27 Tishrei 5783
taken from message from Ranebi on 27 Tishrei 5777
Do we think the Creator doesn’t see us?
The Torah is filled with stories that hold universal teachings for humanity. One such story is in Parashat Bereshit in Chapter 4, in which we read about two brothers, Cain and Abel, the first two children of Adam and Eve. Abel was “a keeper of sheep” and Cain was a “tiller of the ground”. Verses 3 and 4 tell us: “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought an offering from the fruit of the ground to the LORD and Abel, also brought from the firstlings of his flock and of its fat.” Theologians argue that Abel’s offering was considered better because his was an animal from the flock while Cain’s was from his crop. It is as they believe that God rejoices in the shedding of blood. This idea of blood sacrifice to cover our sins is pagan and it is not what the Torah teaches. If we dig a little deeper, we can see that Abel brought the “first born of his flock” while Cain simply brought an offering. The message is subtle but clear; Abel brought the very best, the first fruits of his labor in order to honor God while Cain offered…whatever. Our Creator knows the intention of our hearts and that is why He accepted and lauded Abel’s offering.
We will see in later readings in the Torah that we were to always bring the first fruits of our offerings to God in thanksgiving for His provision. If Cain had done the right thing, our Almighty would also have accepted his offering and rejoiced with him as well. God did not reject Cain rather He simply wanted to show him that he still had a long way to go. This developed, however, into a case of sibling rivalry where Cain believed that God preferred Abel, to the point that he became so jealous that he murdered his brother.
God asked Cain, “why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, would you not be accepted?” There are so many key words here. If our heart is right, God will accept our offerings and rejoice but our Creator doesn’t need our leftovers; He wants to see our heart. Cain was bringing an offering simply for its own sake; however, there was no joy associated with his act of giving. How many of us come to the congregation to supposedly worship the LORD but we come for the wrong reasons: perhaps we think that He will punish us if we don’t attend, or our business won’t prosper. Do we think we can fool the Creator?
It continues, “and if you do not do well, sin lies at the door; and to you shall be its desire, and yet you may rule over it.” The word translated as “sin” is chataat, teaching us that we will be purged from within, and that we can overcome. He was showing Cain that He knows that as humans we will fail; that it’s okay for us to get upset and even to have a temper tantrum but after this we need to come to our senses and start over with the right attitude. Cain was unable or unwilling to overcome his emotions; he allowed them to rule over him. When we cannot control our emotions and we react, it generally has a bad outcome. When we act without thinking, it is worse because we are acting in the impulse of the moment. There is a difference between a crime of passion and premediated murder. Cain’s was the former. I have spoken to people who say that they cannot believe in a God who allows so much injustice in the world. If there is a God, why is there so much evil in the world? These are the same people who forget that God has given us the gift of free will so that we can make choices. God limited Himself so that we can learn to exercise that free will in order to learn.
Why is it important to see that the Creator accepted Abel’s offering? It had to do with his attitude and had nothing to do with the offering itself; he could have brought anything. He gave Cain the opportunity to think about what he had done. He would have been fully accepted if he had simply acknowledged his feelings and changed his attitude. He was showing us that we are not to allow our bad intentions to rule over us; that we have the ability to control them. He was telling Cain, you can do good, or you can do evil. At the end of Devarim, the Creator tells us “I give you today life and good, death and evil but I ask you to choose life”. The Creator always gives us the choice to choose life, but Cain “chose” death.
In verse 9 it says: And the LORD said to Cain: ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said: ‘I don’t know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ (This passage repeats the word “brother”, seven times, denoting completion.) Did God need to ask Cain that question? He did the same thing with Adam and Eve. He is constantly reaching out to us with extended arms giving us the opportunity to make things right. He is not a god who waits to point a finger at us, ready to accuse and condemn us. Who are the ones who condemn us? We condemn ourselves. The next verse says, “And He said: What have you done? the voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground. So now you are cursed from the earth which has opened her mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield her strength; a fugitive and a wanderer you shall me in the earth”. This is the same curse that was told to Adam for his disobedience. The rest of creation suffers the consequences of human behaviour to this day.
In the next verse if we dig a little deeper, there seems to be a small glimmer of teshuva when Cain said, “My punishment is greater than I can bear”. He was not only speaking about the punishment that our Creator gave to him, but do you know you feel when you have a dirty conscience? Most of mental illness stems from a dirty conscience, unsolved problems, evil desires, unforgiveness, lack of trust and I can go on.
When we are in sin, God hides His face from us until we make it right. He doesn’t abandon us; it is we who close the doors on Him. On Yom Kippur, we begin our encounter with the Creator when He gives us the opportunity to make right what we have done wrong. We can begin a new life. There are consequences for our disobedience and so Cain spent the rest of his life as a vagabond seeking the forgiveness of the Creator. We often have the problem of accepting the Creator’s forgiveness, not because we don’t want it; what we actually want is to be relieved of the consequences of our disobedience. Experiencing them is what helps us to grow and what actually sets us free. The person who doesn’t forgive lives in a prison of unforgiveness. It is as if the one who we won’t forgive is still controlling us. Forgiveness allows us to be released and then we can allow the Creator to perform His justice which is so much greater than our own.
Our Messiah Yeshua taught us in what is known as the Lord’s Prayer “….forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Consider the image that Yeshua is giving us here. “Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” Instead of being locked into theological ideologies, let us understand that Yeshua wanted to bring us back to the basic written Torah so that we could follow our Creator in a better way. Let’s not choose the path of Cain and let us know that our God is the God of beginning again!