Dear Hebrew Academy Community:
The month of Cheshvan, which is generally referred to as Mar Cheshvan—Bitter Cheshvan, begins this coming Monday. It is known as Mar Cheshvan because it is the only month of the year which does not include any holiday, not even a fast day which we hope will be turned into a day of joy in messianic times.
Unfortunately, this year we need no special explanation for the appellation. Even if, as we all hope and pray, the IDF and the Government of Israel prevail and accomplish all of their military and political goals, there is no doubt that the price of victory will not be negligible and will entail sadness and bitterness for far too many. We can only pray that HaKadosh Baruch Hu will minimize the losses and bring healing to the injured and consolation to the bereaved.
There is no way to produce a “feel-good” Dvar Torah this week. But perhaps one that expresses a bit of optimism is appropriate.
It is rather easy to understand why the Torah begins with Creation. For one, by demonstrating that Hashem created the world, the Torah firmly establishes our responsibility to obey the will of God: What can make more sense than obeying the Creator of the Universe? The story of creation also serves, as Rashi explains, as our deed to Eretz Yisrael: God created the world and, therefore, has the right to grant parts of that world to whomever He chooses, and He chose to give the Land of Israel to the People of Israel.
The purpose for including in the Torah the story of Kayin and Hevel—of Cain and Abel—is a bit more difficult to discern. We surely do not need that story to inform us of the crime of murder or of the Torah’s view of the sanctity of human life. In his Ahavat Torah, Rabbi Chaim Sabbato notes that when Chava gave birth to Kayin she said ’ קניתי איש את ה which is interpreted as meaning that now that I have perpetuated the human race I will leave behind progeny who will serve God in our stead. A deeper understanding wrote Rabbi Sabbato is: May this son repair that which we—Adam and Chava—destroyed. We were created by God in His image, were crowned with glory, were given an entire world, were brought to the Chuppah by God Himself and, nevertheless, we were not able to keep the one commandment he gave us. We hope that our son will re-establish the connection of humanity to God and will always remain faithful to Him.
But, as every kindergarten child knows, it did not quite work out that way. The Torah does not explain why God preferred Hevel’s offering because that isn’t the point of the story. The lesson that we are intended to learn is from Kayin’s reaction to God’s action. What was Kayin going to do when he experienced God’s rejection of his offering? Would his reaction be that of one who wishes to come close to God and was not able to do so? Or would he react negatively and with jealousy? The Torah gives us the answer immediately: “And Kayin was very angry.” Anger is not an authentic element of the worship of God. Rather than trying to understand how he needed to improve so that he would be pleasing to God, Kayin chose the path of anger and jealousy. God tried to warn him. He said to Kayin, “Why are you angry?” You can control your emotions and rise above negative traits. But Kayin would not listen, could not control himself, and instead rose up and murdered his brother.
So our Parasha ends with a second human failure. The child who was created, as Rashi wrote, by three partners—mother, father, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu—and who begins our story with the desire to come close to God ends with the most severe punishment, his removal and alienation from God. We are left with a question: If Adam and Eve’s son was not able to repair the human relationship with God, will another of their descendants succeed? But, of course, Breishit is not the end; it’s the beginning. At the end of Parashat Noach we receive a resoundingly positive response as we are introduced to Avraham Avinu, the paragon of both devotion to Hashem and of the Chessed which endears humanity to God and which are to be the hallmarks of Am Yisrael’s relationship with their Creator.
Dr. Kalman Stein
Head of School