December 7, 2022 -

Small enough to know you. Large enough to serve you.

The Story Remains the Same (Bereshit 10/17/20)

Rabbi Neil Schuman

The Story Remains the Same
Throughout history, we see the same issues and conflicts popping up again and again. The characters change, but the story, unfortunately, remains the same.
In our Torah reading, Parshat Breishit, envy poisons the relationship between the world’s first brothers.
Cain and Abel bring offerings of thanks to God. For some reason, God accepts Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Cain is furious. God consoles Cain with encouraging words, but he takes no head. Cain confronts Abel in the field, and their conflict escalates until blood is shed:
“And Cain spoke to Abel, his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field that Cain rose against Abel his brother and slew him…” (Genesis 4:8)
We know that Cain was angry and jealous, but what lead him to bloodshed? Which words caused him to lose control? We can only speculate, but the rabbis in the Midrash have already had their say:
Cain and Abel agreed to separate. They said: come, let’s divide up the world, I’ll take the real estate, and you will take all the moveable property.
Cain then said: the ground you are standing on is mine!
Abel replied: Well then, what you are wearing is mine, take it off! The other one said: fly!
Because of this, “…Cain rose against his brother Abel and killed him.”
R’ Yehoshua of Sakhnin said in R’ Levi’s name: No, they split both the land and the moveable property. What then were they arguing about?
One said: the Holy Temple, God’s presence will reside in my boundary.
The other said: the Holy Temple will be built in my boundary!
Because of this, “…Cain rose against Abel his brother and slew him.”
R’ Huna postulated that they were arguing over a woman, as it’s hinted in the text that an extra twin sister was born with Abel.
Cain said: I will take her because I am the firstborn.
Abel said: I will take her because she was born with me.
Because of this, “…Cain rose against Abel his brother and slew him.”
The first murder/war in the bible is the progenitor of all such future acts.
People kill for natural resources, religion, and love interests.
I thought the timing of our reading to be very significant considering recent events. On Tuesday, October 6, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Borough Park held a mask-burning rally that exhibited violence against reporters and law enforcement. Tired of prohibitions against gatherings, one protestor told a Daily News reporter: “Here in Borough Park we don’t go by the laws of America, we have our own laws.”
This person’s reasoning (which I think is representative of many in the ultra-Orthodox world) is comparable to the rabbis’ second proposition: “The Temple is only to be built on my property. Only I am the true servant of God, and only I know what God wants.”
I subscribed to this dogma in my 11 years in Monsey and Flatbush. When I left the “Brooklyn Bubble” and took a position in Santa Barbara, my exposure to profoundly spiritual and altruistic Christians, Moslems, and progressive Jews made me realize that Orthodox Judaism does not have a monopoly on God. Even reading books such as “Small Miracles” and “Chicken Soup for the Soul” made me see God in a universal way. Unfortunately, for many in the ultra-Orthodox enclaves, they will never have these exposures, and they will perpetuate their self-serving beliefs.
While murder/wars over natural resources and love interests may be hard to eradicate, education and exposure can resolve the religious conflict. Ever since Vatican II and the push for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, there’s been less religious-based hatred in our country. When we think we’re the only ones with the answers, that’s when our problems begin.
It’s been over 5700 years since Cain and Abel’s dispute, but we’ve perpetuated these conflicts throughout history. Education, open-mindedness, and empathy will help solve our problems. It’s a slow process, but one we must walk nonetheless.

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