hold hands

With the nearly month-long slew of holidays behind us – and the last of these holidays, Simchat Torah, celebrated the completion of the Torah reading cycle – we are now back to the beginning.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8) and can probably be found on or about…page 1 in your Bible!

While there is so much to talk about in these opening chapters of Genesis, I want to share an insight with you on the story of Cain and Abel.

We all know the story: Brothers Cain and Abel each brought an offering to God. God accepted the offering brought by Abel, who was a shepherd, but He rejected the offering brought by Cain, who was a farmer. Cain was very upset over his rejection. God then asked Cain: “Why are you upset, and why are you down?” [Gen 4:6]

Why did God ask Cain that question? It is clear from the context that Cain was upset that his offering was rejected! Indeed, being upset by rejection is a normal emotion, especially when one is rejected by God! So why was God “digging” by asking the obvious question?

By way of parable, the answer to this question is clear:

There was once a shochet, a Jewish ritual slaughterer, who came to the local rabbi for a ruling on his cow. The shochet slaughtered the cow, but it was unclear whether the cow was kosher or not as a result of the internal examination that follows every slaughter. The rabbi examined the animal and ruled that it was not kosher. Keep in mind that back in the “olden days,” to have your cow declared non-kosher was a major financial loss. Nevertheless, the shochet took the news calmly, disposed of his non-kosher cow and carried on.

Some time later, this same shochet had a financial dispute with another person. The dispute was over a relatively small amount of money, even less than the loss of a cow rendered not kosher. The rabbi listened to the argument on both sides and ruled against the shochet. This time, however, the shochet lost it. He blew up at the rabbi and everyone present, and stormed out of the room.

People who knew the shochet were very surprised at his behavior. In fact, people knew that when it came to a case of his animals being declared non-kosher, he never became overly upset. Yet he became furious over a smaller loss.

Explained the rabbi: “It’s not the amount of money that upset him, it’s the fact that he lost and someone else won.” In his “ritual losses” it is not the schochet vs. a cow; rather, it is the schochet trying to determine what Jewish law says, and he always accepts the ruling. Here, however, it is a situation of winner vs. loser. He cannot handle being the loser. The fact that someone beat him is something he cannot accept.

And so it was with Cain. What God was asking Cain was: “Are you upset that your offering was rejected or are you upset because your offering was rejected while your brother’s offering was accepted?”

The message: If Cain was upset because his offering was not accepted, that’s legitimate. But if Cain was upset simply because his brother’s offering was accepted, Cain’s reaction was unacceptable.

As they saying goes, “You win some, you lose some.” That’s life. But when you lose in a graceful way, you’re still a winner.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below: