by Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
NOAH and BLOODSHED-2/
Sin Crouches at The Door!
1: Abel, the Breath who Faded Away
The story of Cain and Abel is important to Noahides,
not only as the First Murder, but also because Noah’s wife, Naama,
was a direct descendant of Cain, as we’ll soon learn,
and Cain’s story affected his descendants till the Flood.
In fact, you can’t understand the BLOODSHED that brought the Flood,
without understanding Cain and his family.
Last class we focused on Cain. He was born with much hope,
and was appointed by his mother Eve “to ‘purchase’ Man with YHVH.”
He was the first, firstborn priest of the family, and of Mankind.
Today let’s focus on his victim, Abel.
After the dramatic birth of Cain, the verse says this about Abel:
“And she, again, bore his brother, Abel.
And Abel was a keeper of sheep,
While Cain was a tiller of the ground “(Genesis 4:2)
What a difference in the way that Eve reacted to the birth of Abel!
As if his only merit was to be Cain’s brother.
His mother Eve felt no special elation by his birth, unlike with Cain.
She did not designate him to ‘buy Man with YHVH,’ connect Man with YHVH.
Abel, the passing breath.
Moreover, it seems that Abel himself did not aspire to be the priest of the family.
His name Abel, Hevel in Hebrew, means ‘vanity, a passing breath.
Tradition says that this wasn’t his true name and that the Torah hints
hat he would pass away like a ‘breath,’ gone with the wind, leaving no child after him.
Abel, the modest.
His name ‘Hevel’ also infers that he saw himself as a passing breath,
hat he was modest. Unlike his older brother Cain, he did not take himself seriously.
Their different character is reflected in the trades they chose for themselves:
“And Abel was a keeper of sheep,
And Cain was a tiller of the ground.” (Genesis 4:2)
Cain, most likely, was vegetarian. He raised crops only, to avoid BLOODSHED,
even of animals. After all, wasn’t he the priest of MERCY?
Abel in contrast was a shepherd who slaughtered sheep.
He was not pretentious, and most likely he consumed meat.
Some commentaries see here the fingerprints of the historical rivalry between
Farmers and Shepherds. But the Torah does not speak about Oklahoma or the Wild West. She speaks about a rivalry for YHVH’s favor.
And as the Torah points out, being vegetarian did not stop Cain from becoming a murderer.
2: Why Gift Offering?
“And in the process of time, it came to pass,
that Cain brought of the fruits of the ground
as a gift-offering to YHVH,
and Abel, he too, brought of the first-lings of his flock
and of the fat parts thereof.” (Genesis 4: 4)
To fulfill his mother’s wish to “purchase Man with YHVH” –
Cain came to G-d with a Gift Offering. It is a token for ‘friendship.’
It is neither “sin offering” nor “thanksgiving.”
A ‘Gift Offering’ is pretentious. It requires a reciprocal response of friendship from
the receiver. It puts the two sides – the giver and the receiver- on par, as “equal.”
Hence, when it comes to G-d, it may be seen as an arrogant act.
Tradition says that whenever we offer ‘Gift Offering,” a minchah,
We stand in fact under INCREASED SCRUTINY by the Heavenly Court!
For instance, in the Holy Temple they used to offer a minchah each afternoon,
which became – according to the Talmud – the time of the day of increased judgment!
No wonder that both, Cain and Abel, stood by their perspective altars,
with their gift offerings, both facing increased scrutiny by the Heavenly Court.
Now, where did Cain and Abel erect their Altars?
Tradition says that they erected their Altars on Mount Moriah,
across from Eden’s Gate, where Adam and Eve had stood first time on Earth.
If Cain wished to “draw YHVH into our world,” closer to Mankind,
there was not better PLACE for that than Eden’s Gate
We can imagine Cain pacing up the ramp of his Altar. His head decorated with a colorful laureate, and a long, white rob covering his nakedness.
To his watching family he looks pure as an Angel. Proudly he paces up that ramp carrying his fruit basket on his shoulders, his face shining in excitement. Then he lifts up the basket, offering it to YHVH, then throwing it on the Altar’s fire.
His siblings, sisters and brothers, watch him with admiration. He is, after all, their designated, beloved spiritual leader.
We can imagine the scene, since the Torah orders us to re-enact it on every Festival of Weeks. At the time when the Temple stood, very OWNER of a field in the Holy Land had to bring, as a gift offering, the best ‘first fruits’ to the Altar, carrying it in a basket on his shoulder. Standing by the Altar, the OWNER (and the standing by priest) used to lift up the basket to HaSheM.
Tradition says that the Festival of the Weeks falls on the annual anniversary of Abel’s murder. But in contrast to the arrogant Cain, the OWNER of the field in Israel used to say a text that expresses humility: “My Father was a lost (wonderer) Aramite, and HaSheM took us from Egypt Land to give us this fertile Land…” (Deut.) The Torah wants us to correct Cain’s error. The owner offers ‘friendship’ to YHVH – with utmost modesty!
Next it says that “Abel, he too brought his first-lings.”
The language is clear: Abel also brought his gift-offering, but with humility.
We can imagine how the humble Hevel approached the Altar. He wore no colorful laureate, and he carried slaughtered lambs while their blood was dripping. Shyly he placed his offering on the Altar’s fire, and said to YHVH: ‘I am Hevel, a nothing, a passing breath. Please YHVH, accept my humble offering…’
Whom do you think would YHVH accept as a friend?
