Saturday, September 25, 2010

Woman, Siblings, Religious Conflict, Envy, Screaming Blood & Divine Reflection - Bereshit 1

Lessons from First Humans
The first humans as described in the Torah can be seen as archetypes with all of us as their descendants having some of their characteristics[1]. What are some of the lesser known interpretations in Jewish tradition of these creation stories? What lessons might these offer us?

There are two opinions about what Eve was created from, 1. When Adam was created he was actually two people in one male on one side and female on the other then these were split. 2. Eve was created from Adam tail (זנב)[2]. If we go with the first opinion, this ties in nicely with the idea that when we are created, we are only half a soul and when we get married our souls are complete again. I am not keen on speculating what conclusions men might reach based on the tail interpretation.

Religious Conflict- a red herring?
The first account of a religious dispute is an interpretation of a surprising phrase in the story of the murder of Abel by his brother. “and Cain said to Abel his brother, and it was as they were in the field, Cain rose up to his brother Abel and killed him”. We are not told what it was that Cain actually said.

Cain said to Abel his brother let us go out into the field and when they both went out,
Cain said to Abel: There is not justice and there is no judge (G-d) and there is no other world (heaven) and there is no reward for the righteous or punishment for the wicked and the world was not created with mercy and He does not speak with mercy.  What would justify that your offering was accepted with good will while mine was not accepted?
Abel replied: there is justice, there is a judge (G-d), there is another world and there the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished, and the world was created with mercy and He acts/leads with mercy as my deeds were better than yours therefore my offering was accepted with good will but yours was not. They both fought in the field then Cain rose up on Abel his brother and killed him[3].

Quite an argument, but not worth recording in the Torah, as Rashi explains “Cain got into words of strife and argument to create a pretext to kill him”.

I wonder how many other so called religious conflicts are just window dressing and pretexts for other motives such as revenge, fear, envy, pursuit of power and resources.

Screaming blood.
I wonder if there is a commentary that can further enhance the power of G-D's rebuke to Cain “the voice of your brothers blood is screaming to me from the earth”. Whatever bloodshed we are responsible for around the world, in that we might have some influence in stopping it, whatever the justification this is a phrase worth bearing in mind.
(The Divine reflection in chapter 6 needs further investigation)

[1] Steinsaltz A. (1984) Biblical Images, BasicBooks/Harper Collins P 3.
[2] Talmud, Brachot 61a. The idea of the tail could be linked to Genesis 2:7 “and the man became a living soul”, the word for living is the same as animal and one interpretation is that he had a stalk or tail (Beresheet Rabba 14, cited in Torat Shlaima).
[3] Jerusalem Targum.


  1. Quite an interpretation. I always thought that the object of the story was that G-d was present and Justice and mercy prevailed in the world.

    Abel's reply is interesting There is G-d, there is a judge but the world of justice and mercy is not this world. Abel was a wise man.

    I agree,the idea that Cain covered his motives for killing Abel with a religious argument presages today's situation where The attack on WTC becomes a Zionist conspiracy, a president uses the language of the Crusades when invading Iraq and an old New York coat factory is metaphorically shifted to ground zero and becomes a mosque which is not a mosque

  2. Thanks Gary. With thousands of years of study. There will always be multiple meanings given to every story and details of each story. Your take on Abel is interesting and follows from Abel's argument although it can be understood either way.

  3. Cain's argument was not religious at all; it was the cynical argument of the skeptic, the denier, the athiest -- who wants to do whatever his desires are, and then is bitter and resentful for not being rewarded and treated the way he feels he is entitled to be, again according to those same instantaneous desires, and attempts to prove and justify his philosophy, simply by acting on its ideas. He is really at war with himself for selling himself short - having exchanged lasting value and meaning for instant gratification and ego, then feeling resentful and jealous, in the end, of those who did the opposite and made something of themselves.

  4. Thanks Bram. Your take on Cain resonates strongly for me. There is a saying by the Baal Shem Tov (Jewish mystic) that when one finds fault with others, they are really his own faults. This is explained along similar lines (by R. Yaakov Yosef)why would someone get angry about the fault of another? it must be because this fault is something he is denying within himself and when he sees it in the other this infuriates him. Thanks for posting.