Allen S. Maller
Allen S. Maller

The religion of Cain verses the religion of Able. (Geneses 4:1-18)

There are four traditional Jewish methods of glossing scripture. Each one provides us with different insights and different lessons. The p’shaht/plain text meaning concerns crime, punishment and repentance. The derash/didactic meaning concerns the human need to deal with rejection. The remez/metaphor meaning concerns the two impulses of human nature. The sod/hidden depth meaning concerns the nature of good religion

The p’shaht/plain text lessons are: Cain murders Able due to jealousy, so envy and jealously are evil. We are our brother’s keeper. God exiles Cain to give him an opportunity to repent and live a more productive life. Cain establishes a town named after his son. Thus he does repent and builds for the future. “So he (Cain) became regretful.” (Qur’an 5:31)

The derash/didactic lessons are: We are not told why God favored Able and not Cain. It isn’t important because throughout life we will have to deal with failure and rejection. Often we succeed in love, in business, in sports, etc. and sometimes we fail or are rejected. Cain deals with rejection by scapegoating and killing his rival.

Cain takes his rejection as a personal insult. Cain should try another offering, at another time, or another way. He doesn’t. He blames Able because God didn’t favor Cain’s offering. He can’t stand losing.

The remez/metaphor lessons are: verse 4:7 is the key. Sin crouches at the doorway. We always have a choice. God’s gift of free will means that some temptations will always be with us. Rivalry and competition can lead to excelling or to destroying.

The “evil” impulse (yetzer) isn’t inherently evil, but if not tamed by a moral code (Torah/Gospel/ Qur’an) it easily leads humans to do evil. Sex with love and marriage is good. Sex without love and marriage isn’t good. Extramarital sex and forced sex is evil.

The free will biology is simply the Yetzer in general, or the yetzer haRah (the bad or uncontrolled, wild impulse) in particular. The yetzer HaTov (the good/tamed impulse) is our moral learned response that makes us into creatures in the Image of God.

God sometimes doesn’t favor us in order to challenge us to grow stronger by taming our wild infantile urges. This narrative is all about the dual nature of human nature.

The sod/hidden depth lessons are: God does not ask Cain or Able to worship or to bring an offering. Able does it on his own and seems to prosper, so Cain decides to do it too. Religions are human responses to our awareness of the Divine; but our particular forms of worship are not as important as our responses to other human beings.

To be jealous of another person’s religious worship is a great sin that leads to even worse sins. The only way religions should compete is through seeing which religion produces the highest percentage of people who in their everyday life are kind, responsible, loving, and charitable to all human beings.

As the Qur’an states: “To each of you We (God) prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [with one religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race [compete to do all that is] good. To Allah you will return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (5:48b)

All religions can help people secure God’s favor as long as people live up to the best teachings of their own religion. No religion guarantees success to those who use God as a weapon. To read a holy text in such a way as to support evil acts on others, is to follow the religion of Cain instead of the religion of Able.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 450 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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