© 2022 by Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
BLOODSHED-2/Sin Crouches at the Door!
The story of Cain and Abel has a particular importance to Noahides,
since, as we’ll soon learn, Noah’s wife, Naama, who is our mother,
was a direct descendant of Cain, and his life story affected her life,
as well as Noah’s life. You can’t understand Noah’s Flood without
understanding the plight of Cain and his descendants
Last class we
saw the two brothers bringing their gif-offering
to YHVH. By this, they fulfilled their mother’s wish to connect
Mankind with YHVH, Cain serving as her choice to be the firstborn
priest of the nascent family and Mankind.
Abel, his modest brother, “he too” brought his gifts to YHV H
following his older brother. The entire family was watching.
After all, this was the first offering to YHVH, ever.
we also saw Cain pacing proudly on the Altar’s ramp, carrying
on his shoulders a basket full of the best, first fruits from his own garden.
Abel too was pacing after him on his Altar, carrying a bloody sacrifice
from his best, firstborn sheep taken from his own herd.
The emphasis here was on
(1) the best quality
(2) the first fruit or firstborn sheep
(3) on ownership.
After all, this was their first offering,
offered by the firstborn son the priest,
who was also the first human born on Earth,
expressing their new fascination with ownership
that was new to them, something they did not have in Eden.
Last class we also saw
Cain lifting his basket proudly up to YHVH, singing and chanting,
While the modest and shy Abel is praying – please YHVH, accept my humble gift.
We are familiar with the scene, since we reenact it
on every Festival of the Weeks – Shavuot- that falls
on the annual anniversary of the first murder
When the holiday is celebrated in the Land of Israel,
the Torah ordains, that every owner of a field in the Land of Israel
should bring his own best first fruits from his own garden to
the Temple on Mt Moriah, carrying the basket on his shoulders all the way,
then lift the basket up to YHVH with humility and give THANKS to YHVH
for his field and his fruits, while reciting a text of humility.
This way we correct Cain’s attitude.
Moreover, the Festival of Weeks does also fall on the day
when the Torah was given to Mankind, as the
ONLY REMEDY FOR BLOODSHED
No one in Adam’s family paid much attention to Abel,
since they focused on Cain, yet YHVH turned to Abel and his offering
and did not turn to Cain as it says:
“And YHVH turned to Abel and to his offering,
but to Cain and to his offering He did not turn…” (Genesis 4:4-5)
YHVH turned both to “him,” to Abel personally and to his offering, the lamb
Implying that YHVH approved Abel’s humbleness as well as his offering.
How did the family know who YHVH favored?
The Midrash says, that the smoke coming up from Cain’s Altar
hang over the mountain for long time then dissipated,
whereas the smoke coming out of Abel’s Altar ascended
straight up to the sky with no deviation, DESPITE THE WIND.
This miracle of the smoke, was later also observed with
Noah’s Altar after the Flood, and with Israel’s offering
at the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, for hundreds of years
The smoke kept ascending up despite any strong wind
That was a public humiliation for Cain, and he reacted badly,
as it says“And Cain was very angry, and his face fell…”
Sensing what was brewing in Cain’s heart, YHVH approached Cain saying
“And YHVH said to Cain,
why are you angry, and why did your face fall?
For if you do ‘good,’ be elevated!
And if you do not do ‘good,’ sin crouches at the door!
And to you shall be its desire!
but you shall rule over it…” (Genesis 4:8)
Let’s pay attention to YHVH’s words here, since
they are the first words ever told by YHVH alone to Mankind.
Remarkably, we notice that YHVH did not warn Cain here against
transgressing the BLOODSHED’S Laws
but rather approached Cain like a loving MOTHER, being concerned
about Cain’s heart
How remarkable it is that YHVH’s first words to Mankind
are about evil feelings in our hearts.
We emphasize the term evil, since this is by definition
what YHVH hates the most.
Thus, YHVH, as a loving Mother, asked Cain:
My child, why are you angry? Why have your face fallen?
As if she didn’t know (Rashi says.) She wished to start a dialogue
Back in Eden too, after eating ther forbidden fruit,
It was YHVH ELKM who approached Adam and his wife asking
Adam, where are you? As if he did not know.
In Eden, YHVH ELKM wanted Adam to come forwards and confess,
And here to YHVH wanted Cain to come forwards and pour his heart.
Yet Cain did not respond, so YHVH continued:
“For if you do ‘good,’ be elevated!”
YHVH said: Cain, I see what is brewing in your heart,
and I would like to advice you that at that point you
CAN still overcome your feelings, elevate yourself from it
and prevent it from happening.
Seeing that Cain still did not respond, YHVH went on saying:
And if you do not do good,
sin crouches at the door
and to you shall be its desire
What sin? What door?
Sin here may refer to any sin, but particularly the sin of BLOODSHED, murder
that She had noticed brewing in Cain’s heart.
YHVH does not pronounce the sin of murder explicitly,
as if it is an unspeakable evil in Her eyes
“Sin crouches at the door’- what door?
The door to your heart, says Rashi.
Sin does not enter our heart fully mature.
Sin first crouches at the door to our heart,
then infiltrates inside, then fills it and conquer it.
How remarkable it is that YHVH’s first words to Mankind
Is the message that Man CAN interfere with the process
and stop the sin at different levels as it entering our heart.
It is easier, YHVH was saying, to stop sin while it is still at the door.
