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, October 28, 2008

Cain is Marked - but how?



The Mark of Cain
by Ruth Mellinkoff

This book was the focus of much of the lesson...

What IS the Mark of Cain? There are so many interpretations that we reviewed.

This could be one of the big causes of discrimination against Jews in how this was interpreted in history.

Cain’s response to his punishment:

Was it a statement or a question? There are grammatical clues that it could be a question – as Rashi reads it as a question.

Statement: Cain is confessing to his error
Question: Cain is pleading for mercy

Rashi can make it a question because of the sentence following this where he is asking for protection. And God’s response that he will receive protection.

Other scholars read it differently.

Sevenfold Vengence: (In addition to being a musical rock group )

"Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold." (this will come up again too)

  • - Some say it refers to a massive retaliation.
  • - God is speaking to the whole world, not just to Cain.
  • - Seven could be the number of generations that will be affected.

Rashi reads the part as an abridged expression / a rhetorical reading.

The punishment indicates that ‘him’ is Cain and that vengence will be seen at the end of 7 generations.

Mark of Cain – the meaning has changed over time. IT is interpreted differently based on if you see Cain as repentant or an evil doer who will never repent.

Early Christian interpretations in the 4th Century by St Amos – it is a mark of protection. By St. Jerome - it is a mark of punishment and he will suffer for 7 generations. By St Basil – the mark is a shameful punishment 7 different types – earth not to grow anything – groan and tremble – separation from god – a sign of shame – this becomes the popular view – and it was also equated with all Jews and responsible for much prejudicial treatment.

Early Jewish Scholars interpretation
7 different thoughts:
  1. God caused the sun to shine on his account
  2. The mark is a type of leprosy.
  3. The mark is a ‘dog’ = protection and loyalty
  4. It was a horn that grew on him.
  5. He was an example to murderers
  6. He was an example to penitence
  7. suspended punishment until the flood in the story of Noah.

Later interpretations
1. a mark on the body – a branding to humiliate. Similar to many occasions in history when Jews were forced to wear special badges to identify themselves. Or later they thought it was like a brand on his forehead similar to the slaves. (or for protection) And also circumcision was viewed as a ‘mark’.

2. The mark was movement of the body or a tremor – trembling or shaking as being in an agitated state.

3. A type of blemish associated with the body – such as Leprosy or covered with hair like a beast. The Mormon church interpreted this as black skin and up until the 20th century associated black skin as related to Cain. (also associated with Ham in the Noah story)

The debate still goes on whether this refers to the protection or the punishment.

Cain and the Wandering Jew

The Wandering Jew is a figure from medieval Christian folklore that began to spread in Europe in the thirteenth century and became a fixture of Christian mythology. It concerns a Jew who, according to legend, taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Jesus’ return..
Paintings by The Wandering Jew by Gustave Doré

There are interpretations where Cain is equated with the Jews and Able with the Christians.

St Augustine- interpretation that the Jews need a constant reminder of their crime and should be always scattered.

This change of attitude from one of protection to one of punishment is emphasized in European history where the Jews have been singled out and forced to wear a mark of distinction.

Book reference: Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History
by James Carroll
There is also a movie

Explains the Augustine legacy not to murder Jews but to keep them scattered and degraded.

While the Pope did stop mobs from killing the Jews the Church still is not free from destructive ambivalence.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Torah Traditions

Protocol and Etiquette for Torah
notes from class 10.21.08 - R. Janet Marder

• A Torah Scroll is written with no metal implements
Derives from Exodus 20 when they were building the altar and should not use any hewn stones – stones formed with metal – as it should not be made with anything that could be equated to instruments of war or violence.

This is also extended to the printing press in the sense that mezuzot and tefillin are not printed with a machine, they are all hand printed.

• The Chumash or the Torah Book should be handled with respect. If it is dropped it should be kissed when picked up. When it is on a shelf or table no other books should be put on top of it. And it should be carried on the right side.

• A Sefer Torah cannot be sold unless it is for a wedding or it is needed to be sold to support a person to study Torah.

