“If you do goodness, it shall certainly be accepted; and if you don’t do goodness, sin lies at the door. And its desire will be on you, but you must have dominion over it.” (Genesis 4:7)
These are God’s words to Cain, in regards to his anger because his offering was rejected. Cain’s offering lacked the goodness mentioned in God’s advice to him. There is a distinction between Abel’s animal offering and Cain’s vegetable offering, for the former represents a higher level of consciousness while the latter a lower level God calls “sin”.
It seems that Cain was not fully aware of the traits of either level, hence his assumption that if God gave us free will, either choice we make is acceptable to Him. This sends us back to the forbidden fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. The prohibition was commanded in order to avoid human life be engaged in a dual consciousness with which one is trapped living in the boundaries between good and evil.
Once the choice was made, the human condition had no other choice but living within those boundaries. Cain probably learned this after inheriting the outcome of his parents’ transgression. Assuming the consequences of our choices, either motivated by “good” or “evil”, the lesson is to live by goodness for the sake of goodness.
This, after assimilating that evil exists as a reference (and not a choice) to choose goodness, in order to properly exercise of free will. After all, it would be unfair to have free will without previous knowledge of the consequences of our choices.
Goodness is God’s choice, the verse states, as the “accepted” ethical principle destined to rule in His creation. Anything different or alien to goodness is “off the target”, the original Hebrew meaning of “sin”. We “miss the point” when we transgress against goodness; meaning that we rather chose non goodness (“evil”, “sin”) in order to live “off target”, and “missing the point”.
All our transgressions are against goodness or its ethical ways and means. Cain made of negative traits and trends his choice, and he even argued defending it, after he experienced jealousy and killed his brother.
Our Sages differ in regards to his alleged remorse for perpetrating the first homicide in human history. Some say that he genuinely repented, and others sustain that he claimed sarcastically that the guilt of carrying his remorse was similar to God’s carrying the weight of His creation, including good and evil.
God recommends Cain to keep away from evil ways and negative trends, for these ultimately become the rulers of our thoughts, emotions, feelings, speech and actions. Either as references or choices, they dwell at the door of our consciousness, waiting to be invited in or keep them outside. The way to keep them away is to rule over them, and not allow otherwise.
In the verse, the translation from the Biblical Hebrew calls it “desire”. Other meanings suggest “instinct”, “inclination” or “tendency”. These terms sound inherent in each other, and God’s words sound more as commandments than advice. In His message to Cain, He commands us to do goodness and choose goodness; and also rule over the lower thoughts, emotions, feelings and instincts.
As long as we have full dominion and control over negative traits and trends, goodness rules and prevails. God’s goodness is reminded as the reason and purpose in life, by the prophet’s remarks in the haftarah for this first portion of the Torah.
“I, the Lord, have called you [Israel] in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and have kept you; and establish you for a covenant of the people, a light for the nations. [In order] To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon; and those who sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Isaiah 42:6-7)
Righteousness is the ethical expression of goodness, for goodness pursues what is right, fair, truthful and correct. It is the light we need to overcome darkness, and make goodness conduct what we see (know) to liberate us from the captivity of evil ways and negative trends.