Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Anger, Expectations and Responses

Genesis 4:6-9 – Rabbi Marder led a lively discussion
Oh those well known questions:
“Why are you angry?”
“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

(found this interesting website on various points of view of this story)

A focus on anger and how it can lead to dangerous other emotions.
A feeling of loss that leads to sadness contrasts to an experience of insult that gives rise to anger.

Leon Kass – The Beginning of Wisdom Reading Genesis
contemporary commentator from U of Chicago discusses the link between anger and revenge. In the case of Cain’s anger being directed at his brother rather than on God.

“The greater the self regard the bigger the anger and resentment”


You will feel less angry if you don’t feel that the world owes you anything!

Look at yourself to decide if you are expecting too much.

Rabbi Norman Cohen (HUC) on the Anger of Cain gave a lesson on ‘living outside the garden’ pointing out that life is fraught with inequities. We all make sacrifices without recognition. The challenge is to learn to live with ambivalence.

In the case of Cain he was not able to handle rejection and move on. It brings up the question of how to respond to the injustice in the world. How to control our responses?

(aside tangent: The whole Torah is filled with conflicts between brothers – until the end when Moses and Aaron learn to live as brothers and resolve their conflicts amicably. )

Book: Games People Play by Eric M. D. Berne
Summary at this site is good

Origins of resentment, Misdirected anger and explanations of war and murder were all noted.

Jay Jackman (Psychiatrist) explained from his reference point of having worked with murder cases: A single episode does not provoke murder in most cases. We don’t have enough information to really speculate on Cain’s ongoing relationship with Abel to really understand the motivation for killing.

Most current commentaries point to the sense of resentment that is evident and emphasize our ability to get past it rather than translating it into malicious behavior.

NEXT VERSE: Genesis 4:8 The missing words – What did he say?
“And Cain talked with Abel his brother and it came to pass when they were in the field that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him”

One of those sites that translates word for word from all different Bibles: (still hard to figure out)

It does not tell what he said and there are different theories about this:
  • The scribe left out the words.
  • Rabbis speculation
a: divide the world over property – moveable or not b: In my domain the Temple will be built / Religion c: about Eve or the women
  • - that is the 3 motives for bloodshed: economics, religion and sex.
  • Rashi – this is a pretext for an argument – Cain shows he was seeking a quarrel.

Where did this killing happen? In the field.
The field is ‘out of sight’ so there is an implication that something wrong will happen. The ‘field’ is often the scene of a crime – it is away from the population.

Another point is that the field is the source of Cain’s sacrifice to God.

Some say there are no missing words – that it implies ‘mute rage’.

Cain Rose Up – another term with different interpretations and even a Steven King story
Which was also made into a movie in 1999! And another interpretation in literature: "Cain Rose Up against Abel": Murder, Mystery, and Paradise Lost
Journal article by Cheryl H. Fresch; Christianity and Literature, Vol. 51, 2002.

Abel is referred to as his brother 7 times. (This has many different interpretations also – and we will find more references to “seven” very soon that might be connected)

Norman Cohen notes that Cain may have been reaching out to his brother OR then again it may have been anger.

There is no response from Abel either. Both are silent and Both may bear some guilt.

(another reference to the play by Lord Byron where Cain and Abel were grown and had families by the time of the killing: Mentioned: Lord Byron’s Play from 1821, Cain SUMMARY )

“Rose Up” - We started to explore what this might mean both literal and interpretively.
We ask what can we learn from this? Both from the behavior of Cain and from God’s behavior in the situation.

This commentary found on the web describes the interpretation by Barbara Sutnick closely to what was discussed in class - read more on this at the link:

“We are told nothing of the relationship between Adam and Eve and their sons, and also very little about that between Cain and Abel. The text is curt to the point of obscurity in describing their confrontation: "And Cain [said] to his brother Abel when they were in the field, and Cain arose [to] Abel and slew him" (vs. 8). This is a verse that clearly calls out DaRSHeni! ("explain me!") Rashi says that although there were many midrashim written to flesh out their conversation, the plain meaning is that Cain first started to argue with Abel, began to get rough, and then killed him.

Abel and Cain's disagreements must have begun long before. Picking up on the natural rancor between shepherds and farmers, we read in the midrash that one day one of Abel's sheep trampled over one of Cain's fields. Cain raged at his brother "what right have you to let your sheep pasture in my garden?" Abel retorted: "What right have you to use the products of my sheep to make your garments and your tents?" (Yasher Bereshit 9a) This midrash underscores the sad fact that although shepherds and farmers are natural rivals, they are also inter-dependent. The farmer needs the wool and meat that the sheep provides; the shepherd and his animals need to eat the farm produce. The division of labor that characterizes human civilization creates competing interests at the same time that it multiplies conveniences and products for all.

