Parashat Bereshit
October 28-29, 2016 – 27 Tishrei 5777
Annual (Genesis 1:1-6:8): Etz Hayim p. 3-34; Hertz p. 2-20
Triennial (Genesis 1:1-6:8): Etz Hayim p. 3-12; Hertz p. 2-6
Haftarah (Isaiah 42:5-43:10): Etz Hayim p. 35-40; Hertz p. 21-25


Diagnosing the Human Condition
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, CY Faculty (Talmud, Midrash, Halacha)

Biblical scholars like to call the story of Cain’s murder of Abel an etiological (causational) tale of the origins of fratricide or murder. Some have even seen it as a struggle between shepherds and agrarians. Often such explanations reflected more about the spirit of the age of the interpreter than it did about the plain meaning of the story. It was uncommon for Rabbinic sages to make such overarching interpretations of stories. When they did, they were often prompted by textual anomalies in how a story was told. When they noted something unusual, it provided them with an opportunity to express through the story something about their own thinking.

The scene where Cain confronts Abel has just such a peculiarity: “Cain said to his brother Abel… and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.” (4:8) The seeming lacuna in this sentence, represented by the three dots here, provided the sages in the following midrash an opportunity to “fill in the blank”: “What did they quarrel about? ‘Come,’ said they, ‘let’s divide the world’, One took the land and the other took the movable property. One said, ‘The land you are standing on is mine,’ while the other said, ‘What you are wearing is mine!’ One said, ‘Strip’ while the other said, ‘Get off [my land].’ As a consequence of the quarrel, Cain rose up against his brother Abel. Rabbi Yehoshua of Siknin offered another explanation in the name of Rabbi Levi: Both took land and both took movables, so then, what did they quarrel about?  One claimed, ‘The Temple must be built on my land’ while the other claimed, ‘It must be built on my land.’ Out of this argument, Cain rose up against his brother Abel. Yehudah ben Rabbi said: Their quarrel was about the first Eve (The woman created in the story in Genesis 1). Said Rabbi Aibu: ‘The first Eve had returned to dust.’ So, then what was their quarrel about? Said Rabbi Huna: An additional twin was born with Abel, and each claimed her. The one claimed: ‘I will have her, because I am the firstborn, while the other maintained: ‘I must have her, because she was born with me.” (Adapted from Bereishit Rabbah 22:7)

This brilliant “criminological” insight used the Torah’s etiological story to chime in on the question of what makes people commit violent crimes. Its assessment of the human condition when read into the story of Cain and Abel offers all of us a lesson in the requisite self-control necessary for building civilization.

A Vort for Parashat Bereshit
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In Genesis 5:5: “all Adam’s days asher chaithat he lived, were 930,” the words “that he lived” seem superfluous.  The rabbis say that God originally intended that Adam live 1000 years – “a thousand years in your sight are like a day” (Ps. 90:4); “On the day that you eat from it you die” (Gen 2:17).  But Adam gave 70 of his years to David, who in his depression said “I am a worm, not a man” (Ps 22:7), not worthy of living.  So Adam lived only 930 of his allotted years.  To think that we are all living on borrowed time is humbling; that it is borrowed from Adam HaRishon, from the time of Creation, should be inspiring.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

Let’s start again! In this loaded Parasha we hear about the creation of the world from 2 perspectives, learn some basic issues in human behavior, and get the genealogy (and development) of humanity in its early stages.

1) The first story of the creation of the world is told in Gen 1:1-2:3. What is the relationship of that which was created on days 1-3 with what was created on days 4-6? In light of this, how do you understand the place of the Seventh day (described in 2:1-3) in the creation?

2) Adam was commanded not to eat from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (2:16-17), yet the serpent convinces the Woman, and both she and Adam ate from it. Compare the punishments that all three participants (Adam, Woman, and Serpent) receive (3:14-19). Who was punished with eating-related punishments? Who was not? If there is a correlation between the crime and the punishment, what do we learn about the crime of each of the participants from their punishments?

3) What are the names of the first 2 people born in the world (4:1-2)? What profession does each one have? Do you think that they would get along? Why?

4) Cain brings a gift to God (4:3). What do you think was his reason for doing so? Abel also brings a gift to God. How does it differ from Cain’s gift (4:4)? Try to think of more than one difference. Which does God seem to prefer? Why do you think God preferred that one?

5) We are told about Cain slaying Abel (4:8-16). Why do you think that Cain killed Abel? What do you think that Cain thought had happened? (Remember that this is the first human death.) Based on Cain’s conversation with God following the killing, how do you think that Cain felt? (Cain’s words can be read in at least 2 different tones.)