3: YHVH Opted for the Modest Abel
No one paid much attention to Abel, yet YHVH opted for “him” and for “his offering,” 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)
Cain the arrogant
The Torah does not explicitly explain the reason for YHVH’s rejection of Cain. She wouldn’t spread a bad mouth on anyone. But we can figure out why She opted for the humble Hevel.
The Modest YHVH despises haughtiness. It is said that She and a haughty person can’t be in the same room. A person who has an inflated ego would chase away YHVH from his heart. (Midrash.)
No wonder, then, that YHVH “did not lean forwards’ to Cain.” Instead, She leaned forwards to the humble Hevel.
The special expression “lean forwards” fits the notion that YHVH came forwards closer to Hevel , through the Gate of Eden, in the Space where the Two Golden Cherubs
would later stand on the Holly Ark.
The family noticed that Cain’s offering was rejected, seeing that the smoke coming up from his altar hang over the mountain, then dispersed. In contrast, the smoke coming out of Abel’s altar ascended straight up to the sky with no deviation DESPITE THE WIND. (This miracle was later observed by Israel at the Holy Temple.)
A public humiliation for Cain it was, and he reacted badly as it says:
“And Cain was very angry, and his face fell…”
4: Cain, you CAN Control your Emotions!
Every ward here is paramount, since we deal with the First Murder, the prototype of all future murders.
Moreover, here are the first words that YHVH said to Mankind!
Sensing Cain’s heart, YHVH interfered to calm him down. YHVH’s first words to Mankind were about what is happening in our heart. She would continue doing so through the rest of the Torah.
After all, She had come into our world- as seen in Genesis Chapter Onne – hopping to dwell in our heart.
Sensing Cain’s heart, YHVH said:
“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)
YHVH speaks about our heart
Note that YHVH did not warn Cain against transgressing the Law of BLOODSHED.
She approached Cain like a loving MOTHER, asking him softly:
My child Cain, why are you angry? Why have your face fallen?
As if she didn’t know (Rashi.)
She initiated the conversation. Back in Eden, YHVH ELoKiM did the same by turning to Adam and his wife saying: “Adam, where are you?” As if He didn’t know.
YHVH sought Cain’s confession even before the sin.
She wished to prevent the coming murder, the evil doing.
Since Cain did not respond, YHVH continued:
“For if you do ‘good,’ be elevated!”
Cain, She said, you CAN still elevate yourself and overcome your bad feelings.
Seeing that Cain still did not respond, YHVH went on
“And if you do not do good,
sin crouches at the door,
and to you shall be its desire…”
What sin? Which door?
“Sin crouches at the door’- of your heart’ (Rashi.) Sin here may refer to any sin, in Cain’s heart and in our hearts. Sin aspires to conquer Cain’s heart, chasing YHVH away from there.
Note that ELoKIM would interfere AFTER the sin, with retributions. YHVH interferes BEFORE the sin (here: murder) while the THOUGHTS of it are still brewing in Cain’s heart. She is not here to execute Justice and punish the sinner but rather to prevent the evil from happening. She wants a clean heart where She can enter and Dwell.
And her message to Cain was: As long the sin crouches at the door of your heart, you CAN control it: “and you shall rule over it.” There is a stage when Man CAN stop bad feelings from brewing.
Some say that the ‘sin crouching at the door’ of our hearts , is no other than the famous Serpent of Eden. They mean: the Serpent turned into our ‘bad drive.’
Sin crouches as the Door of Eden
But the verse does not specify what door it is.
Some read it as the “door of Eden. This indeed fits the story, since Cain and Abel t erected their altars “In the field” (Genesis 4:8) which is a nickname for Mt. Moriah. As we’ve said, both aspired to ‘bring YHVH forwards’ into our world through the Gate of Eden.
Warning about his soul
Others read “sin crouches at the door”-of Eden, referring to Cain’s soul when it would return back to the Garden of Eden, as described earlier. Cain’s soul would face the scrutiny of the Hot, Revolving Sword’s Blade at the gate, which would stop the soul from climbing back to sit by the Heavenly Throne.
5: Planning a Murder
The first murder 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 4:8)
“Cain said to Abel his brother” – the verse does not specify what he said. It is as if the Torah is avoiding speaking a ‘bad mouth’ about Abel.
But tradition fills the gap and offers several options:
(1) He said something bad TO Abel.
(2) He said something bad ABOUT Abel.
To whom did he say? To the other siblings. He told bad things about Abel
to justify the murder, even in his own eyes.
What then did Cain say about Abel? Several options:
(1) That Abel was Hevel, a passing breath, less than a human,
unworthy of living. He dehumanized Abel
(2) That Abel was an evil man. He demonized Abel
(3) That he, Cain was a victim of Abel. He reversed the blame.
(4) Thant Abel used sorcery to gain YHVH’s favor.
He attributed evil power to his victim.
(5) That Abel was a liar. He reversed the blame- Abel was the lier.
(6) That it was morally imperative to kill Abel, doing favor to God.
(7) That he was ready to suffer as a price foe eliminating evil Altruistic evil
How many of these false accusations were raised against the Jews in history?
How did Cain kill his brother? On that we’ll learn next.
Read also: “Genesis Vs. Science, Can They Match?” By Zvi Aviner, at www.smashwords.com