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Raising Cain

Friday, 12 October, 2012 - 1:00 pm

In the Torah’s opening portion, Bereishit, we glean a great deal about human nature. We are introduced to the purest of souls, G-d’s handiwork – Adam. We also become acquainted with human frailty and iniquity.

The most evil act of all seems to come toward the end of the parsha, when Cain kills his brother Abel.

Cain goes down in history as a terrible fellow. And he was. Though he did not have the luxury of past history to inform him, human blood is human blood. The Torah underlines this value unequivocally.

You would think that such a murderer ends up in the dustbins of history and is never heard from again.

Yet, amazingly, we are all descended from Cain. The Torah records that Na’amah, the wife of Noah, was a descendant of Cain. Well, only Noah and his family survived the flood. That makes all of us Cain’s descendants. Yes, we all share a murderer for a grandfather. Talk about yichus (lineage)!


As much as the parsha of Bereishis seems to end off on a sour note – Adam and Eve are punished; Cain murders Abel; people are wicked and G-d ‘regrets’ creating man – it actually contains the secret for overcoming human failure.

And – believe it or not – Cain is the role model. After being chastised by G-d and punished to wander the earth, Cain does not give up.

There were no self-help books available at Barnes and Noble. No psychologists to visit and no Rabbis to consult with. Yet Cain is determined to be productive. He does not shrink into the misery of guilt. He does not cast himself away from the rest of the world.

Instead he marries, builds a family. Even builds a city.

The spirit of repentance, redemption and transformation cannot be learned from the greatest saints. It can be learned from the greatest sinners.

By reflecting on Cain’s post-sin behavior, we can muster the courage to pull forward after our own shortcomings. Yes, G-d despises sin. But He is even more saddened when sin leads to a lack of productivity. After a failure, make amends and move on. Find a way to surge forward. In fact, use the shortcoming as an impetus to be even better than before.

Maybe an ancestor like Cain is not such bad yichus after all.

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