• Gabbai

Bereshit – Inside a Criminal’s Mind

Cain’s crime is understood well. It was a crime of passion, a crime driven by jealous rage. Abel had gotten the better of Cain. Abel had won the grace of G-d while Cain had failed. Abel had what Cain wanted. Numerous explanations are given for Cain’s motive. An economic motive, a religious motive, lust after a woman, all these are legitimate interpretations for the first murder committed on this earth, and each explanation bears a relevant message. Cain’s response to the consequences, however, is not as simple to understand.

G-d: “Cain, where is your brother?” Cain: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” G-d: “What have you done? The sound of your brother’s blood is crying out to Me from the earth! And now, cursed are you from the earth which opened its mouth to take the blood of your brother from your hand. When you work the land, no longer will it yield its strength to you; you shall be unsettled and wandering upon the earth.” Cain: “Too great is my sin to bear. You have driven me today from the face of the earth – even from You I must hide – and as an unsettled nomad all who find me will kill me.” G-d: “Therefore, any who kills Cain shall be revenged sevenfold.”

Cain’s sin was too great to bear. That is what Cain claimed. Numerous commentaries explore this response and explain it differently. Rashi, for example, explains that Cain was asking a rhetorical question. ‘Is this sin too great for You to bear?’ Surely, said Cain, as the One who bears the burden of all of heaven and earth, You can bear my sin as well.

However, the simple reading of the phrase indicates that it was too great for Cain to bear. Other commentaries translate sin as punishment. The punishment is too great for Cain to bear. As Cain claims, his right to live had been removed altogether, although that was not the thrust of the punishment.

Rabbi S.R. Hirsch notes that if the translation were – too great is my punishment to bear, it would make perfect sense. Cain was sentenced to exile, denied the protection civilization provides, making him easy kill for any predator. G-d accepts Cain’s complaint and provides him with protection. The problem is, the word doesn’t mean punis