I Am My Brother’s KeeperSeptember 27, 2013 - 5:00 am
“Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”—Genesis 4:9
The Torah portion for this week is B’reisheet, which means “in the beginning.” It is from Genesis 1:1—6:8, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 42:5—43:10.
A great rabbi once made the following statement: “We must live with the times!” Knowing that the rabbi was not in favour of trading a traditional lifestyle for a more modern way of life, his students asked him what he meant. The rabbi explained: “The Torah is God’s truth, eternally and universally relevant. By contemplating the weekly Torah reading, we can learn how to live spiritually in every situation.” In other words, the rabbi was teaching us that the weekly reading has a message particularly relevant to our personal lives today.
This teaching always comes back to me when I read about the encounter between God and Cain, just after the murder of Abel. God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Then came Cain’s infamous reply: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Sages point out that, of course, God knew where Abel was. What He was really asking Cain was: “What have you done to your brother?” God was giving Cain a chance to take responsibility for his actions. However, Cain did the exact opposite. His reply meant: “You, God, are responsible for Abel’s death. You alone determine who will live and who will die. I am not responsible.”
Now, although our personal life situations don’t mirror Cain’s actions, I always feel that the conversation between Cain and God is also happening every year at this time between us and God. It’s as if God is saying to us: “Where are your brothers? Are you aware that people are starving in one country and dying of disease in another? Are you aware that there are hungry children in your town or that there are elderly who are cold because they can’t afford heat? What have you done for your brothers?”
God gives us a chance to take responsibility and demonstrate that we are part of the solution, not the problem. So, how do we answer? Do we turn our backs and, like Cain, say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Or do we accept God’s challenge and partnership by proudly declaring, “I am my brother’s keeper. And my sister’s keeper. And I will help them in any way that I can.”
In Isaiah 58, God implores us to stop injustice, free the oppressed, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and provide shelter for the poor. Here at The Fellowship in Canada we have committed to doing just that through our Isaiah 58 and Guardians of Israel programs. We invite you to join us in order to right Cain’s wrong and demonstrate that, indeed, we are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.