Breishis – Temporary Insanity is No Excuse

What was the motivation of the first murder in world history? Was he really guilty? Did he have a good excuse to acquit himself?

The Torah records the murder of Hevel by his brother Kayin, which occurred after Hashem accepted Hevel’s sacrifice but not Kayin’s. The Medrish Tanchuma (paragraph 9) goes into a lot more detail of what actually transpired.

Here is a depiction of the account based on one of the views in the Medrish with additional information from its commentary, the Etz Yosef: Kayin and Hevel were 40 years old at the time. Kayin sacrificed flax seed (i.e. linen) and Hevel sacrificed a first born of his sheep, therefore wool and linen became forbidden as a mixture as it says, “You shall not wear shaatnez, wool and linen together” (Devarim 22:11). And Hashem said it is inappropriate to mix the offering of the sinner with the offering of the innocent, therefore the mixture of wool and linen became forbidden.
After this episode Kayin said to Hevel, “What do you say? Our father has separated himself from our mother and is not having anymore children, and Hashem is angry with him, it’s as if he is dead so why don’t we discuss our inheritance? We can split the whole entire world but since I am the firstborn, I deserve to get a double portion.”
Hevel responded, “If this is halachically true then I will submit to your will”.
Kayin said back, “Thank you and I will include the place where your offering was accepted as in my domain.”
The place, where the alter was, was to be where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, and it is known that the Beis Hamikdash is in the center of the world, therefore when they were splitting the world, and Kayin was going to take a double portion then the Beis Hamikdash would then be in his portion.
Hevel refused to accept this split claiming that the world didn’t have to be split in the center exactly next to each other and therefore he can keep what was already coming to him when Hashem accepted his sacrifice.
Even though the Beis Hamikdash was not built yet they both wanted that location because either they knew the place itself was inherently holy or they were hoping to live long enough for the Beis Hamikdash to be built in their lifetime.
After Hevel’s refusal of the deal a fight ensued and Kayin started chasing Hevel from mountain to valley and from valley to mountain until they grabbed onto each other and Hevel, who was stronger, knocked down Kayin and pinned him to the floor. When Kayin saw the bad fortune he was in he started shrieking, “Hevel my brother don’t do anything wrong to me!” Hevel had mercy and released him. Kayin then got up and killed Hevel, as the Torah says, “And Kayin got up” which implies he had fallen.
As soon as he had killed him, Kayin said to himself, ‘I must run away from my parents, for they will ask me about Hevel, for there is no one else in the world besides him and I.’
Immediately, Hashem appeared to Kayin and said to him, “You can run away from your parents, but you cannot run away from Me… Where is Hevel, your brother? He was merciful upon you and didn’t kill you when you fell under his clutches, but you slipped out and killed him. And how did you kill him? You beat him with a stone on his legs then his arms, for you didn’t know where his soul would come out…until you got to his neck.”
When Hashem had asked where is Hevel your brother, Kayin had responded, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper? You are the guardian of all creatures, and You are asking me where he is?” Then Kayin admitted, “I killed him but You created inside me a yetzer hara (The Etz Yosef points out at this juncture that this is what Kayin meant when he said ‘I don’t know’ meaning I was not in the right state of mind, for temporary insanity entered inside me, which is the power of the Yetzer Hara, the Evil Inclination, and he did it, for a person only sins when he goes temporarily insane, and without knowledge he sins.) You protect everything and You let me kill him, in fact You killed him, for if You would have accepted my offering like You did his, I would not have been jealous of him.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
After some more intense back and forth between Hashem and Kayin, Kayin admitted to his sin, in a form of repentance and his punishment was downgraded from death on the spot to a lifetime of exile until he himself was accidentally murdered by his blind 7th generation grandson, Lemech, when he was hunting, being lead by his son Tuval Kayin, the real culprit, who Lemech also killed after he realized what his son caused him to do.

Though Kayin does sound like he had some chutzpah, the way he was talking to Hashem, and his underlying motivational bias was jealousy, however it does not seem that the motivation was out right negative jealousy. He wanted a share in the holiest place on earth just as Hevel wanted. This means his motivations were noble, altruistic motivations stemming from a pure drive to be close to Hashem, and maybe even remorse for that ill given offering that he had sacrificed. He was also knocked down first, granted Hevel had mercy on him and didn’t kill him when he easily could have, but Kayin might have felt he had an excuse of self-defense or self-protection, to ensure he would not be killed by his stronger brother. Lastly, why wasn’t his excuse of temporary insanity caused by the Evil Inclination an acceptable excuse? How can he be held responsible for murder, he wasn’t in a right state of mind at the time?!

Hashem’s responded rhetorically, “What did you do?!” Which the Etz Yosef explains to mean, “You did a tremendous thing, for you caused the yetzer hara to control you, for you made him bad!”

We see from here that temporary insanity is no excuse for innocence, on the contrary, that’s the way the Evil Inclination gets everyone to sin. However, it is because we allow the Yetzer Hara to get to that point, that we are held responsible for the actions we do in that temporary state of insanity. It is within our potential power to put the Evil Inclination in check and not allow ourselves to fall into that state of sin. We have the means! We have the tricks and the ability to have self-discipline in order to with stand and overcome the Yetzer Hara we just have to be on guard all the time. We must be sure not to let down our guard even for a moment.