A series of midrashim in Bereshit Rabba (22, 16) attempt to explain what the brothers were arguing about. It all began with the brothers' effort to divide the world between them. One took the lands and the other took the moveable goods. Then one said "the land on which you are standing is mine - get off!"; and the other replied "the clothes you are wearing are mine - take them off!" In the course of this, Cain slew his brother. A second midrash sees it another way: They both took land and movables. What they were fighting about was upon whose field will the Temple come to be built. A third explanation is that they were disputing over Eve.

Nehama Leibowitz points out that these three midrashim explain what is at the root of mankind's sorry tendency toward bloodshed and murder. . .”

We can ask what might have worked better!

More related interesting websites found on this search:

We can ask what might have worked better!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Second Children, Offerings and Advice

Torah Study 9/20/08 - Genesis 4: 3

Overview – R. Marder spoke about Auerbach’s comparison of the literary styles of Homer’s Odyssey to the Bible.

In the Odyssey you know the characters well while in the Bible you are ‘left to interpret and guess’ what the character’s background and detail.

Thus the Bible forces us to interpret the details.

However both Homer and the Bible were great influences on society and future literature.

What is the motive for the offerings?
One theory is that Cain was traumatized by the awareness of mortality and this is what motivated him, while Abel was motivated by pure gratitude.

Kaplan has a messianic message from this
NOTE FROM LEW who made the comment:
Aryeh Kaplan's translation of Bereshith 4:3. When I read Kaplan's comments to the group last Shabbat, I omitted the last line.

Here is the complete 4:3 footnote.
"An era ended. Literally, "It was the end of days." It is significant that this same expression is used to denote the Messianic era, when the present era will end. It possibly refers to the expulsion from Eden, whereupon a new era begins...."

East of Eden was a new era.
– “an era ended”, or “in the course of time”, or “end of days” - all reference to an ending of life.

Interesting blog on this

What is left out of the story is also important. We confront the arbitrariness of the world in how the benefits are dispensed. Used as an explanation of why some people seem to be blessed with good things and others stricken with negative issues. It seems this may be the key to “life is not fair” philosophy.

Rabbi’s analysis of the motive/intention for giving offers the moral lesson that when you give you should give the best you can and give from the heart.

Mentioned: Lord Byron’s Play from 1821, Cain
The play commences with Cain refusing to participate in his family's prayer of thanksgiving to God. Cain tells his father he has nothing to thank God for because he is fated to die. As Cain explains in an early soliloquy, he regards his mortality as an unjust punishment for Adam and Eve's transgression in the Garden of Eden, an event detailed in the Book of Genesis. Cain's anxiety over his mortality is heightened by the fact that he does not know what death is.

Theme of the Younger Child Preferred – continues through Genesis:
Message – it is not about birth order, it is about merit rather than social structure.
This ‘preference’ continues – Isaac is second son of Abraham, Jacob is second son of Isaac and Rachel is younger than Leah … etc.

A theory is that this interpretation becomes a justification for the question of ‘ownership’ in the conquest of Canaan.

Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) on “sin rests at the door.”
IF you wish you can rule over the impulse to to do wrong. You can help yourself.

Eli Munk (1900 – 1978)
We are given a chance for moral rehabilitation.

Good Question for next time:
After God gives Cain such good advice, why are the results so bad?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cain and Abel and Parenting

Genesis 4:1-6 R. Marder at Torah Study

“An Eden Moment” - to recognize the goodness and a glimpse into the perfect world...

Quote from blog found: “What’s an Eden Moment?” you might wonder. An Eden Moment is a precious glimpse at perfection. It’s hard to describe because each glimpse is unique. But Eden Moments have one thing in common: You feel suspended out of time, if only for a moment, embraced in the perfect presence of the Great I AM. An Eden Moment is the Ecclesiastes 3:11 taste of eternity which God has set in our hearts along with the time and season for all things.

On Parenthood:

Honor Thy Father And Mother by Gerald J. Blidstein

We are not created by ourselves. We need to acknowledge and honor others.
Parents must carry the love of God to the next generation by teaching Torah and blessing the children and giving a channel for love of God.

