This Shabbat we begin the yearly Torah reading cycle, coming as it does, immediately after the great festival of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing Over the Torah). Yesterday in the joyous synagogue service, the last few verses of Devarim/Deuteronomy were read and followed by the first few verses of Beresheit/Genesis, chapter 1to demonstrate the unending cycle of Torah study which has been our privilege for thousands of years.
Included in this parsha is the account of Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve.
The Rabbis have taught us that three emotions – jealousy, anger and sadness – prevent us from embracing the Divine flow of new life and renewal which Hashem dispenses to His people at the beginning of each new year as a result of our repentance and cleansing on Yom Kippur. Each of these three emotions has the effect of blocking our progress forward in the new year.
Significantly, these three emotions are clearly seen in Cain’s relationship with Abel. Although Cain first proposed the idea of bringing an offering to Hashem, when the brothers actually did so, Cain brought an inferior offering while Abel gave his best. When Hashem accepted Abel’s offering, the Torah relates that Cain became angry and depressed (sad), which naturally led to jealousy towards his brother.
Hashem reached out to Cain to teach him that all is not lost: “Surely if you improve, you will be uplifted but if you do not improve, sin crouches at the door; and to you is its desire, yet you can rule over it.” 4:7
In this verse we have encapsulated one of the fundamental teachings of Judaism: ‘tikkun’ – repair of the world, beginning with ourselves. “If you improve…” Hashem said to Cain, making him to know that failures are never permanent IF we choose to learn from them and improve our inner self. It was not Cain’s inferior offering that was the problem, but the inner attitude that caused him to bring an inferior offering. This, says Hashem, can be improved, can be overruled.
Our G-d given ability to choose is at the very essence of our being created in the image of Hashem. The day by day choices we make about what we do or don’t do, what we say and don’t say, and WHY are the decisions that weave a pattern of godliness or ungodliness. A life of spiritual greatness is the sum total of thousands of daily choices motivated by an overruling desire to fulfill the purpose for which we were created: to ‘be holy as I am holy’ which is Israel’s calling and purpose, individually and corporately.
Rashi comments that the phrase “sin crouching at the door” refers to the evil inclination that is always looking to entrap us and other commentators have added that the evil inclination is more interested in the depression that follows sinning that the act itself, for nothing is as spiritually, and even physically, debilitating as depression and sadness.
Jealousy, anger and depression are emotions that affect all of us at one time or another. The question is whether we learn from what Hashem said to Cain, ‘you can rule over it’ or whether we allow ‘it’ to rule over us. The choice is ours and we CAN make the right choice, IF we will.
In Tune with Torah this week = It behooves us early in this new Hebrew year to consider whether any unconstructive attitudes or feelings still linger in our minds and emotions, even after Yom Kippur, and if so, recognize that it is never too late to repent and open ourselves to the flow of Divine life and renewal.