Warming faith at chilly times

“If you should see my son Cain, tell him…”  These words, attributed to Cain’s biblical mother Eve, were penciled onto the wall of a railcar heading to the gas chambers. Thus the late poet Dan Pagis sought to capture the blood-shedding legacy of humanity’s first murderer, condemned to wander and witness future human depravity.

What do we believe about people?  This Shabbat we return to the dawn of human history and a post-Garden of Eden world.  What does the Torah believe about human nature?  The answer is revealed within God’s curiosity about Cain’s dejection in the face of Divine inattention to his offering, in contrast to the Divine appreciation for Abel’s offering.  Prior to Cain’s murder of Abel, God urges Cain not to let his hurt feelings incite violence against his brother.  God is essentially saying, “Hurt feelings, even anger, are understandable.  But violence is not inevitable. You don’t necessarily have to let your emotions get the better of you.”

The text subtlety suggests that sin is not as powerful as human connections are.  The Hebrew words for ‘dominant urge’ (timshal and teshuka) recur in God’s conversations with Eve and with Cain (Gen. 3:16, 4:7).  For Eve the relational bond is potent enough to transcend free will.  But for Cain, God seeks to convey that sin’s urge does not overwhelm the freedom to choose.  The lesson: loving relationships built upon shared faith can withstand the allure of iniquity.  The goodness and generosity of people transcends the greediness and violence of people.

Two powerful examples from this past summer drive this home.  Consider the inspiring story of how eighty strangers on a Florida beach locked arms to form a human chain to save the lives of a family trapped in a riptide.  Emergencies aren’t necessary to reveal human goodness.  Robert Kraft, who shared deeply moving sentiments about his love for and loyalty to Kehillath Israel at last weekend’s Groundbreaking ceremony, generously made possible a faith-warming visit to Israel this summer for the best players to ever play in the NFL. Watch and witness how Israel enabled them to experience renewed faith, not merely in God, but in each other.

‘If you should see my son Cain, tell him that there was nothing inevitable about violence.  People do link arms.  People can sooth wounds’.  May each of us glimpse and become evidence for this enduring truth in the New Year 5778.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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