R. Marder then read from a Mormon essay by Spencer Kimball about the role of mothers to provide mortal beings for the spirit children of God.
"Mothers have a sacred role. They are partners with God, as well as with their own husbands, first in giving birth to the Lord's spirit children, and then in rearing those children so they will serve the Lord and keep his commandments. Could there be a more sacred trust than to be a trustee for honorable, well-born, well-developed children?"... She who gives the child life is first and foremost the one to give it a way of life, teaching the child what it should or should not do. She encourages strong character formation as she teaches the child to impose limitations on some of its natural instincts. By her words and actions she teaches her child the regard that should be shown other individuals if that child wishes to be included and loved as a member of the family circle, later as a member of society, and finally as a participating member of the kingdom of God.” -President Spencer W. Kimball

A good reflection on the role of parents, their responsibility as a conduit for God’s teaching.

Side note: The extra ‘et’s (Hebrew) in the passage about birth may be a reference to Cain and Abel’s twin sisters (mentioned in my blog last time)

Story of Cain and Abel – The Farmer and the Herdsman
Returning to a discussion of Cain and Abel

Wikipedia has a wonderful analysis here with input from different religions:
choice of profession:
interesting article by Avi Lazerson link:
The elder son follows his father’s profession and the younger son finds another career.

Samson Raphael Hirsch reflection on the differences between these professions.

He explains that the name hints at a decisive element in Kayin's character: a strong attachment to the physical goods and pleasures of this world. As does his livelihood, perhaps: the Torah chooses to tell us that he was an "oved adamah", a "worker of the ground." Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, zt'l, suggests that Kayin's choice of farming as a profession might well have reflected, and reinforced, a tendency towards enslavement to the physical, besides developing other unwelcome traits: " "...the worker on the land comes to worship the forces of Nature on whose influence the success of the fields he serves is visibly dependent. The agricultural peoples were the first to lose the pure consciousness of G-d and humanity, there slavery and polytheism were first begotten." (Hirsch Chumash--I, p. 97)

The implication that Abel’s profession would lead him to a stronger desire for material possessions... Vs. the herdsman who was a nomad and had less desire for material goods. (This was argued and discussed of course!)

Jared Diamond book Gun, Germs and Steel certainly explores the nature of nomads vs agricultural workers
(interesting link discussing this)

When Cain murders Abel – does this mark the change from primary focus on the nomadic life to agricultural?

The Offerings: Cain – offered the fruit of the ground Abel – offered the best of his flock
God praised Abel for his offering did not recognize Cain’s offering as well... This opened the floodgates of fury from Cain...

Interpreted so many ways by so many sources – Question: Did Abel kill an animal to make the offering? Is this the beginning of blood sacrifices?
(interesting analysis) (This made me think of the possible misinterpretations that could be dangerous.)

And another good question: Was God unfair to Cain?

One class comment interpretation that was different: Was this all misunderstood and God really destroyed Abel’s offering because the offering from Cain was preferred? And thus it was all about misunderstandings?

The basis for the Steinbeck novel and movie “East of Eden” - Son number one offers money to help the family – but it is money raised because of the war. (tainted money) and the offering was rejected. Son number two announces his engagement and is accepted as a ‘worthy’ gift. This initiates a disastrous situation between brothers...

It is also about the spontaneity and intention of giving. Cain’s gift was from the heart and a reaction to his appreciation, Abels gift was a reaction to his brother’s gift – but he brought the very best that he had. It is the motive for giving that is essential and there is a question if it is more acceptable to give from sheer gratitude or to give by suggestion of others. Is it the quality of the gift is more important or is it the intention that should be considered first?

It is God’s reaction that seems wrong here. And yet, is it a common reaction of a parent to gifts from their children.

The Rabbis use this story as an opportunity to look at how we give gifts. The intention is the important element in giving. But it is also the essential lesson about receiving gifts that is key in this story.

R. Marder ended with a true story from Self, Struggle & Change : Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives: by Norman J. Cohen

There is reference to the Steinbeck novel East of Eden and how it parallels the story of Cain and Abel and a sibling rivalry story from Norman Cohen’s own experience.
He tells the story of how his own children taught him this lesson. His son gave him a spontaneous birthday gift of all his allowance saved. And before thinking he immediately Cohen told his son that money was not an appropriate gift. Then the daughter went and got a picture she made in school and gave it to him as a gift and he praised here for the lovely gift made ‘especially for him’. Then he realized what he had done.

This story happens again and again – we tend to hurt those we love without intention but by oversight and not thinking ahead.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sex, Children and Brothers...