If we wait too long, when sin has already filled our heart
and has already taken over our heart,
we may end up being enslaved to it, with no recourse!
Now, if anyone doubts what YHVH is all about,
here is a proof that
YHVH, the Attribute of MERCY and COMPASSION
is concerned about the evilness of our heart
rather than the dry violation of the Law
Another interpretation of Her words is:
Sin crouches as the Door – of Eden
Let’s recall that the brothers erected their altars “In the field” (Genesis 4:8)
Which is a nickname for Mt. Moriah.
The Gate of Eden, we’ve learned, opens to the Mountain
where Adam and Eve first appeared on Earth.
Since Eve charged Cain to “connect Man with YHVH,”
The brothers aspired by their gift- offering
to bring YHVH into our world, so to speak
through that Gate of Eden located on the Mountain
where the Holy Ark would alter stand
YHVH warned Cain: Your sin would not only close the door for me
to enter your heart, to dwell in it
but would also close the door – the Gate of Eden – for me
to enter the world! To sit in the space on Mt Moriah
where the two Cherubs would alter stand!
Your sin Cain, would block YOUR SOUL to ascent into Heaven
when your time comes
Another interpretation answers the question
Why does the Drive of BLOODSHED sit at the door of our heart?
Let’s notice that
BLOODSHED and KILLING prevails in Nature. Animals kill each other.
Yet as a rule, animals refrain from killing their own species
Certain Social Animals, like Ants and Bees, do wage bloody wars
between different colonies, fighting for territories or for self – identification.
They hate strangers, even of their own kind
When ELKM consulted Nature and made Adam,
He planted that natural drive of Bloodshed, into Man’s heart.
Hence, the Drive for BLOODSHED and WAR sits, naturally,
at the door of our hearts, waiting to get in, aspiring to grow inside
and fill our heart with vicious hatred.
Hence YHVH first words to Mankind are:
Unlike animals, you, Man, possesses a Free Choice.
Unlike the animals, you CAN stop that BLOODSHED Drive
while it is sitting at the door of your heart.
Do not let it in. Close your heart for it and chase it away.
To help you overcome it, I shall give you in due course
a Torah that would open the door of your heart for me to enter it
for me to fill it
for me to chase out any evildoing from your heart
Planning a Murder
The first murder itself is described in just a few words:
“And it came to pass, and Cain said to Abel his brother.
And it came to pass, when they were in the field
That Cain rose up against his brother Abel and he slew him,” (Genesis 4:)
Cain said to Abel his brother” – the verse does not elaborate
what Cain said about his brother, avoiding ‘bad mouth’.
But tradition fills the gap and offers several options:
(1) He said something bad TO Abel himself
(2) He said something bad ABOUT Abel to his siblings
He spoke, to justify the future murder, even in his own eyes.
What could he say about Abel?
The commentaries offer several options. Since the first murder is a prototype
of all murders, let’s review what Cain could have said:
(1) That Abel was Hevel, a passing breath, sub human, unworthy of living –dehumanizing Abel
(2) That Abel was an evil man. He demonized Abel
(3) That he, Cain was a victim of Abel. He reversed the order of the plot
(4) That Abel used sorcery to gain YHVH’s favor. He attributed evil power to his victim
(5) That Abel was a liar. He empowered his victim
(6) That it was morally imperative to kill Abel, doing favor to God.
(7) That he was ready to suffer as a price for eliminating evil Altruistic evil
That self-justification has been a pattern used by many murderers
even in our time
So how did Cain kill his brother?
The Scene of the First Murder
“And it came to pass, when they were in the field
That Cain rose up against his brother Abel
and he slew him,” (Genesis 4:8)
And they were in the field…” (Genesis 4:8)
which is a classical nickname for Mt. Moriah.
Cain’s decision to murder his brother had already been made,
and all what was needed was a spark of rage
to push him forwards to execute his plan.
The rabbis offered several options for that final spark.
Some say they argued about a woman. (The first generation married their sisters.)
Others say they argued about the ownership of “the field,” of Mt Moriah
Indeed, how many people in the future would be killed
for the same fight over the ownership of Mt Moriah and Jerusalem?
What an irony! Each brother could have for himself half of the world,
yet they clashed about the ownership of a small strip of land: Mt. Moriah.
What a paradox: Jeru-Salem, the ‘City of Peace,’ is where the first murder took place.
But tradition says that Jerusalem is also where BLOODSHED would end
“And it came to pass when they were in the field,
And Cain rose up against his brother Abel
and he slew him.” (Genesis 4:8)
The rabbis filled the gap: One day, the brothers were alone “in the field,” on Mt. Moriah. They wrestled for a while, as brothers often do, and Abel, whose physique was stronger, prevailed and pushed Cain to the ground. He then released Cain, laughing. But the humiliated Cain couldn’t stand it anymore. He arose up and attacked his surprised brother. Now he pushed Abel to the ground
ow he, and tried to kill him in different ways:
that present the four types of execution:
He first tried to chalk Abel with his bare hands, but this did not work.
He tried to choke him with a rope but this failed too.
He hit Abel with a stick which also did not work.
Then he smashed Abel’s head with a stone, and this did kill him.
Hence, he tried to kill his brother by the four classical methods of executions by the court
But the real reason was jealousy for the favor of YHVH.
What a paradox! To do the ultimate evil, murder, in jealousy for the favor of the MERCIFUL YHVHY!
How many people would be murdered in history, for the sake of loving MERCY?