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Torah Talk - Bereshit

10.13.2023

The First Murder
A short reflection on Bereshit (Genesis 1:1 - 6:8)  

Since last weekend’s Terrorist attack on innocent Israelis by Hamas terrorists, I have been living in the CNN news cycle where story after story speaks of the rising death toll in Israel, and all I can think about is senseless murder. 

I've been teaching Torah study classes for close to 20 years and, year after year, I avoid the story of the brothers Cain and Abel. I’d rather talk about the creation of light or creatures or the first human beings or all the other fascinating elements of our Torah found in the opening chapters of Genesis. But, murder – why would I ever start a year of Torah study looking at murder? But, this year is different. I feel I must.

The story of Cain and Abel begins when Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden.  Just because they were downgraded from a life of luxury and ease doesn’t mean they still didn’t live life. As our Torah teaches us, they had two children, Cain and Abel. Eve responds to the birth of her first child with the words “I have gained a male child with the help of Adonai.” What did she gain? A new life brought into this world. Judaism teaches us that each life is a world unto itself and must be sanctified. Her words reflect the holiness of bringing a new soul into existence.  

The two brothers become men and take on different societal roles. Cain is a farmer, and Abel is a shepherd. One day, they bring offerings to God. God accepts Abel’s offering but rejects Cain’s, paying it “no heed.” When Cain becomes crestfallen, God attempts to remind him to do good regardless of whether his offering was accepted or not. 

The verse after God’s speech to Cain becomes the moment of the first murder. It seems that the anger and irrational jealousy he felt could not be appeased by holy words. 

Cain lures his brother into a field and kills him. 

God asks Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responds, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” But, God knows what happened. As God states, “What have you done? Hark, your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” God goes on to punish Cain. 

Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!” What a powerful verse of Torah.  

All I think about when reading this line are young people wanting to have fun in the fields and innocent civilians walking through their own neighborhoods when they are suddenly attacked and slaughtered by terrorists. Their blood now cries out from the ground. The loss of their lives is nothing short of a senseless tragedy. But, more than one life is lost when senseless murders occur. As a midrash teaches, God said to Cain, “The voice of your brother’s blood, and of all his would-be descendants whom you prevented from coming into the world, cries out to Me.” Generations were lost when Cain murdered Abel. Generations were lost when Hamas terrorists killed innocent civilians. Generations were lost when Jews were slaughtered during the Holocaust. Countless times in Jewish history generations have been lost due to others blaming us for their shortcomings. A murder doesn’t kill a single individual but a potentially infinite amount of human beings. 

This week’s Torah portion teaches us to avoid murder at all costs regardless of any irrational emotions we feel or the status we seek. It tells us to stay grounded and not to drift into the madness of murder. But, when a person drifts to a place where God is no longer present and where the sanctity of life is no longer a human value, it also teaches us that punishment must come to those that take innocent lives. Murderers, like the Hamas terrorists, must be held accountable. 

Today, as Shabbat descends upon you, a full week has passed since the tragic events of last weekend. Remember to say a prayer for all those whose lives were taken and for all the generations that will never be born because of the actions of terrorists. 

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BERESHIT SUMMARY FROM THE URJ

  • God creates the world and everything in it in six days and rests on the seventh. (1:1-2:3)
  • Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden, where they eat the forbidden fruit and are subsequently exiled. (2:15-3:24)
  • Adam and Eve have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain murders his brother, Abel. (4:1-24)
  • Adam and Eve have another child named Seth. The Torah lists the ten generations from Adam to Noah. (4:25-5:32)
  • God regrets having created human beings and decides to destroy everything on earth, but Noah finds favor with God. (6:5-6:8)

For more on this Torah portion from the URJ go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/breishit

Sat, March 2 2024 22 Adar I 5784