Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Parshas Bereishis II

In story of Cain and Abel we tend view Cain as simply a big bully, and Abel as the righteous innocent. However a closer look at the text shows a different aspect to each of them. “It came to pass in the process of time that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the L-rd. And Abel also brought from the firstlings of his flock...” (Genesis IV; 3). It was Cain who first thought to bring a sacrifice. It was not as generous as his brother’s, which is why G-d turned to Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. However, the Torah gives the impression that had Cain not brought his offering, Abel would not have taken the initiative. Furthermore, though nowadays we find it hard to understand the purpose or benefit of sacrifices, at that time it was the most appropriate way to strengthen a relationship with G-d. Cain was searching for a path to spiritual growth. Additionally. the Ramban writes that both Cain and Abel understood the deep inner meanings and secrets of the sacrifices. Certainly both of them were on a tremendously high spiritual level, to such a degree that G-d spoke directly to Cain, both before and after he killed his brother.

“And it was when they were in the field, that Cain said to Abel his brother...” (v. 8). The Torah fails to tell us what Cain said to his brother before killing him. Targum Yonasan (a translation/ commentary on the Torah from the Mishnaic period) fills in the missing dialogue: “Cain answered and said to Abel, ‘There is no judgement, and there is no judge. There is no World-to-Come, and there is no one to give reward to the righteous, nor to punish the wicked’.” How could Cain have gone from such a high level, where he was able to fathom the mysteries of creation and of the sacrifices, and spoke to G-d as a prophet, to denying G-d’s very existence, and Divine purpose to the world? This seems to contradict the Talmudic dictum (Shabbat 105b) that the Evil Inclination works gradually. “Today it says ‘do this’, tomorrow ‘do that’, until eventually it persuades a person to commit idolatry”. Unfortunately we can see how true this is. Yet this is a process which takes time. How could Cain fall into the trap of atheism in an instant?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains based on this text the dangers of depression and anger. When a person is thinking rationally, the Evil Inclination can only lead them one step at a time. It knows that the suggestion of idolatry would be rejected out of hand. However, when a person is in a crisis situation they react instinctively, not logically. Then the Inclination can attack them and drive them to extreme behaviour. The Torah tells us that after G-d turned to Abel’s offering that “Cain was very angry and his countenance fell”. This anger and depression caused him to lose control of his rational faculties and behave in a way which would otherwise have been totally out of character for him.

This is what the Talmud (Pesachim 66b) means when it tell us that anyone who gets angry is as if they have worshipped idols. This is not merely a metaphor, showing the negativity of anger, but the reality. Once a person becomes consumed with anger there is no limit to the spiritual depths to which they can fall, even to the extent of idolatry.

Similarly, the Rabbis tell us that depression is one of the most destructive traits. King Solomon tells us in Song of Songs that there is a time to rejoice and a time to be sad, however, there is never a time when depression is the appropriate response. We are to express sadness or happiness based on the events as we perceive them in this world, but we know that G-d is the True Judge, and that in the World of Truth everything is ultimately for the best. This is why the opening of the funeral service is Tziduk HaDin, proclaiming the justness of G-d, and the recognition that this tragedy is part of the greater plan. Depression causes a person to deny the greater good, and fail to see any purpose in life.

Certainly we all have ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ from time to time, and once in an emotional slump it is often difficult to get out of it. However we must always know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Because Cain failed to realise that there was a larger picture, though he spoke to G-d directly he thought that there was no justice in the world, and through his depression came to fratricide. Had he been able to view the situation objectively he would have understood that G-d was teaching him how to come to a closer relationship with the Divine, and instructing him on the path to spiritual perfection.

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