Quite a good discussion on Genesis 4: 1-4 with Rabbi Marder

We started with a review to remind us of Samson Raphael Hirsh’s impassioned plea with the people to remember that they can ‘return to God’ and don’t need an intermediary. This was his position in the world where he saw more and more assimilation and conversion away from Judaism. He has a strong argument against the Christian concept of ‘original sin’ - The only thing that God cursed in the garden was the ground and the snake. He also reaffirms his faith in the human potential to be good.

On to the story of Cain and Able.

The story points out man’s capacity to do evil. The relationship with sin and our ability to master our sinful nature.

The story of the two brothers is an “Emblematic story about humankind”.
It is significant beyond the individual.

YaDaH – To Know – and what it means

As we often do we explored the translation of the word YaDaH -

In English – to know as in facts or recognition
In Heberw – to know as in facts or sexual intercourse

This has different implications. (Robert Alter says that this is an example of how English is a ‘clumsy’ language)

Rashi Text
The Biblical word YaDaH, has a nuance of emotional familiarity [literally endearment]. Another example--where YaDaH means familiar---occurs in Ru02-01---the phrase --- a familiar to her husband refers to relatives Another example is Ex33-17 when God says to Moses, And I will be familiar with you by name. However the main nuance [of YaDaH] is knowledge since endearment manifests itself in knowing the person
Hence I have translated Rashi's idea of knowledge-endearment as familiarity since familiarity fulfills Rashis criteria of YaDaH meaning both knowledge and endearment. Notice that the translation of YaDaH as familiar also makes sense and fits right in the two verses cited by Rashi [relative=a familiar; know by name=be familiar]
This process of finding an English word like familiarity which shares nuances with other concepts like knowledge and endearment is called finding a unifying semantic model. An advanced skill in understanding Rashi is the ability to find succinct semantic models for translation of words.

Class comments:
when you have intercourse you should know the person really well.
sexual intercourse is the culmination of knowing someone
sex represents what it is to be human.
recognition of a partner as a mate. Raises marriage to a sanctity rather than ‘animalistic’
midrash: two souls torn asunder looking for their mate – sex is the perfect coming together of these souls

The same word is used in God’s description of his relation with Abraham. He was ‘known’ and singled out for a special relationship.

The Child

Cain was born -
First we focus on his name: based on the verb “to gain” “to acquire” “to create” “to bring forth” and even “to buy”
it is the origin of the English name Smith

Midrash: Man and Woman are partners with God in creating a human. God contributes the soul and at death the soul returns to God.

Rashi speaks of the process of procreation as being devine.

It was also pointed out that Adam was not mentioned in Eve’s declaration of her partnership with God to have a child!

Different readings:
- one concept is that Cain was conceived within the garden and Able after they left the garden.
- Eve uses the term ISH (man) not baby. This may imply that by having this child that the bond between her and ISH – Adam is stronger.
- In the presence of God bringing a child into the world is equated with bringing our replacement to the world.

Eve’s exultant cry on the birth of her first son: “with the help of the Lord” “Both I and Adonai have made a man”
Different translations – but it is the first call by a human of God’s name. Eve clearly acknowledges that God has some influence on this birth. But also because of the use of the word ‘k-n-h’ (acquire as in husband and wife) it indicates that Adam is also acknowledged.

Were Cain and Able Twins?

Some sources say they were but others report that they had twin sisters....

(I found many Muslim site discussions on this topic on the internet)

Interesting essay on this Family started by Adam and Eve and the birth of Cain - Folklore:

Talmud it is suggested that to be successful in this life you should plant a tree, have a child, or write a book. This means you should be sure that you have exerted an influence for good in this life that lives on after your days are on earth are done.”

– At the End of the Day, James W. Moore

Book Reference: SELF, STRUGGLE & CHANGE Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives
by Norman J. Cohen

‘humans have Godliness within them from the moment of birth’

Next Abel
The name Abel – Hevel – means mist or vapor – futility / the ephemeral
what is the significance or Abel?

It starts right after the mention of their birth to tell of their occupations. There is no mention of their character.

Cain the herdsman (remember they are still vegetarians at this point so animals were more for clothing) and Abel the farmer. This is indicative of a fundamental conflict from the beginning. BUT there is nothing written that says this was a conflict and in reality they are dependent upon each other.

The story is very fragmentary and it is about choices. You can read it from different perspectives: psychological, anthropological or spiritual.

