Esor Ben-Sorek
Esor Ben-Sorek

“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”“

There was a reason that I turned to the Biblical text of Genesis (Braishit) to re-read the tale of two brothers, Cain and Abel, sons of the first man and wife, Adam and Chava (Eve).

Cain, the first-born son, was a farmer, a tiller of the soil, whereas his brother Abel was a shepherd.

One day when the two brothers were away from their home they both decided to offer sacrifices to God. Cain brought the choicest vegetables and grains and Abel brought the choicest lamb from the flock.

But for some reason, God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and rejected Cain’s sacrifice. No one can clearly explain why. Rabbinic commentators speculate and offer their own opinions but the text itself makes no mention of the reason.

Cain is very insulted that his sacrifice, made with good intention, was rejected. When the two brothers were in a field, Cain took a large rock and killed his brother Abel. The world’s first murder.

And God called out to Cain asking him rhetorically “Where is your brother, Abel?” Why did God need to ask since He knew?

The Rabbinic commentator, Rashi, suggested that God wanted to give Cain the opportunity to repent.

But Cain’s reply is tragically one that has been recited multiple times over the thousands of centuries.

“Lo yadati (I do not know). HaShomer achi anochi? (Am I my brother’s keeper?)

In plain words: “what do you want of me, God? Am I responsible for my brother? He is a grown man”.

God, seeing that Cain refuses to admit and to repent his evil crime of fratricide, informs him that even though he tills the soil and plants, nothing will ever grow. Additionally, God tells him that he will be a fugitive, a wanderer on earth.

And Cain cries out to God “my punishment is greater than I can bear” . And he tells God that he fears that someone, somewhere, in his wanderings, will kill him.

God placed a mark, a sign, an omen and a warning (Ot Kayin) on his forehead and told him that anyone who would attack him would be punished sevenfold.

Rashi and Radak and Sforno interestingly offer the same description of the mark even though the biblical text never mentions what it was. They believe that the sign on Cain’s forehead was one of the four letters of God’s Holy Name. Possibly, the letter “hey” since it appears twice in the Holy unpronounced Name of God.

Cain wanders, marries and has a son, Enoch, who built a city. Of Cain, we hear nothing more.

So what was my reason for re-reading the specific account in chapter 4:11-15?

Last week I woke up and went to wash and shave. But looking in the mirror I was horrified at what I saw.

My entire right side of my forehead was completely red and blistering. It encompassed the right side of my face into my right eye. Nothing painful but everything frightening. Terrified, I was certain that God had placed upon me the Ot Kayin, the dreaded sign or mark of Cain.

Off I went to my doctor who said to me before I could even begin to tell him, “I see you have shalbeket”.

I was unfamiliar with that word and went to look it up on the computer which rendered it in an English word, “shingles”. A virus, which like chicken-pox, can be contagious and painful.

Fortunately, my shalbeket-shingles, while very annoying and upsetting, was not painful. The doctor informed me that the virus could live in the body for many years. Since I had chicken-pox at age seven, I was being re-visited by the same virus eighty years later.

While chicken-pox usually lasts one week to ten days, shalbeket-shingles can last for a month before disappearing. Pills four times daily. One set of eye-drops four times daily. And a second set of eye-drops, five times daily.

My wonderful daughter made me a chart so that I could mark the day and time I took the medications.

However, while Cain bemoaned his punishment as “greater than I can bear”, I am bearing mine believing that it is a sign from heaven, a warning, a punishment from God to me for my “cruel and unkind” written treatment of prime minister Netanyahu. God wants me to repent. It is a request that I am unable to do.

Thankfully, the sign which He has plastered on my forehead may evoke curiousity of those who see me, but I’m thrilled to know that no one will slay me.

And my answer to God’s question is: “I am guilty of my crime. Yes, I should be my brother’s keeper”.

And so should everyone of us be.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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