• The Right Side – represents the side of strength. The right side is celebrated in Deuteronomy 32 where it explains that Moses came to the mountain from the right and was given the laws from the right. Zohar refers to the right side as the side of power. In the instructions for conversion the Rabbi is to push the person away with the left hand but draw them close with the right.
  • The right side of things is recognized in many ways as better than the left.
  • "Upon thy right hand did stand the queen" (Ps. xlv. 9).
  • The Lulab is held in the right hand and the Etrog in the left.
  • Ḥaliẓah is performed with the right hand on the right foot (Yeb. xii. 2),
  • In performing the Temple ceremonies the general rule is that "every turn must be made to the right of the way (Yoma 15b).
  • Jacob showed the significance of using the right hand in blessing by placing it on the head of Ephraim, whose tribe was thereby destined to become the greater nation, though Manasseh was older in years (Gen. xlviii. 17-19).
Good site that explains more.

(Proverbs 3:16).
One who walks on the right side of Torah
is extended long life in the world that is coming.
There he acquires the splendor of Torah,
for the crown of Torah is in that world.
'With her left hand riches and honor'
in this world.
Even if he hasn't studied Torah for the Name within her
he still obtains in this world riches and honor.
In personal habits as well: You should put your right shoe on first and when washing hands you should pour water on the right hand first.

When going up to the bimah to bless or read Torah you should go up on the right side of the Torah and go by the quickest route. You should linger there and go back away by the longest route to show your hesitance to leave the Torah behind.

•The Covering – the open Torah is covered when not actually reading as a sign of respect. (similar to the covering of a challah on Shabbat) – the covering should be beautiful and reflects the described clothing of the high priest in Torah. Exodus 15 “This is my God and I will glorify him…”

After the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, the synagogue and the rabbis replaced the daily Temple sacrifices as the center of spiritual life. The rabbis ruled that Torah study now atoned for Israel’s sins (even though this contradicts the Torah itself! See Leviticus 17:11). It was at this point that the Torah scroll inherited the vestments of the High Priest. The outer covering called the mantle replaced the high priest’s ephod, while the binder replaced the girdle of the ephod. The High Priest’s mitre was replaced by the Torah’s crown. The breastplate of the High Priest became the Torah breastplate. It does not always contain the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, however, it is sometimes decorated with twelve semiprecious stones. Torah breastplates are often adorned with various Jewish symbols and floral motifs such as the Lion of Judah and the Tree of Life.

• Torah Girdle or Gartle or Binder – there is a tradition that a baby’s swaddling clothes (or wimple) is embroidered and used as a Torah Gartle or binder.
The wimple is a folk tradition from Germany dating back to Talmudic times. The cloth upon which an infant was resting during the circumcision was cut into long pieces and resewn to form a Torah binder. The cloth was elaborately decorated to include the baby’s name and date of birth. It was presented to
the synagogue and used to wrap the Torah on the occasion of the baby’s first visit to the synagogue.

• A Torah Myth – A woman having menstrual period cannot touch a Torah. Some believed that this would make the Torah unclean. However it is said in Tractate Brachot that the Torah cannot be made ritually unclean.

• Allyot – Blessing Torah – A non Jew CAN hold the Torah, however it is not appropriate for a non Jew to do the traditional blessing because the words of the blessing contains specific Jewish identifying declaration and thus would not make sense for a non Jew to say. (at Beth Am there is an English blessing that can be said by a non Jew)

When blessing the Torah the appropriate etiquette is to touch the tzitzit to the place where the reading begins, to kiss the tzitzit and then to recite the blessing. When the reading is done again to touch the place where it ends with the tzitzit and kiss and recite the end blessing. It is also appropriate to hold onto wooden spindles to which the Torah is attached, the etzai chaim – tree of life.

• Hakifah – when the Torah is marched around the congregation it is traditional to follow it with your eyes. When it passes close you touch it with tzitzit or a prayerbook and then kiss it.

• Hagbah – when the Torah is lifted and opened so the congregation can see it represents that the words of Torah are for everyone. The congregation sings: "This is the Torah which Moses set before the Children of Israel, according to God's word as given to Moses..." Some people will point their pinkie finger at the Torah during Hagbah.
Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, shlita,gave the following explanation:

The Torah lists the ten generations from Noah until Abraham, including Yoktan, who established the largest number of families. Rashi notes that Yoktan merited establishing so many families due to his great humility as his name indicates (from the root katan-little). Rabbi Scheinberg went on to explain that when pointing at the Torah we take this lesson to heart and we point with our smallest finger - the pinkie - to indicate that we should reach out to try to gain understanding of the Torah with the utmost humility and thus merit to succeed in this aspiration.

