BEREISHIS (Genesis 1:1-6:8) — “Cry ‘Uncle'”

 In the beginning we were doing okay.

In New York City they praise Mayor Giuliani for bringing the annual homicide rate down from over 2,000 to fewer than 600.  In the world of Adam and Eve, we were doing much better.  Forty years without a murder.  Then our two great-uncles, Cain and Abel, had a fight.

Midrash Tanchuma fills in the details: Initially it was Cain chasing Abel, but Abel, the stronger of the two, got the upper hand.  He stood over his wicked brother, preparing to finish him off.  The pursuer was now the pursued, and Cain now pulled the “Rachmonus” card:

“Abel, MY BROTHER, please don’t harm me!”

Ah, brotherly love.  Abel was immediately filled with compassion toward his former assailant.  He released Cain, who promptly seized the opportunity (and a stone!) and killed his brother.


What was this fight all about?  There were, according to the Talmud, a total of seven adults on earth at that time.  What could have caused such strife, such animosity that would lead Cain to destroy one seventh of the human race?

Rabbi Levi, quoted in Midrash Rabbah, explains that they were fighting over real estate.  Can you believe it?  They and their wives were the second generation of Mankind.  Cain had a twin sister, and Abel, one of triplets, had two sisters.  A whole world to divide between them and they couldn’t work it out!

Where was this precious piece of real estate they were fighting over?

The Torah tells us that Cain and Abel had each brought an offering before G-d.  Cain’s offering, some low-grade flax seed, was rejected, while Abel’s offering, his finest sheep, were accepted.  Cain wanted to take ownership of the place where Abel had brought his offering — the future site of the Temple in Jerusalem!  Abel’s response? — Jerusalem is not for sale!


Isn’t that amazing?  Fifty-seven centuries ago, the first murder was committed.  And what was the cause of this murder?  They were fighting over Jerusalem!  They were fighting over the Temple Mount!  They were fighting over the question of “Who has the REAL religion?!   Who is G-d’s REAL chosen People?!”

The first murder took place as an act of religious intolerance!!

Does this strike a familiar chord?  Has the world improved any in the 5721 years since that first act of jihad?


Lest we take this interpretation as a simple condemnation of the treacherous acts of evil that have been perpetrated against Israel and now the United States over the years, I would like to take this idea one step further.

How much tolerance do you and I have for one another?  To be sure, there are many areas where people can disagree.  But are we prepared to share the same planet with each other?  Or do we look with disdain at anyone who doesn’t believe as we do?

Some of us look down on others because they are less observant than we think they should be.  Conversely, there are others among us who disregard anyone who is MORE devout than we.  We must remember — there is NO Mitzvah to hate.  If we allow religious or other considerations to direct our degree of civility toward people, how different are we from Cain…or Arafat and bin Ladin??!

I believe in Torah Judaism.  I believe that G-d expects you and me to live according to the rules He gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.  I believe that EVERY Jew is required to observe the Sabbath and maintain a strictly Kosher home.

I also believe that I am required by the Torah to love every Jew, even if he does not share my beliefs.  I also believe that every human being, a descendant of our grandparents Adam and Eve, is a relative, created in the image of G-d.

How easy it is to forget that we are all one big family.  Cain, when faced with certain death, reminded Abel that it wouldn’t be right to kill his brother.  “How,” he asked, “will you explain this to Dad?”

Cain’s expression of brotherhood and his concern for Adam’s feelings evaporated the second he was out of danger.  The very idea of an “infidel,” his own flesh and blood, “occupying” the Temple was so offensive to him, that he had no qualms about destroying one of G-d’s creations.  And in so doing, in a real sense, he destroyed himself.

We live in a very precarious world.  Let us pray for the well being of ALL decent people, Jew or Christian, Hindu or Muslim.  And may G-d continue to bless America.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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From the Archives

“Let the SON Shine” (2016)

A baby boy is born.

