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Rule and Conquer

By: Mrs. Neima Novetsky

The story of Kayin and Hevel has fascinated readers for centuries.  Who can resist the first murder in history?  The story leaves so much to the imagination.  Why doesn't Hashem accept Kayin's sacrifice?  How does Kayin kill Hevel?  And, perhaps one of the most famous and intriguing questions comes in the verse of the murder itself.  The verse tells us that "Kayin said to Hevel, his brother" but does not share what it was that he said. What were Kayin's final words before committing the murder?  

Many suggestions have been offered as to how to "fill in the blanks."  Some are somewhat mundane, such as the possibility raised by Ramban and others that all Kayin said was, "let us go out into the field."  Another somewhat obvious possibility is to say, as do Radak and Ibn Ezra, that Kayin spoke to Hevel about the events that just happened, the sacrifice and God's rebuke. 

In contrast to these peshat-oriented approaches, the midrash goes much farther in its answer, elaborating on the text and actually suggesting that a whole conversation took place, an argument which directly led to murder.  Bereshit Rabbah offers three possibilities as to the subject of this argument: a) possessions - each brother claimed part of the world as his  b) the site of the future Beit Hamikdash  - each sibling argued that it should fall in his territory  c) Hevel's twin sister - each wanted to marry her.  There is no clear evidence anywhere in the verses that these ideas were discussed, so where is the midrash coming from?  Nechama Lebowitz proposes that the midrash is seeing this first murder as the prototype for all future murders and is thus really answering a different question; Why do people in general kill? Over what are wars fought? The all too true answer is the three things mentioned by the midrash: power/ money, religion and women.

The Targum provides another interesting possibility:

Cain answered and said to Abel, "I see that the world has been created through mercy, but it is not ordered according to the fruit of good deeds; and that there is partiality in judgement. Otherwise, why was your offering accepted in favor whereas my offering was not accepted from me with favor?"

The two here are fighting about a philosophical issue, justice, or the lack of it, in this world. Kayin feels slighted - what did he do wrong?  Why was his offering not accepted?  He of course, does not conclude that perhaps, really, he was somehow at fault, but rather, that God must be arbitrary, that there is no justice in the world. 

These are just a taste of the possibilities, but at the end of the day, the text itself decided not to include a single one of them.  Perhaps, the point is to teach us that the immediate cause of the murder, the content of that last conversation, was not all that important.  For after all, depending on how you react, an argument about any of the above could lead to fighting, and perhaps even murder.  But any of the above, could also end without murder. 

This is really what Hashem tells Kayin right beforehand: "If you don't improve, sin will lurk at the opening” “ve’ata timshol bo”, but you may rule over it.  Man has freedom of choice; you can react to rejection with anger and jealousy, leading to further wrongdoing, or you can rule over your feelings and conquer sin, and hopefully, become a better person in the process. 

Shabbat Shalom.





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