A link explains other parts of the Torah service and the order:

• If a Torah is dropped – There are some different opinions but most say that the person who drops the Torah should fast for some period of time. Usually it is 3 days and only during daylight hours so they can eat at night. Some say that everyone present should fast for at least one day. Good article on this topic:

• When a Torah is no longer able to be used – it is treated with the utmost respect and buried like a person and often next to a great scholar.

Yasher Koah to Moses

Reading Deuteronomy 34:5-12

Moses dies in the sight of the Promised Land. There is 30 days of mourning.

34:10 No other prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel, who knew God face to face.
34:11 [No one else could reproduce] the signs and miracles that God let him display in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his land,
34:12 or any of the mighty acts or great sights that Moses displayed before the eyes of all Israel.

The interpretation is sometimes read as “strong hand” and “awesome power”
Rashi - before all the eyes of Israel Moses was inspired to break the Tablets of the law. And then God said: “Yasher Koah”, literally translated as “go with strength”

At the end of Torah you reflect on the time when Moses was overcome by anger and smashed the tablets. It was a time to remember that Moses did turn away from the law but he did tshuvah and came back to do better and this is what it is all about.

Torah never dies and it carries us along with it…

Good article

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cain Cursed: Punishment or Repentance?

Torah Study notes 10.17

Genesis 4:10-15

More etymology focus: Hebrew is a language where the structure can add value to the interpretation.

“Kol” or voice as used in relation to the blood of Abel. But in this grammatical form “kol” is more of an exclamation like “hark”. Although there are many other places in Torah and Bible that ‘kol’ does refer to ‘voice’.

However there is still the image that the “blood cries out”. Rabbi Marder alluded to the image from the Holocaust also where it seemed that the blood cried out from the ground that held the dead.

The term ‘cry out’ has a ‘legal structure’ in the language which makes the meaning imply a cry of injustice. This is also used in other references like the slaves in Egypt or as reference to the ill-treated orphans and widows or the suffering of defenseless victims.
There is no other recourse than to ‘cry out to God’.

‘Kol’ previously referred to the sound of God in Eden. Now it is the sound of the life force in Abel – the Devine crying out from the earth.

Verse 11: Punishment: "Now you shall be more cursed than (from) the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand.”

(other Bible translations )

Three interpretations of the words “than the ground” “from the ground” –
  • Rashi – More cursed than the ground
  • Cursed from the ground – no longer can farm this land
  • From the ground – the earth curses you, Cain.

Related verse: Numbers 35:33

So you shall not pollute the land in which you are; for blood pollutes the land and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it.

This is the call for capital punishment that later the Rabbi’s interpreted in a way to make it very difficult to implement.

It was pointed out that the relationship with the ‘ground’ has changed over time. However we still mark the place where people have died in a respectful way.

Banishment is a form of punishment that is repeated in Torah. “loss of home” happens again and again.

This punishment marks the first ‘curse’ on a person in Torah. Eve or Adam were never cursed! Thus the concept of the menstrual cycle as being ‘Eve’s Curse’ is totally wrong!

Cain can no longer be a farmer. He is sent into exile. He must be an eternal wanderer without the security of a home.

Nature of the Crime:
Blood was Shed = Exile

We discussed the different definitions of murder.
Irene B. sent me clearer definitions:
Homicide – killing of one human by another Homicide can be excusable (as with a surgery gone wrong) or Justifiable (as in self defense, or defense of others) These types of killings (above) are not considered criminal homicide. MURDER requires malice (intent to kill). 1st degree murder is defined by statute. Means only what is defined by law such as murder with premeditation, shown perhaps by a killer who laid in wait. It is also defined as death occurring as a result of or during the commission of a named felony (such as rape, or burglary) [This is what allows the get away driver to be charged with murder when he wasn’t even in the bank.] 2nd degree murder is all murder that is not first degree murder (and does not fall into the Voluntary manslaughter category). MANSLAUGHTER Voluntary: intentional killing is classified as voluntary manslaughter if there was adequate provocation, (e.g. you just found out the killer of your child was talking with you) and you lashed out in the heat of anger, no time to cool off. Involuntary. If an unintended killing was a result of an unlawful act (e.g. reckless driving caused fatal car accident) OR a lawful act performed in a criminally negligent manner it’s involuntary manslaughter. (criminally negligent means with wanton disregard of the safety and life of others)

Cain’s crime was not 1st degree –
He was not aware of the consequences
He did not receive any warnings of consequences
There were no witnesses
His crime was more like 'Involuntary Manslaughter'.

