Bereshit begins with the story of creation, the story of Adam and Eve in Gan Eden, the Tree of Knowledge, the expulsion from Gan Eden and continues the parasha by mentioning of Eve gives birth to two sons, Cain and Hevel. Cain quarrels with Abel and murders him, and becomes a rootless wanderer. A third son, Seth, is born to Adam; Seth’s eighth-generation descendant, Noah, is the only righteous man in a corrupt world.
The sins of Adam and Eve can be seen as a mistake in not taking responsibility for one's own behavior.
The sin of Cain can be seen as a mistake in not wanting to take responsibility for the behavior of another.
And the sins of Noah's generation can be seen as the mistake of not taking responsibility for the behavior of society.
After these generations came Moses. He took responsibility for his own behaviour, for the behaviour of his brothers and for his people/generation.
Adam and Eve were ashamed of what they had done. They hid from G-d because they knew that G-d knew what they had done. G-d opens the conversation with Adam and Eve, with a question: where are you? But of course G-d knew perfectly well where Adam and Eve were. You can read the question as: where are you in life, how did you get here? And that would have been the opening for Adam and Eve to tell their mistake and say sorry, what they did not and which - at first - they did not. They blamed circumstances outside themselves. It was, Eve, it was the serpent. They did not take responsibility for their own behavior, for their own part.
Cain had killed his brother in the field and runs away from it as if nothing had happened. He does not hide, like Adam and Eve. On his way he meets G-d who asks him;
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יי אֶל־קַ֔יִן אֵ֖י הֶ֣בֶל אָחִ֑יךָ וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי הֲשֹׁמֵ֥ר אָחִ֖י אָנֹֽכִי׃
HaShem said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”
It was the perfect opening question for Cain to confess what had happened, but he did not. Adam and Eve tried to talk their way out of it, realizing that what they did was wrong. Cain did not even try to talk his way out of it, because - unlike Adam and Eve - he assumed that God did not know what had happened. By saying: “I don't know”, he also shows that he thinks G-d does not know the thoughts of a person.
Why does he use the word shomer/ keeper? A shomer is or guardian, is someone responsible for an object belonging to another.
There are 4 different forms of shomers with their own degree of responsibility. The "lowest form" is the unpaid shomer.
He is someone who is taking care of another's property purely as a favor and is receiving no compensation for his trouble. Although he is duty bound to care for the object, his responsibility in case of mishap is minimal. If the object is damaged or lost as a result of his negligence, he must pay; but as long as he has provided the reasonable care to which he had obligated himself, and takes an oath to that effect, he is absolved from responsibility.(1)
Cain says, as it were: is there anyone who has asked me to look after my brother all the time? In this way, as it were, he shifts the responsibility and the blame to Gd. For is He not the Shomer of all men?
יי שֹׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהֹוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
The L-RD is your guardian, the L-RD is your protection at your right hand.
He is, as it were, telling G-d that He Himself should take better care of Hevel. In his mind he might add: You are in charge of life and death, so you should have made sure that he did not die. There is also an element of jealousy in this, which is, after all, where it all began. G-d had accepted Hevel's sacrifice and not his. So G-d was apparently Hevel's shomer and not his.
And so, many things did not go so well with Cain:
He was angry with God and with Hevel
(which led to)
He killed a human being
Believed that G-d had not seen that
Believed that G-d could not read minds
Lied to G-d
And made Gd responsible for his wrong choice and deed.
Took no responsibility for his actions - though he would later repent and come to terms with it
Did not feel responsible for his brother/ fellow man.
If Cain had believed that G-d saw everything and knew his thoughts, his sacrifice would probably have looked very different and the whole story would have turned out very differently. He would not have become jealous/ angry of Hevel, but would have understood that he had to improve his actions and thoughts.
Which brings me to the question: why did Abel die? It does not feel "fair" that the better brother has to die early and the murderer apparently still has a good life here on earth.
But G-d was certainly the Shomer of Abel.
Remember that the descendants of Cain perished in the flood in the 7th generation. However, Abel's soul returned in Seth. From which eventually all people came forth (via Noah) who have lived through all the ages and are living now. The soul of Abel did not only return in Seth, but also in Noah and in Moses and will eventually be the soul of Messiah.
Why Abel had to die seems unfair in our eyes. But from the larger perspective, it was fair and his soul was rewarded with enormous blessings.
We learn from this that when something happens to us that we perceive as unjust or mean, we need to know that G-d sees everything we do and hears everything we think. That what happens to us should cause us to improve our thoughts and actions. We should not blame G-d but examine ourselves. For even if we do not perceive it so, God is our Shomer. Even when things seem unfair, may we know that everything that happens to us will ultimately be for the better and a blessing.
Brought By Angelique Sijbolts
Angelique Sijbolts is one of the main writers for the Noahide Academy. She has been an observant Noahide for many years. She studies Torah with Rabbi Perets every week. Angelique invests much of her time in editing video-lectures for the Rabbis of the Academy and contributes in administrating the Academy's website in English and Dutch. She lives in the north of the Netherlands. Married and mother of two sons. She works as a teacher in a school with students with special needs. And is a Hebrew Teacher for the levels beginners and intermediate. She likes to walk, to read and play the piano.
Sefaria: Radak, Tur HaArokh, Siftei Chakahmim
1 Chabad Article: Whose life is it anyway
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