What Cain said to Abel

October 18, 2012 - 5:00 am

“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” — Genesis 4:8

The Torah portion for this week, B’reisheet, is from Genesis 1:1–6:8 and Isaiah 42:5–43:10.

The first two brothers in history didn’t get off to a great start. One attacked the other, and we end up with the world’s first homicide. Talk about sibling rivalry!

Let’s recap:  Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God. Cain’s was rejected because he brought second-rate goods, while Abel’s was accepted because he brought God the best. This upset Cain greatly, but God told him to cheer up — Cain could fix his mistake! If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7).

The next thing we know, Cain was talking to Abel. Now, in later versions of the Bible we read that Cain said: “Let’s go out into the field.” But in the original Bible, that sentence is missing. The verse reads:  “Now Cain said to his brother Abel. While they were out in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” No wonder words were added to this verse. Without them, it makes little sense. What did Cain say to Abel? The information is missing!

And that’s just the point, say the Sages.

It doesn’t matter what Cain said to Abel. He could have said nothing at all. The murder of Abel had nothing to do with the conversation he had with Cain. It had everything to do with Cain himself. Cain was upset because his sacrifice wasn’t accepted. He was angry with himself and he took it out on his brother.

What a haunting insight into human relationships. How many fights between two people are really fights that a person is having with him or herself? When we get mad at other people, is it possible that we are really angry with ourselves? Is it possible that when someone lashes out at us, they are really upset with themselves?

A woman comes home from a long hard day at work. Her boss tore into her all day long. Her husband makes the mistake of asking what’s for dinner. Boy, is she ready to give it to him! But — wait! She stops and thinks. Did he do anything wrong? Is it his problem or mine?

The next day, the woman goes back to work. Her boss is just as grumpy and eager to criticize. But then a thought occurs to her. Maybe he’s going through a tough time. Is it his problem or mine?

Sometimes we don’t see the whole story. Sometimes, it’s buried deep beneath the surface of the words being said. So choose to be compassionate and forgiving. A wise man once said:  “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle” — including you.


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