Later in Numbers 35 this was covered with the creation of the Cities of Refuge for the manslayer.

So Cain is banished and becomes a wanderer. And he was alone.
In those times banishment was probably a death sentence because there was a reliance on others for survival.

Cain addresses God again:

It could be a statement or a question in different interpretations.

1. My sin is too great to bear – he is overwhelmed
2. My punishment is too great to bear.
3. Is my sin to great to be forgiven?

Different moods of Cain:
1. Protest or Anger
2. Anguish
3. Desperate plea for forgiveness.

Rashi asks God – ‘if you can carry the world, can you not forgive?’

Cain is a symbol for repentance.

R. Norman Cohen points out that Cain had to carry Able with him as he was a wanderer.

Another midrash I found on this subject from R. Cohen:
In midrash Beresheit Rabbah 22, we are told that when Adam
met Cain after the death of Abel he says in wonderment, Is that you? I
thought God had killed you. Cain tells him that when he said to God
that his sin (or punishment) was too much for him to bear and God
accepted him. Adam said that if he had known the power of repentance
then he would still be in the Garden of Eden.

Cain was willing to admit his guilt and therefore shows he is repentant.

R. Cohen asks: Do we believe that people can change?
Cain challenges us to change
Tshuvah is a process that allows us to change and shows that it is achievable.

(side notes: googling Rabbi Norman Cohen’s question – I found links to several ‘Rabbis for Obama’ sites)

Rabbis want to see Cain as a symbol of a desire for repentance.
Cain is vulnerable. He is banished from God’s presence. It is too painful for Cain to be in God’s presence.

Different levels of interpretation of Torah:

1. Plain sense
2. Hint or illusion
3. Drash or seromonic
4. Mystical

Cain is terrorized and afraid. He now sees death as a possibility in the future.

The Mark of Cain
by Ruth Mellinkoff

(another reference to the play CAIN 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, SUMMARY )
excerpt and link to excerpts of the script

Monday, October 13, 2008

Keepers and Responsibility

Genesis 4:9-13 Rabbi Marder led Torah Study 10/11/08

Cain – is he a Shomer / Keeper

And another interesting note about this episode is that Abel was the “keeper of sheep”.
We discussed the word “shomer” and the various ways it has been used and interpreted. A keeper – as it refers to one who is “shomer Shabbat” as well as “God is my keeper” and “Shomer Yisrael” the keeper of Israel. The word is used throughout Torah.

(There is even a rap song about this )

Interesting related commentary

Adam was to ‘watch over the garden of Eden’, the Cheribim ‘watch over the way to Eden. Later the term will be found in relation to Abraham.

Samson Raphael Hirsch says that the Question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is at the foundation of morality.
‘everyone should know where their brother is.’

As opposed to the Cain principle – ‘everyone is for themselves’

As Hirsch teaches the ‘brother’ extends to all people. But you are responsible for all people close to you first.

Richard Freidman translation “Am I my brother’s watchman?”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Speaks of the culture of responsibility vs a culture of rights.
He emphasizes that Judiasm is based on our responsibilities.

Adam & Eve – is about personal responsibility
Cain – is about evading moral responsibility
Noah – abdicates his collective responsibility
In Babel – responsibility comes from outside of the individual

The tendency is to blame others for what happens.

R. Sacks tells a joke :
In a class he asked: who destroyed the walls of Jericho? From the back of the class one child replied: please sir, it wasn’t me. Outraged, the teacher wrote to the parents. ‘For a year I’ve tried to teach your son the book of Joshua, and when I asked, who destroyed the walls of Jericho, he replied: Please sir it wasn’t me.’ Next day he received an angry letter in reply. ‘If our son says it wasn’t him, then it wasn’t him.’ In despair the teacher went to the chairman of the governors and told him the story. Sighing, the governor got out his cheque-book, wrote a cheque, and said: ‘Here’s $1000. Stop complaining and get the walls repaired.’

We have victim culture – always trying to blame others and not take responsibility for our actions.

The essential question is how to raise a child with a good sense of responsibility? Need to start from an early age asking them to help others.

