The Blood of Our Brothers and Sisters Cry Out

Since the beginning of October, blood has been shed every day. Four Israelis have been murdered, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their children near the settlement of Itamar and Rabbi Nehemia Lavie and Aharon Benita, in front of his wounded wife and baby, in the Old City. Each day Palestinians have perpetrated multiple stabbings and attempted stabbings throughout the country, but particularly near the Old City of Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv. Victims and attempted victims have ranged from soldiers to toddlers, men, women and children. Other Palestinians in the West Bank throw massive slabs of stone at cars causing serious injury. The Palestinian assailants have often been met with deadly force. Terror has again gripped Israel and Palestine. The blood of my brothers and sisters cries out.

Kol d’mei achicha tzoakim.

We read this verse this week as part of the well known story of Cain and Abel, the account of both the first brothers and the first murder. G*d tells Cain “the voice of your brother’s bloods cry out” after Abel has been slain and his blood spilled. Significantly, the word for blood in the Hebrew is in the plural. One graphic Rabbinic source pictures Cain continually puncturing his brother’s flesh trying to learn what will kill him. Not once but many times does he shed his blood and thus the plural. This jarring image resonates with the multiple wounds being inflicted in these days. The bloods of our brothers and sisters cry out.

Kol d’mei achicha tzoakim.

When Cain approaches his brother we are told that “Cain spoke to Abel, his brother” What did Cain say? We don’t know. The text simply continues that they were “in the field and Cain rose up and killed him.” However, this does not mean that Cain did not have his rationale. A variety of sources fill in the blank by positing a struggle between the brothers based on anything from who would inherit what property to whom they would marry. One opinion in particular hits home today. The field where Cain rose against Abel was not just any field. The field was the site of the Holy of Holies and the argument was over which brother would inherit the land on which the Temple would be built! And that argument, well before there was such a thing as a Jew, Israeli, Palestinian or Muslim, escalated and the ground that swallowed one brother’s blood and the other brother’s curse was to be the same Temple Mount that has been turned again into a focus of hostilities.

Leave aside any notion of geography between the Garden of Eden and the Land of Israel. This story, like today’s story, is never just about the land and the borders. What breaks down between Cain and Abel in this story is even more tragic than the version where the motivating factor is nothing but hate. Here Cain and Abel do not understand that holiness can never be enhanced through exercising violence over another, only diminished.

Based on the absence of any spoken word the Rabbi’s reason that Cain used his speech not to communicate but to lure Abel to his death. It was as if he had given up on making peace between himself and his brother and instead turned to words as weapons. As blood once more calls out, the time for words of peace seems to fade. Ultimately, however, the call cannot be answered without finding a way to complete the conversation between Cain and Abel in something other than blood.

May the memory of the murdered be a blessing, the bereft find comfort, and the wounded of body and spirit be mended.

About the Author
Rabbi Michael Bernstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, Ga. Michael received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1999 and is an alumni of the Rabbis Without Borders second cohort. and was inducted into the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. Michael specializes in Jewish philosophy, especially that of Emmanuel Levinas and focuses on how to see the directives inherent in Jewish tradition as meaningful, ethical, and relevant.
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