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Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on October 16, 2020

As we start the Torah over again, it is important to look at old stories with fresh eyes as new discoveries are always lurking. This year, I took an in-depth look at the first quarrel of mankind between two brothers.  Although we find relationships between groups to be complex, those overt differences are not necessary. There is plenty to fight about within the family, which is sadly all too common as well.  The first criminal act between two people occurs between two brothers- Kayin and Hevel.  It is a short story but telling to what is the source for much conflict.

              A short summary of the story is that Kayin decides to bring a sacrifice to G-d, and he brings produce from the field. Seems fairs given he is a farmer. His brother, perhaps, stimulated by Kayin’s actions brings a robust offering of a choice animal. Seems fair given he is a herder. Yet, G-d only turns to Hevel’s offering and ignores Kayin’s. But isn’t this unfair? Kayin is giving of his own work and it was his idea in the first place? How could he be spurned so badly?

              As usual, certain textual details point us in the direction of what really went wrong.  When it says Kayin decided to bring a sacrifice it says, “At the end of days, Cain brought an offering to the LORD from the fruit of the soil”. It doesn’t explain at the end of what days?  One commentary explains that what happened is that Kayin was devoted to the land and growing crops.  Yuval Harari in Sapiens makes it clear that agriculture is a ‘fraud’. It promises riches, but it enslaves us to the process. In contrast to his contemplative brother who was the shepard who has time for contemplation like many of our future leaders. However, even Kayin who has lived a life devoted to materialism either gets old or realizes he will one day pass on, and thinks that he should play a token tribute to spirituality. But a token contribution is not what G-d is looking for since that is checking a box, not creating a relationship.

              Kayin then makes a further mistake in his perspective. Not only did he treat spirituality lightly, but he also thought that life is a zero sum game. If Hevel has ‘won’, then he has lost. If Hevel is greater than him, then he no longer exists. Furthermore, Hevel only ‘won’ because he cheated. He stole Kayin’s idea. For that reason Kayin takes the drastic action that he does because he didn’t have an identity without it.  From this episode we need a new perspective on life. First, we need to put our best into spirituality and second we need to realize the answer to Kayin existential question, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper’?  Are we competing or cooperating together in this world. And the answer is a resounding cooperation.