BOOK: To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
overview and questions

The discussion turned to the topic of ‘Health Care’ and is it a right or a responsibility.

And Alan P brought up how driving a car is an example to illustrate the role of rights vs responsibility.

Irene B pointed out that the responsibility extends not only to others but also to yourself.

Saul W was concerned about the limits of ‘keeping your brother’ in an example if you offer your brother a job to help him and he turns you down. Where is the limit?

Linda L reminded us of Heschel’s quote “some are guilty; all are responsible”

R Marder’s note to us after the class:
Below is a link to a short article you might enjoy, focusing on environmental themes of the holidays in Tishrei, primarily Yom Kippur and Sukkot. It includes a reference to the statement of Abraham Joshua Heschel that came up in yesterday’s class: “Some are guilty; all are responsible.”

The article is by Dr. Jeremy Benstein, author of “The Way Into Judaism and the Environment.”

The theme of Tshuvah that we focus on for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was linked and a comment that it would be good for our country to go through the process of tshuvah!

Diane R commented that this would be a good opportunity to us to build the World Community and have them focus on responsibility

NEXT : “What have you done?” Is an expression of horror.
“your brother’s bloods cries out” OR “screams”

Blood Plural form in Hebrew used here: Dmay – plural of Dam

Interpretations vary:
Rashi – the blood is from multiple wounds.


This refers to Abel’s blood and that of his descendents.
See “Cain Murders – and Walks” page 59 of the book:
Book: The Genesis of Justice By Alan M. Dershowitz

Also the reference to the famous verse from Mishna: “"He who destroys a single life, it is as if he destroyed an entire world." (Sanhedrin 4:5).”
A link that discusses this and also shows the similarities of this in the Quran interpretation and translation as well

Similarly as noted in the Yom Kippur sermon: “ the effects of what we do goes forward to effect those that follow…”

The notion of the blood screaming or shrieking implies that one cannot murder with impunity. There must be a reckoning.

Rachael S noticed that Cain was alone. There was no one else there. But even so God heard the shrieking of the blood.

This led to the reading of a dynamic poem by Hayyim Nahman Bialik
who in 1903 wrote in response to the brutal, bloody Kishniev pogrom, which was instigated by agents of the Czar trying to divert social unrest and political anger away from the Czar and toward the Jewish minority.


Heavens! Seek mercy for me!
If there is a God among you and he has a clear path-
Yet I have not found him–
Pray for me.
My heart is dead and no prayer lingers on my lips,
The hand has lost its strength, nor is there any hope-
How long? When will this end? How long?

Hangman! Here is a neck–arise and slaughter!
My neck is like a dog’s, you have the arm of the axe,
All the world is for me a scaffold-
And we-we are the choice few!
My blood flows free-
Strike with the axe and the blood of murder will gush forth,
Blood soaks through your shirt-
And will not be erased forever.

If there be justice-let her appear now!
But if, after my extinction from the face of the firmament justice appears,
Let her seal be overturned forever!
And in eternal evil let the heavens rot;
You too go, wicked spirits, in this cruel injustice
And in your blood live and suckle.

Cursed be he who says: “Avenge!”
Vengeance such as this, vengeance for the blood of a small boy,
Satan himself has not devised-
Let that blood pierce the abyss!
Let that blood pierce the depths of darkness,
Let it eat away the darkness and there undermine
All the rotted foundations of the earth.

Chaim Nachman Bialik (translated by Richard Silverstein)

He also wrote the similar piece, “In the City of Slaughter” (excerpt)

ARISE and go now to the city of slaughter;
Into its courtyard wind thy way;
There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of
thine head,
Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,
The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.
Proceed thence to the ruins, the split walls reach,
Where wider grows the hollow, and greater grows the
Pass over the shattered hearth, attain the broken wall
Whose burnt and barren brick, whose charred stones reveal
The open mouths of such wounds, that no mending
Shall ever mend, nor healing ever heal.
There will thy feet in feathers sink, and stumble
On wreckage doubly wrecked, scroll heaped on manuscript,
Fragments again fragmented—
Pause not upon this havoc; go thy way.
The perfumes will be wafted from the acacia bud
And half its blossoms will be feathers,
Whose smell is the smell of blood!
And, spiting thee, strange incense they will bring—
Banish thy loathing—all the beauty of the spring

Whole poem link

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Questions on Brothers and Responsibility

Genesis 4:8-12 – Rabbi Marder discussed Cain’s ‘sin’ - or was it?

