

Bereshit 4:6 sets out two of these emotions plainly:

"And the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?

Why is God asking these questions, when the answer is obvious? Clearly God wants to draw Cain's attention to two emotions inside him - two different emotions, each of which has its own pulse and requires its own processing mechanism.

Leaving aside "Why are you angry?" let's think about "Why has your face fallen?" This sounds a lot like sadness, even depression. When we are depressed our mouths turn downwards, our eyes look down, our very being seems to drag into the ground as if we have arrived on a planet when gravity is ten times our own.

And what happens when we look down? What might we miss? When people speak to us, we will not look them in the eye. We will miss the -face-to-face, soul-to-soul encounter possible every time we converse openly and directly with another. God says, "Cain, look up, talk to me. Let's communicate, don't build walls. Raise your face to me." Just as in the priestly blessing, we are blessed "May the Lord lift His countenance to you and grant you peace," perhaps God too wants our countenances lifted to Him/Her, with openness and welcome.

And what else happens while we look down? Absolutely everything! But we don't see any of it. Amazing opportunities whizz right by our ears and we don't even notice. Life is full of doors opening and abundance coming our way; every moment brings its riches. But we are so busy looking down, nose to the grindstone, that we don't even notice.
Look up, dear human! And grab it while its hot!

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.