Parashat BeReishit contains not only the creation of the physical word and all its components, but the creation of mankind as well. The first individuals introduced are the world’s first parents, Adam and Chavah. After learning about Adam and Chavah and their complex relationship, the Torah introduces Kayin and Hevel, the world’s first pair of brothers. Kayin, the older of the two, not only brought murder into the world, but introduced the concept of Teshuvah as well. A very interesting question can be asked about Kayin. How could a person on such a high level sink so low as to murder? What drove him to this point?
The former Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshivah, Rav Chaim Schmuelevitz zt”l, asks this question. He adds, that not only did Kayin kill Hevel, but as the Pasuk states, “VaYomer Kayin El Hevel Achiv,” “Kayin spoke with his brother Hevel.” (4:8). Right before Kayin kills his brother the Torah states says that he spoke with Hevel. What was said in this conversation? Rashi tells us that Kayin said things that were quarrelsome in order to rationalize his killing Hevel. The Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel asserts that Kayin said there is no judge, there is no judgment, and there is no world besides this one. How could one who spoke prophetically to God himself not only kill his brother, but deny God’s existence?
Rav Shmuelevitz answers that we find the answer to these questions in the passage preceding the murder of Hevel. The Torah states, “VeEl Kayin VeEl Minchato Lo Shaah VaYichar LeKayin Meod VaYiplu Panav” “But to Kayin and his offering He did not turn. This upset Cain exceedingly, and his face fell.” (4:5) Kayin felt rejected by Hashem, he felt inferior to Hevel; therefore, in response to feeling rejected, he rejects back. This is not an unusual response; most of us do the same thing. This defense mechanism is used to avoid embarrassment, rejection, or other uncomfortable feelings. Ramban states that not only was Kayin feeling rejected, but he believed that Hashem would build the world primarily through his brother Hevel, since his Korban was favored. Not only did Hashem’s rejection of Kayin’s Korbon make him he feel insignificant, but also made him worry that he actually would be insignificant. Ramban adds that Kayin could have been inspired by his brother and improved but chose to rebel instead.
Too often we reject when we feel rejected. When someone is rude or difficult or acts towards us in a way we don’t like too often we act accordingly in return. In fact, we even feel justified in doing so! Although we might be justified, the Torah tells us “VeAhavta LeReiacha KaMocha”, love your friends like yourself. Treat others the way you would want to be treated and not the way they treat you. Or as the saying goes, be the change you want to see in the world. We must take personal responsibility and realize that an argument or fight cannot continue without two sides involved. If we would treat others and ourselves the way we would like to be treated, eventually we will be treated the same way.
My Rebbe, Rav Elie Marcus, Mashgiach of Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim, called me this summer just to relate this story that he knew I would appreciate. Rav Elie’s brother-in-law was visiting Eretz Yisrael and meeting with many of the Gedolei Yisrael while there. He had been meeting with Rav Tzvi Meyer Zilverberg, a great Chassidic Rebbe in Yerushalayim, when the Rebbe asked him if he had visited Rav Vosner. Upon learning he had not yet visited Rav Vosner, Rav Zilverberg insisted he meet Rav Vosner, and then proceeded to tell Rav Vosner’s story. Rav Vosner had gone for an interview to learn at Chachmei Lublin, where acceptance was based on having known hundreds of Blatt (folie) Gemara by heart. He was not accepted into the Yeshiva. Having been turned down, he went to the Beit Medresh to learn for the few hours he had while waiting for his train. Rav Meir Shapiro, the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin and the founder of the Daf Yomi learning program, noticed a Bochur sitting in the Beit Medresh that he had not recognized. He asked another Bochur who he was and learned that he was a boy who came for an interview and was not accepted. Rav Meir Shapiro asked when the interview occurred. “Just a few minutes ago” the Bochur responded. Rav Meir Shapiro said that a person who can be turned away from the yeshiva and instead of returning to his lodgings, moping, or complaining, was learning as soon as he received the bad news is exactly the kind of Bochur he wanted in his yeshiva. Rav Vosner was accepted into the yeshiva and is now today one of the great Gedolei Torah, one of the few survivors of Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin and the Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak. Can you imagine being immediately turned away from the college or job of their dreams and going and working to advance his or herself in that area immediately? Rav Tzvi Meyer said it is this Middah of being humble and taking personal responsibility that makes us grow. May we all internalize this lesson, and utilize it to grow in Torah and Middot.