Sunday, November 28th 2021   |

Brothers

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

As we begin the annual Torah reading cycle anew this Shabbat, we are confronted with the first murder in human history. In the first of many incidents of sibling rivalry (constituting a major Biblical motif), Cain and Abel each bring a sacrificial offering to God. Cain, a farmer, brings his offering “from the fruit of the soil” (Genesis 4:3). Abel, a shepherd, makes an offering described, tellingly, as from “the choicest of the firstlings of his flock” (4:4). Abel’s offering alone is received with Divine favor.

Despite God’s poetic admonition concerning the human capacity to master our own passions and animal instincts – and thus to avoid sin – a dejected and envious Cain kills his brother. Cain’s tragically defiant response to God’s outrage – “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (4:9) – is among the Torah’s best known and frequently quoted verses.

Reporting on these events, Genesis artfully uses the word “brother” (Hebrew, “ach”) seven times (see 4:2, 8, 9, 10, 11). Professor Nahum Sarna concludes: “The sevenfold stress in this Chapter on the obvious fraternal relationship of Cain and Abel… emphatically teaches that man is indeed his brother’s keeper and that all homicide is fratricide.”

May these opening chapters of Scripture signal a truly new national beginning… not our return to a senseless, endless, and familiar fratricidal cycle.

(Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser is the rabbi of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey and the former National Chaplain of the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.)

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