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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Parshat Breshit – Keeping Our Brotherhood

Posted by rabbiart on October 16, 2014

Who me?

Not me?

Got kids?  Then you’ve heard these phrases before. In particular, this might serve as  modern vernacular translation of Cain’s response to HaShem when he is asked “Where is your brother Abel?”

In his book Bedibur Echod Asher Ben-Zion Buchman offers explanations of each Parshah. In particular he searches for ‘thoughts on the unity of the weekly sidrah’. For Breshit he writes that the key phrase is “ ‘heaven and earth’, which refers to the duality in creation of the spiritual and the material”.  When he comes to the two brothers, (p. 11-12) he references Rabbi Don Isaac Abravanel ( as observing that Cain קין is based on the Hebrew word that means ‘to acquire’, while Abel – הבל – means breath or nothingness.  One brother, he continues, is soley concerned with acquisition and materialism while the other brother is purely spiritual. The world cannot be built only out of the one or the other. Only through the characteristics of the lesser known third son – Seth – can the world be built up.

In concluding his remarks on Parshat Breshit, he mentions that Noah’s birth is included in this parshah, thereby completeing the first ten generations of humankind. According to the Torah there is only one sacred spark left from the divine light of creation; it is embodied in Noah, who finds favor in HaShem’s eyes.

In this parshah we have the astonishing (but not surprising!) statement that HaShem can hear the voice of Abel’s blood crying out to HaShem from the ground.

מֶה עָשִׂיתָ; קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ, צֹעֲקִים אֵלַי מִן-הָאֲדָמָה

The Gemara (Rosh HaShana 16b) observes that there are three kinds of individuals; those who are completely wicked, those who are completely righteous, and those who are in the middle.  It is rarely if ever the case that those who are completely righteous regard themselves as having that much merit, and even more rare that the completely wicked will acknowledge that they are.  And in any event who am I, who are we, or who is anyone to judge.

As we look around the world at the beginning of 5775 it is so hard to ignore that there is so much blood crying out from the ground. Spilled by war, spilled by disease, spilled by – in our own country – racial hatred.  If HaShem were not HaShem, HaShem would most surely be deafened by the sound of all this blood crying out from the ground.

What we must not do is turn our own deaf ears.  We must not say Who Me. We must not say Not Me, and we absolutely must not question the idea that we are in fact our brothers’ keeper. In our day, perhaps we all in some way, wear the mark of Cain on our foreheads.

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