Parashat Bereishit – Erev Shabbat 17 October 2020
Week of 11-17 October 2020
Torah portion: Genesis 1:1 – 6:8 Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10
Theme: Making progress in listening and building community
In the second and fourth chapters of Bereishit, progress is always bubbling in the world. So too are problems. We begin a new cycle of reading the Torah. This is meant to help us to keep going ahead on our spiritual journey.
Shaar HaGilgulim, a kabbalistic work, identifies two different types of souls and elaborates on them: souls that possess the nature of Abel and souls that possess the nature of Cain. This is not a division between good souls and evil souls: this source attributes the nature of Cain to the souls of many great Torah leaders. Rather, the division is one of character. The souls with the nature of Abel are milder and more pleasant, whereas those with the nature of Cain are stronger and more creative.
The nature of Cain is part of our makeup as human beings. What is a person’s purpose in this world? “There was no one to till the soil” (2:5). His task is “to till it and tend it” (2:15). Adam is charged with preserving the world. He is the one who must water the trees and ensure that nothing is damaged.
Referring to the reading from the book of Genesis (4:1-15.25), the Pope pointed out during his homily that “it is the first time the Bible mentions the word ‘brother’”. The story of Cain and Abel, he explained, is about “a brotherhood which was meant to grow, to become beautiful”, but instead “wound up destroyed”. When God created the world, God intentionally left things in an incomplete state. It is as if God said: “Look, I made the pattern, but I left you several things to complete on your own”. Adam, as a human being, affects the world in a significant way.
“Cain favored instinct; he preferred to let this feeling stew inside him, festering and allowing it to grow. This sin, which he would later commit, which was couching behind the feeling, grew”. This, Pope Francisco continued, “is how hostilities grow between us: they begin with something small: jealousy, envy, and then they grow and we see life solely from that point of view, and that speck” in our eye “becomes a log. It is we who have the log, it is there”, in our own eye. Then, the Pope added, “our life spins around that, and that destroys the bond of brotherhood; it destroys brotherhood”. The Pope explained that Cain said “no, there is no brother; it is just me; there is no brotherhood; it is just me”. What “happened at the beginning”, Francis warned, “can happen to all of us; it is a possibility”. For this reason, he continued, it is a “process” which “must be stopped immediately, at the beginning, at the first sign of bitterness”. Fraternity is a decision: good and evil are not inevitable, but they are positioning, ethical positioning. Therefore we are called to listen: to take a position and to do something.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do I listen to the other? 2. Do I have compassion for the other? 3. Do I allow the other to live rather than discriminate against him or her? 4. Is every person my sister or brother?
Bibliography: Steinsaltz, Adin. Talks on the Parasha. (Jerusalem: 2015). Francisco, Pope. The story of Cain and Abel. (www.vatican.va – Daily Meditations. 13 February 2017)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Fernando Gross, Brasil, Bat Kol Alumnus: 2017, 2018, 2019