Reb Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
B'reyshit (Genesis)
I publish a weekly D'var Torah on the Parsha of the week.  They are archived here.
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B'reyshit (In the beginning) 5767

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This is the first d'var Torah of my returning to my practice of weekly divrei Torah by email.
DEDICATION:  This d'var is dedicated to my readers who have waited patiently for my return to this practice and who have encouraged me to start up the practice again.
If you would like to sponsor a dedication for a week's d'var, please email me.
1. Parsha details: Gen 1:1-6:8  [ Haftorah Isaiah 42:5 - 43:10 ] 

A weekly email Torah Study was a practice that I had to let go when my schedule became so hectic.  I am now able to pick it back up again.  It will be a much briefer study than studies were in the past and I will be posting them on the web site again.

Parasha Bereishiyt - With beginnings, we begin again.

One of my favorite passages in the portion says that God created humans in God's image and as both masculine and feminine.  Most translations say "man" and yet it feels strange to say man is feminine, even though I know that historically "man" sometimes means "human".

This passage actually occurs twice in this Parasha, Gen 1:27 and 5:2.  When we see a phrase like this used twice, it is a literary device which serves as "bookends" to a unit.  In this case, the unit is the account from the creation of humans through the eating of the fruit and the killing of Abel by Cain.  

We are not descendents of Cain or Abel unless Noah's wife or daughters-in-law are their descendents - the text does not say.  So why do we have this very difficult and troubling account in Torah in a highlighted position? 

Somehow, this account exemplifies how we are made in God's image and clearly this section is about relationships and how they can go terribly wrong.

The Cain and Abel story is interesting in many ways.  One is a farmer and one is a shepherd, both honorable trades in ancient days and neither was a hunter-gatherer.  Abel (whose name, Hevel, means vanity or "the Bel", a Babylonian diety) is the one who picks a fatted, first-born yearling of his flock for an offering and Cain picks some fruit from the earth.  Now, this event occurs at a time before Noah when we are given strict vegetarian diets by God (meat is allowed only after Noah).

The Sages take from the account that Cain is casual in his selection of his offering in their search to understand why God rejects one offering and not the other.  As in many portions of Torah text, it is far from clear exactly what the problem is with Cain's offering.  We are told that Cain is angry and his face falls (rather than that he falls ON his face, the common form of prayer).  God questions Cain and his anger and explains that if he does well, things will go well, and if he misses the mark (sins), then there is a lesson in that miss and he can learn from it.  

Cain does not answer God.  Rather he goes out and talks with Abel in the field and ends up killing him.  The text is again unclear if this was his plan or if it simply happened as the result of perhaps an argument that goes terribly wrong.  The famous "where is your brother?" and "Am I my brother's guardian?" interchange closes out the story except for the details of Cain wandering and being marked.  

Now that is a strange passage, for in marking Cain, God says:  "For all who kill Cain, there will be seven who arise."  There is no sense of "if someone were to kill, simply a warning or perhaps even an explanation of what will be be for all who do "kill Cain."  And God clearly strives that Cain not be killed.  The mark is to warn people that this person is Cain, so that they will know that the teaching of seven applies.  His descendent Lemech is even more violent and boasts to his wives that he has killed a man for injuring him and a boy for even less.  Lemech's children, however, are seen as assets to society, patrons of arts and quiet lives.

And so we have this interesting contrast that is puzzling.

God's image contains the potential for fierce and very misplaced anger - and the children are goodness.  When we take our eyes away from God's Presence, as Cain does, then we wander for many years and earn a harsh reputation.  Some of the things we do will produce Lemech-type disasters. And there is still the potential for much good.  All is not lost.

Whenever possible, we are challenged to work with the Cains and Lemechs in our lives and in our communities and allow the goodness to flower.  We are challenged to not match Cain's wickedness with our own, for the seven represents the escalation that will surely follow and probably get out of hand.  Rather, we are invited to remember that they, too, still have a God-connection, even if they are hiding from it.

The "correct" answer varies from situation to situation and is not spelled out in the text -- that would be too easy and remove the responsibility from each of us for finding and implementing the approach.  God gives us the Garden and the World to create the solution and the Tree of Living is guarded for us to empower us to seek the answer.  We are invited to take up the challenge, knowing that for every Cain we kill, there will be seven more and for every Lemech, 77 more.  The answer is not in killing, but in turning.

Shabbat Shalom,

(c) 2006 Rabbi Shafir Lobb, All rights reserved 

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