Every time Parshat Bereishit is read, we are forced to look back at the very inception of our existence. We hope that the passage of time signifies growth. Has mankind changed? Has mankind improved? How far have we come? Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, creates Adam. We seem to be given the first impression that such an existence might be tolerable. However, Hashem decides to fashion a partner for him. The Torah, in chapter 2 verse 18 tells us that Hashem said it is not good for Adam to be alone... This speech is actually counted by the Midrash as one of the ten speeches that Hashem used to create the world. Apparently, having a partner should remedy man’s situation from being one that is not good to one that is good. Yet, in chapter three we read about the monumental transgression that they participated in by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. They grew together, they sinned together, and we are taught that they both did Teshuva. We would have hoped that the “good” that Hashem wanted out of this partnership would then be realized. Yet, once again, we read in chapter four of the conflict between Kayin and Hevel, the children of Adam and Chava.
Ironically, their very names seem to set the stage for their eternal conflict. The name Kayin seems to indicate, “acquisition,” while the name Hevel seems to indicate, “vanity.” Man’s acquisitions are fleeting. This is pointed out by the Ramban at the beginning of our chapter. What does man do with his temporary ownership of things in this world? Does he flaunt them as his own or does he dedicate them to the service of the true Owner? It is fascinating to note that their strife appears to be kindled as a result of religious activity. Kayin brings an offering to Hashem, as does Hevel. Hevel’s is accepted, ostensibly due to the fact that he was willing to give up his choicest flock. Kayin’s is not accepted, ostensibly due to the fact that he was unwilling to part with his choicest fruit. This was, understandably, very frustrating for Kayin. His first inclination was probably to feel immense grief, anger, and even jealousy when comparing his fortune with that of his brother. In order to adjust his attention, Hashem speaks to Kayin. In verses 6 and 7 Hashem tells Kayin that there is nothing to worry about. If Kayin chooses improvement then he will be forgiven. If he chooses not to improve then the chain reaction of sin will dominate his life. Hashem gives him the choice! Note that Hashem in no way, shape, or form, makes reference to Hevel. Hashem knows what Kayin is thinking but must let him choose how to deal with his brother. Will his brother be a source of inspiration, showing how that which Hashem asks is not too hard because “my own brother was able to achieve success” or will Kayin use his brother as a way to avoid the challenge of self-improvement?
The answer is contained in verse 8 where we find Kayin speaking to Hevel. Rashi tells us that the reason Kayin is the one speaking to Hevel is because Kayin was looking for a way to start a fight and we know that Kayin kills his brother. Kayin was unwilling to face himself! Indeed, Seforno points out that the setting Kayin chose for the quarrel was the field because it was away from the presence of their mother and father. Parental presence increases family awareness and kinship and would have most probably avoided the tragedy. Once gain, mankind chose to corrupt that which Hashem had intended: a partner, a wife, a brother, and by extension, all humanity is there so that we all may grow from one another and not over one another.
Having freshly emerged from the days of judgment, we certainly are in awe of Hashem! Recent events have indicated that mankind is still hard at work on itself. Have we improved? Have we grown? In large measure, we can answer this question in the affirmative. However, there may be an equal amount of improvement left to be made. How can there be beings that appear to be human, yet act like animals? Obviously, Hashem feels that the greatest potential for “good” can only be achieved when different people work together and learn from each other. Hashem is waiting for the world’s continued efforts in this regard. He has been waiting for a long time. Shlomo Hamelech said it best in Kohelet, his book on Hevel, which we just read last Shabbat. In chapter 4 verse 10 we are told that two people are better than one because if one falls, the other will pick him up, and how terrible it is to be alone with no one to lift you up. How beautiful a scene it is to behold one human being helping another! When we increase our acts of Chessed we confirm that which Hashem intended for our own “good.” If a part of humanity is failing, then it carries with it some type of message for all of us! There can never be enough effort expended in the area of Maasim Tovim. As we pray and eagerly await the messianic era and rebuilding of the Bait Hamikdash, let us not forget that Hashem is also eagerly awaiting our return.