• Gabbai

Bereshit – Taking Responsibility

All beginnings are difficult, the Talmud writes, and the beginning of Biblical history is no exception. A human being behind a project as large and complex as creating a world would be devastated to watch as plan after plan backfires and rule after rule is broken. Adam and Eve were placed in a paradise and given only one limitation. Eve was seduced to violate that limitation by a wily snake, and she persuaded Adam to follow suit. When God called Adam to account Adam was quick to deflect blame to Eve. Eve similarly deflected blame onto the snake. Neither was inclined to take responsibility.

Cain and Abel were the two children initially born to Adam and Eve. Cain grew jealous that God had accepted Abel’s offering but had not accepted his. There were words between them and then Cain killed Abel in a jealous rage. When God called Cain to account he initially denied culpability.

There were “words” between Cain and Abel before their altercation leading to Abel’s death. What were those words? The Torah doesn’t tell us what was said, it merely states that Cain spoke to Abel his brother. “Cain spoke with his brother Abel; and it happened when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him.”(Genesis 4:8)

The Targum Yonatan, a translation of the Tanach attributed to the great Mishnaic sage Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, has a lengthy addition to the verse, describing an argument taking place between the two brothers concerning reward and punishment. Cain denied that there was a future World to Come, also denying any system of justice. Abel tried to convince Cain otherwise but ultimately was unsuccessful. The argument concluded with Cain killing Abel. Numerous commentators question why the Torah neglects to fill in any of the content of the conversation, informing us only that there were words between them. One answer advanced by commentaries explains that the Torah did not wish for Cain’s words of heresy