His proud and hopeful parents bring him to the synagogue on the eighth day of his life, whereupon he is surgically and spiritually ushered into the Covenant of Abraham.

A prayer is recited “…May this little one become great. Just as he as entered the Covenant, so too may he enter into the Torah, the Chuppah (marriage canopy) and good deeds.” 

Big plans for this little guy. “May this little one (Kattan in Hebrew) become great (Gadol in Hebrew, literally big).”

A prayer that the Kattan will become Gadol, the little one will grow to become big.  We look forward to seeing this little 6-pounder turn into a strapping 6-footer.

Being a Mohel, I get to eat a lot of bagels & lox, and hear a lot of speeches.  I heard a beautiful explanation of this prayer …

Read more.

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“How Many G-Ds Does It Take To Make A World?” (2009)

Moses was not happy.  There he was, taking dictation from the Author of the Torah, writing each word per G-d’s instructions.  They were up to Genesis, 1:21.  G-d told him to write, ” . . . and G-d said, let Us make man in Our image . . .”

.. OUR image . . . ???

Moses was troubled by G-d referring to Himself in plural.  A major tenet of the Jewish faith is that there is only one G-d, who has no partners.  “Master of the World!  You are giving an opening to heretics!”…

Read more.

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“Be a World Builder” (2008)

…G-d wanted Israel to be His partner in Creation.  But how could this be done?  G-d brought forth all His miraculous powers of creation in bringing the world into being.  What did we do?  Nothing! …

Read more.

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“Kindness, Torah-Style” (2006)

…  Was it really such a charitable act for G-d to feed Adam and Eve?  After all, He created them!  Doesn’t a parent feed and clothe and educate his child, and help him to become self-sufficient?

It was, in a sense, in G-d’s “best interest” to take care of Adam and Eve…

Read more.

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 “The Right Tools” (2005)

It is axiomatic that the right tools make the job much easier to do.  Did you ever try to use a flat screwdriver on a Philips-head screw because you didn’t have what you needed?   It just doesn’t work right.

Before you start a job, it is very important to get what you need.  Yes, you can improvise, and sometimes it will come out ok.  However, the extra time you take to make a quick trip to the hardware store will yield worthwhile dividends…

Go out there and conquer the world.  Negotiate that contract!  Build that better mousetrap!  Heal that patient!  Hit that grand slam home run!

But before you do, make sure you are prepared.  Do your homework.  Sterilize your surgical instruments.  Go to spring training.

One more thing …

Read more.

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“The Loch Ness Succah” (2003)

… A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke? …

Read more.

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“The Evolutionary War” (2002) 

Who’s right, scientists or the Torah?  On Rosh Hashanah, we began the year 5763. How can we believe that the world is less than six thousand years old when the scientific evidence indicates that it is BILLIONS of years old?

What about fossils?  What about carbon dating?  Can we, as intelligent people, really believe the Adam & Eve story?  What about dinosaurs?  What about all of the evidence of various life forms, leading to the advanced stage of development at which we now stand?  How can we believe in the Garden of Eden instead of Jurassic Park? …

Read more.

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“Cry ‘Uncle'” (2001)

… What could have caused such strife, such animosity that would lead Cain to destroy one seventh of the human race? …

Read more.

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 “‘Big Mac’ Strikes Out In the Garden of Eden” (2000)

… My son showed me an article last week (Total Baseball Weekly — October 18-24, 2000 — no link available) about some baseball fans that approached home run superstar Mark McGuire and asked him for his autograph.  Big Mac “graciously” offered to give his autograph to whomever would be kind enough to go to Starbucks and fetch him a cup of coffee.

…  Without his fans footing the bill, he would have to go out and get a real job and buy his own coffee.  Here is a man who has a lot to learn about appreciation.

Too bad.  He should have read this week’s Torah Portion …

Read more.

This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2016 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 12, 2001 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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