Leon Kass article READ THIS ONE

The two occupations of the brothers echo two earlier remarks about human work. Herding sheep reminds us of having dominion-ruling-over the animals, the work announced in Genesis 1:26, 28, the majestic story in which man is godlike, the world harmonious, and all is seen to be very good. Tilling the earth is the way anticipated and forecast in the so- called second creation story (Genesis 2:5, 3:23), the story that shows how badness and hardship enter and complicate human existence. Cain, the new man and heir of the second account, appears to be following the life God foretold for man outside the Garden (like many a firstborn, he takes over "the family business"); in this sense, one might think Cain "obedient."
This article is really worth the whole reading.

Another view presented by Robert Sacks in the book by Kass - Birth order sets the stage for what comes next. Younger son is the underdog and the first son bears the burden of the family. The first son is naturally angry and jealous of the second son – Brothers are natural rivals.
Book: The Beginning of Wisdom by Leon Kass – Page 127

Monday, September 01, 2008

Eden Lost - Music and Art and Poetry

Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and everturning to guard the way to the tree of life.


I came upon a child of god
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me
Im going on down to yasgurs farm
Im going to join in a rock n roll band
Im going to camp out on the land
Im going to try an get my soul free
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you
I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe its the time of man
I dont know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And weve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Woodstock.. Joni Mitchell

and art:

You could spend hours looking at the art on the site Rabbi Marder mentioned. It is a wow! There are 5 pages of links on the subject of the expulsion from Eden!


a poem by the great Israeli poet
Yehuda Amichai

A Child Is Something Else Again

A child is something else again. wakes up
in the afternoon and in an instant he's full of words,
in an instant he's humming, in an instant warm,
instant light, instant darkness.

A child is Job. They've already placed their bets on him
but he doesn't know it. He scratches his body for pleasure. Nothing hurts yet.
They're training him to be a polite Job,
to say 'thank you' when the lord has given,
to say 'you're welcome' when the lord has taken away.

A child is vengeance.
A child is a missile into the coming generations.
I launched him: I'm still trembling.

A child is something else again: on rainy spring day
glimpsing the garden of Eden through the fence,
kissing him in his sleep,
hearing footsteps in the wet pine needles.
A child delivers you from death.
Child, Garden, Rain, Fate.

Children may truly be the link back to the garden....

We looked at the cherubim last week

This week we considered the sword! And the different interpretations of “guarding” the way to the Tree of Life.

What is that fiery sword and how is it turning.. Are they blocking the return or protecting the garden or both?

Different readings of this:

Commentary: "double-edged sword" as a symbol of moral confusion, the merging of good and evil as a result of the fall of Adam and Eve, comes from Rabbi Elie Munk's book entitled "The Call of the Torah."

Some interpret it that you cannot return to the garden but the Rabbis say you can find the way back to the garden through the study of Torah.

Proverbs 3 - 13
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who hold her fast.
(wisdom is a feminine word – the subject of the sentence)

Rabbis took this and applied it to Torah – thus Torah is called Etz Chayim.
The Torah is a Tree of Life, It is the Torah of Truth and Eternal Life. Bring it into our daily life and it is our path back to the garden. You can find the way back through study and engagement (discussion) of Torah.

Malbim (1809-1879), interpretation of the proverb, people struggle to gain wisdom. You must hold onto it to find the wisdom but it is worth the struggle.

Torah gives access to wisdom – that access is open to everyone who holds on to it.

(no need for someone else to ‘save’ you – you can do it yourself through Torah – this teaching was made around the same time as Jesus and his followers were teaching a different view. This may have been a reaction to that.)

Blessings before and after reading of Torah – created by the Rabbis with this inspiration.
In Mishnah Megillah it describes the proper way to read Torah and the blessings before and after each part are like the blessings before and after we eat. It is also nourishment.

Book: The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of Sefat Emet
by Judah Aryeh Leib Alter (Author), Arthur Green (Author), Shai Gluskin (Author)

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, Germany, 1808-1888) inspiring explanation of this symbolism:

"We find keruvim in the Holy Scriptures having two definite meanings:

a) as watchers and protectors

b) as bearers of the Glory of God

As watchers and protectors of the way to the Tree of Life cheruvim were appointed (Gen. 3:24). ...

(found at this link)

We also discussed the relationship to raising of children as noted by Aviva Zornberg.
Book: The Beginning of Desire by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg

We DID start Genesis 4:1 and briefly discussed the term “The man knew his wife...” and if that means that sex was introduced after they left the garden OR was sex part of life in the garden as well? As usual – this is a subject of many different opinions.

This was when the poem of Yehuda Amichai was mentioned and that when you watch a sleeping child you get a glimpse of Eden!