Breishis -The Benefits of a True Fatherly Figure

Gadlus Ha’adam, the greatness of mankind, is realized through our ability to choose between good and evil in a deep intellectual fashion, as well as being able to express it with our power of speech. The potential to be able to reach great heights in physical prowess as well as in the spiritual realm in an artistic and creative manner is what gives us the impetus to strive to do good and make this world a better place.

The foundation of man’s greatness is encapsulated in this week’s Torah portion of Breishis, when he was created:

And G-D created man in His image; in the image of G-D He created him; male and female He created them. כזוַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים | אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם:

It is a well-known premise in Slobodka Mussar that through Gadlus Ha’adam, realizing the great potential inside each and every human being, the fact that we are created in the image of G-D, b’tzelem Elokim, we are given a sense of responsibility to emulate Him, to do what is right in the world, and to strive for character perfection.

However, there is another reason, besides the sense of responsibility, why Hashem created us in His image, and it is another motivator for us to strive for greatness and perfection. This reason is provided by the Sforno in his introduction to his commentary on the Torah.

The Sforno says that the Torah first tells us that the Blessed One created man in His image, as His likeness in order to choose to emulate His Creator as much as possible. For in this way he will perfect himself and his actions will be complete and honorable more than any other, just like what’s befitting to Him Who Is Blessed, who is exulted above everything else. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It would seem that the fact that we were created in G-D’s image doesn’t just give us a sense of responsibility according to the Sforno; it is more than that. Once we have been endowed with a part of His very being and essence, in a sense, it is now a part of our genetic makeup, available to tap into and develop. Being that The Image of G-D is in our system, or genetic makeup, not as a physical DNA but in our soul, we now have the inkling to emulate the One who gave it to us. Just as a child is born with certain traits from his physical parents which are passed on to him and he learns to live with them and develop them for good or for bad, and because he has these similar genes to his parents therefore many times he has this drive to learn from them and to emulate them. They are his fatherly and motherly figures which many times he looks up to in order to learn from, so to Hashem created us in His Image so that we will turn to Hashem as a fatherly figure and emulate Him as best as possible.

Unlike physical parents who might have flaws and shortcomings, Hashem, however, is all good, all knowledgeable, all powerful, and all perfect. There is nothing bad that can come out of striving to emulate Him and learning from His ways. This means that this is worthwhile to do  and so the means which help us to follow Hashem is His Torah which guides us in what is right and wrong.

We are unlike animals or plants and other physical but inanimate objects, who are programmed to do whatever Hashem decides for them to do. Neither are we like the angels who are pure spiritual beings, that have a natural awe of Hashem which causes them never to err. We are potentially better than both since we are endowed with the Tzelem Elokim, with a Divine soul. We just must realize and tap into this part of ourselves, emulate our Father In Heaven, for if and when we do then then our greatness shines, and that is true Gadlus Ha’adam!

Breishis – The Law of the Land

For Food for Thought in Spanish: Haga clic aquí para leer en español. Please share this with your Jewish Spanish speaking family, friends, and associates.

According to the Sifsei Chachamim the first Rashi (written by Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki) on Chumash is a question asked and answered by his father:  בראשית” IN THE BEGINNING — Rabbi Yitzchak said: The Torah which is the Law book of Israel should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:2) “This month shall be unto you the first of the months,” which is the first commandment given to Israel. What then is the reason that it commences with the account of the Creation?
Many commentaries explain the basis of this question. The Gur Aryeh points out: “Even though there is no story in the Torah which is not needed, (even the fact that the sister of Lotan was Timna), as pointed out in Sanhedrin perek Chelek, but since the name ‘Torah’ is only meant for the mitzvos of the Torah, because the word Torah comes from the word hora’ah, (which means teaching) to teach us the actions we should be doing. Therefore the Torah of Moshe is called Torah for in it only the mitzvos are written. You should know that the Book of Iyov was also written by Moshe as stated in Bava Basra 5b, and if one would write the Book of Iyov inside a Torah it would be forbidden to be read in a congregation. That is why he asked why there was no need to write [these stories in the Torah] etc.”

The Ramban, with a slightly different take on the question, ponders: “One can say that in fact there actually is a big need to start the Torah from the creation of the world, for it is the root of our beliefs. One who does not believe in this, and thinks that the world is ancient, denies everything and has no Torah at all! But the answer is that what happened by creation is really a very deep secret which cannot be understood from just the pesukim, and it is only understood in all its clarity according to the oral tradition that dates back to Moshe Rabbeinu who heard from the Mouth of The Almighty, and knowledge about it must be hidden in secret. This is why Rabbi Yitzchak said the Torah did not have to start from creation, and the story of what was created on the first day, and what was done on the second day, and all the other days, as well as all the detail of forming Adam and Chava, their sin and punishments, and the story of Gan Eden and Adam’s banishment from there; all this is not fully understood from what is written in the Torah. Definitely the story of the generations of the flood and the Tower of Babel, which there is not great need for them to be mentioned. The People of Torah could have done without these writings, and would have believed in them based on the hint mentioned in the Ten Commandments: ‘For in six days Hashem made the heaven and earth, the sea and all inside it, and He rested on the seventh’ (Shemos 20:11). The specifics could have been left for certain individuals to know through halacha liMoshe miSinai, oral transmission, through the Oral Tradition.”
Basically the question is: why does the Torah have to start with all these stories if it is really supposed to be a list of mitzvos? Why can’t you put the stories in a separate book like the Book of Iyov, which was written by Moshe Rabbeinu as well but was include in Writings (Kesuvim)? Or don’t put any of it into writing since it is so complex; it should just be known and understood by the individuals that can understand it, passed down from generation to generation through the Oral Torah dating back to what Moshe received with the Written Torah on Har Sinai?

