Monday, October 19, 2009

Cain and Able- What was the problem

In the story of Cain and Able, the first children of Adam and Eve, the brothers both offer sacrifices to to G-D. Cain, a man of the land, offers G-D his leftover grains, whereas Able, a Shepard, offers G-D his most choice animal. It is interesting to note that Cain offers G-D his leftover food, but Able, unable to eat meat since it was still forbidden to man at the time, offers G-D the animal that he makes clothes from. Able does not assume that G-D requires food, but rather a symbolic sacrifice, whereas Cain assumes that G-D wants his leftover food. G-D, in turn, accepts Able's sacrifice, but not Cain's. G-D's favoritism to Able's sacrifice causes Cain to lash out and kill Able.

There are a couple questions to ask about this story: why was it that G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cains and was Cain really at fault for killing his brother? The reason G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cain's is because Able understood the true essence of G-D and what the point of a sacrifice is all about. A sacrifice is supposed to be something that brings one close to G-D and by sacrificing the best animal he had, Able was showing G-D that he cares about G-D more than himself. However, Cain thought a sacrifice is supposed to be like tribute that one would give to a foreign king that controls you. Cain was not interested in becoming close to G-D, but rather paying Him off and that is why he gave G-D his leftover food. This is why G-D accepted Able's sacrifice and not Cain's, because Able understood what G-D is, whereas Cain did not.

This brings us to the next question, was Cain at fault for killing Able? Think about it, Cain did not know that death was possible, no one had ever died in the world before and therefore did not realize what he was doing would kill him. This might also be why Cain was not killed himself, but rather just condemned to wander the world as a nomad. The truth is that Cain knew that to strike his brother was wicked and therefore he was exiled, but he did not realize the severity of his actions. Cain knew that striking a fellow human being was wicked since the idea of morals did exist because of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but Cain did not know about death. Cain acted wickedly and was punished for this, but since he did not know about death could not be punished by death.

1 comment:

Garnel Ironheart said...

The Malbim has a fascinating take on this.
According to him, Kayin is a complete literalist. What's in front of him is what matters. He only believes in God because He's spoken to him. No imagination on the guy.
So he gets upset when Hevel's offering is accepted and his is rejected. And what does God say? "Why are you upset, boy? Do better and you'll achieve better. But there's this thing called sin waiting outside your door and it wants to do you in but you can take it out!"
So then Kayin goes out his door and sees Hevel standing there and thinks: Hmmmm, main reason my sacrifice got rejected was because Hevel's was better. If he hadn't offered a sacrifice mine woulda been the best. That lousy... Wait a sec! He's that sin thing God was warning me about. I gotta get rid of him or he'll do me in, just like with the sacrifices!"
So he goes and offs Hevel and then when God gets mad, he's genuinely shocked! "Am I my brother's keeper? You told me he's my enemy!"