April 21, 2024
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Parshat Bereishit bursts with colorful narratives and fantastic scenes such as Creation, Gan Eden, the eitz hadaat, and Kayin and Hevel, all of which portray the earliest history and birth of humankind. It is the last of these stories, Kayin and Hevel, which is usually portrayed as the most negative — the first, sad introduction to murder and subsequent punishment. Is this perception correct? In an initial statement about Kayin, the pasuk states: “And it was at the end of days and Kayin brought of the fruit of the land as a gift to God.” (Bereishit 4:3)

Kayin created the concept of “giving back” to God. He harvested his fields and wanted to bring bikkurim, his first fruits. In bringing this korban, Kayin was seemingly not expecting any response from Hashem; he had no knowledge or prior experience of a Divine fire descending from above. His desire to bring a korban was simply an expression of his appreciation for all that he had received, an acknowledgement that his success was not his alone; and he expressed this very successfully in a moment of spiritual connection.

Chazal tend to paint Kayin’s motives as being less sincere, but if we approach the story only through the prism of the text, it appears that Kayin’s korban was a success. It was a positive religious and personal experience, and Kayin was happy with the gift he gave.

Then, Hevel saw what Kayin did, and decided to copy it. “Hevel also brought (a gift) from the first-born of his sheep … and Hashem sent a fire to Hevel and his offering.” Once Kayin saw the response that Hevel received, he felt spiritually jealous of him.

And here we encounter an unusual question, from Hashem to Kayin, in response to Kayin’s crisis: “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Hashem asks: “Kayin, you were happy before —why are you no longer happy? Why are you questioning your entire religious experience based on the experiences of someone else? If the experience that you had was valuable, the fact that Hevel had a different experience does not negate the power of what you yourself felt.”

Bereishit is a new beginning for all of us, and a chance to re-engage in our Torah study. Each of us has a different relationship with Hashem — one that we’ve developed on our own. Seeking to simply duplicate the experiences of others does not always work. Rather, we should each strive to develop the connection with spirituality on our terms, and should not dismiss or negate a spiritual connection based on the accomplishments of others.


Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Nefesh B’Nefesh. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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