Bereshit – R’vi’i

Raising Cain

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Since man had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge between good and evil, G-d could not permit him to also eat from the Tree of Life; this meant banishing him from the Garden. G-d placed angels of destruction and a flaming, rotating sword at the entrance to the garden, to bar entry.

The man and his wife had already had children. Cain (“Kayin” in Hebrew) was a farmer, while Abel (“Hevel”) was a shepherd. After the expulsion from the Garden, the brothers both offered sacrifices. Cain brought some of his crops, but Abel brought the very best of his flocks. G-d favored Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s; this upset Cain greatly. “Why be so upset?” G-d asked him. “You can always do better next time!” He added that the possibility of sin is always lurking, but that man has the ability to overcome it.

G-d’s words were small consolation. Instead of working to improve himself, Cain decided to take things out on his brother, who had surpassed him. Cain contrived a pretext to get Abel alone (which wouldn’t be too hard with only a handful of people in the world) and he ambushed Abel, killing him.

Soon after, G-d asked Cain where Abel was. Cain feigned ignorance, posing the famous retort, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” G-d, of course, knows all. He only poses questions to give people the opportunity to answer properly, which Cain didn’t. G-d told Cain that Abel’s unrealized potential descendants were crying out to Him. The ground, which absorbed Abel’s blood, would no longer respond to Cain’s agricultural efforts. Rather, he would be condemned to wander the earth.

Cain responded with proper remorse, declaring, “My sin is too great for me to bear!” He expressed concern that if he were to become a wanderer, someone he encountered would kill him as punishment for his crime. G-d declared that if anyone killed Cain, they would be punished seven times as severely. He placed an identifying mark on Cain so that others would know him and be careful not to do so. Cain departed and settled in a place called Nod, which comes from the Hebrew word for wandering (as in verse 4:12, when G-d told Cain he would be a wanderer).

Cain and his wife had a son named Chanoch. Cain built a city and named it Chanoch, after his son. Chanoch’s great-great-grandson was named Lemech. More about him in the next aliya.

Oh, yeah – where did Cain get a wife? Adam and Eve had daughters, too. Just because they didn’t appear in the narrative doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.

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