God asks “What have you done?” (as if he doesn’t know)

Cain answers with a question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Are God’s words the word of conscious? That ‘small voice’ inside of us? This isn’t very effective when someone is enraged.

There is so much commentary on the murder or killing itself including whether it is a murder or not.

There is also the ‘pun’ that Cain beat Able to death with a cain.

This also deals with the issue of ‘what is sin’?

What is Eve’s reaction?
Should we be sympathetic toward Cain?

Rabbi Eli Munk (1900 – 1978) the Kabalistic point of view that asks for justification from God for Abel’s death. Possibly Abel became arrogant after his sacrifice was accepted. (it doesn’t say)
However there is a thought that Abel’s short life became Moses’ long one and that Abel’s soul was reincarnated as Moses.

Book reference regarding moral relavisim:

Icon of Evil
Hitler's Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam
Written by David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann

Different theories about the question “Where is your brother?”
- Cain ran away and didn’t know what happened
- Cain buried his brother
- Cain honestly did not know because he didn’t know about death

Midrash that this is where they learned to bury the dead. As they watched animals do this and they copied them.

Another interesting part found about this story in the qur’an:
According to the Qur'an, it was Cain who buried Abel, and he was prompted to do so by a single raven scratching the ground, on God's command. The Qur'an states that upon seeing the raven, Cain regretted his action [al-Ma'idah:27-31], and that rather than being cursed by God, since he hadn't done so before, God chose to create a law against murder: from interesting website with different points of view and interesting related art

Leon Kass – says that it is clear that the murder in premeditated

And Cain appointed a place where to meet Abel his brother [literally, "And said (vayomer) Cain to (el) Abel his brother"], and it happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against [el] Abel his brother, and killed him.

Cain uses his reason to help take his revenge. He plans the event, employs speech to arrange Abel's presence, and picks a place out in the fields where no one will see and where no one can come to Abel's rescue. But if reason is the instrument, jealousy remains the likely motive: the hated rival is removed.

Is the fact that murder is wrong an instinctual part of being human or is it learned? We know that guilt and shame are learned but it is not so clear about the basic knowledge that murder is not acceptable behavior.

Rashi – is a softer view – Cain could repent.
Lebowitz – there is no sign of remorse in this case.

About Brothers – here is another web article that is of interest

Who is my brother’s keeper – is the question that is answered throughout the Torah.

The word “brother” is repeated seven times in this story – does that imply responsibility for brothers? Does this extend beyond siblings to the ‘greater’ brotherhood of mankind?

Is the question again a ‘soft startup’ for a conversation? Like how God asked Adam about what he had done and then asks Cain where his brother is, possibly this is just an entry to a way to talk about what happened.

(How we know it is a question? By the hay in front of the word that grammatically indicates a question in Hebrew)

Rashi says that Cain just misunderstood and acted as if he could deceive God.

Different thoughts imply that God never instructed them to take care of each other.
Cain didn’t know that what he did was wrong.

Brings up the question if morality preceded religion. Is it instinctual that we are to take care of each other?

Leon Kass – We don’t know what happens when someone dies. When Cain answers possibly he is really asking that question – where is the soul of Abel?

When one answers a question with a question it is a way to deflect responsibility. We have a tendency to ‘rearrange reality’ to deflect guilt. (example of a car accident)

Sol Wasserman’s explanation says that the response we see indicates that Cain didn’t have a good childhood. AND he reminds us that the parents in this case really didn’t have a role model or family connections to support them along the way!

This supports the more radical point of view that the whole incident is “God’s fault”.

Bad parenting is to blame for many wrongs! And in this case God has made mistakes!

Nehama Leibowitz says, the rabbis were not so concerned here with explaining the biblical verse as with eliciting universal truths from it. Cain and Abel represent Everyman. "They" were arguing about anything and everything, since that is what human beings do. When the stakes become very high, and the arguments grow too passionate, violence and death can be the expected outcomes.

Another example is the comparison of this incident to athletes competing for the king when the defeated athlete is dying and cries out to blame the king – because he could have stopped it. The Rabbis act as Cain’s lawyers in the case of Abel’s death and point blame to God.

However, the incident with Cain killing Abel teaches that we are accountable for our own sins and … “with that we move into Yom Kippur”.

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