To answer Rashi quotes his father to say : “Because of the thought expressed in the text (Psalms 111:6) ‘He declared to His people the strength of His works (i.e. He gave an account of the work of Creation), in order that He might give them the heritage of the nations.’ For should the peoples of the world say to Israel: ‘You are robbers, because you took by force the lands of the seven nations of Canaan’, Israel may reply to them: ‘All the earth belongs to the Holy One, blessed be He; He created it and gave it to whom He pleased. When He willed He gave it to them, and when He willed He took it from them and gave it to us’ (Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 187).”
There are many commentators who struggle to understand his answer, but we are going to focus on the Ramban. The Ramban says that the creation of the world, Adam and Chava’s banishment from Gan Eden after they sinned, the punishments of the generation of the flood (with one righteous person escaping with his children), and the Tower of Babel (with that generation being spread out and settling in different lands according to their families), are lessons to teach us that it is appropriate that when a nation continues to sin they lose their place and another is elevated to replace them in inheriting their land, for this is the law of G-d in the land forever. All the more so the Canaanites, who are cursed and shall forever be slaves (Brieshis 9:27), who didn’t deserve to inherit the chosen area, but rather it rightfully belongs to the beloved servants of Hashem, in order that they observe the statutes and laws of their Creator. Meaning, Hashem abolished those that rebelled against Him, and brought in His servants who knew that through serving Him they would deserve to inherit the land. And, if they would sin, the land would vomit them out, just as it vomited the nation that came before them.

The Gur Aryeh sums up the Ramban by saying: “And the Ramban also wrote that all the mitzvos in the Torah are the laws of G-D in the land, meaning all the mitzvos in the Torah are applicable specifically in The Land [of Israel]. It is also written in Sefer Melachim: ‘When the Jews were exiled and non-Jews settled in the land, and they did not know the Laws of G-D in the land, Hashem sent against them lions’ (Melachim Beis 17:26,) we see from here that the Torah is G-D’s law of the land.”

The Gur Aryeh goes on to say: “And you should delve into the words of the Ramban in parshas Toldos on the posuk, ‘and kept My charge,’ (Breishis 26:5), and therefore it needed to be written in the Torah that according to strict judgement the land came to the Jews, for He created it and He gave it. One can ask that it now makes sense why the Torah portion of Breishis is in the Torah; but why all the other stories, why were they written in the Torah? But this also is not really difficult to understand, for if the Torah portion of Breishis was the only story written down to say that The Holy one Blessed Be He created and gave to whom He felt was proper in His eyes. The nations will answer that ‘This is a lie, The Holy One Blessed Be He did not give the land to you, for He does not exercise judgement without first judging, for why would He take the land away from the nations and give it to the Jews?’ But now that the entire story of all the generations angering Hashem until Avraham comes around and received all their reward, the land was then taken away from the nations and given to his children as an inheritance, but not to all his children, for He said to Avraham, ‘You shall know that your offspring will be a stranger in a land not theirs and they will be enslaved etc.’ This was not fulfilled through the offspring of Yishmael and Esav, only through the offspring of Yaakov, for Hashem brought them into servitude and fulfilled ‘And also the nation that they have served, I will judge…’ until ‘And this month shall be for you,’ therefore the entire story had to be written down that the Jews were in servitude and were redeemed, and therefore the giving of the land was to Yisrael and not to Yishmael or Esav.”
The Land of Israel is only a speck on the map, not even as large as New Jersey. There are much vaster and larger, as well as more beautiful, pieces of land throughout the world, like the Alps, the Rockies, the Himalayas, etc. Strategically, it is not bordering any major oceans like e America, Africa, parts of Europe, China, etc. One can always go around Israel to Africa, or from Africa to the Middle East, the same route the Jews took when going out of Egypt. So why is everyone so resolute in working to discredit the Jewish claim on the Land of Israel?

The reason is because everyone knows there is something special about the location; but what they don’t realize is why it is special; what or who makes it special. They don’t realize the land is only holy, blessed, and enriched because there is the “Law of the Land” that, if followed, enable its beauty and magnificence to sprout to its fullest potential. But if the “Law of the Land” isn’t followed, it doesn’t want its inhabitants, and the inhabitants don’t deserve the benefits of the land.

To actualize the deep connection between observing the mitzvos and living wholeheartedly in the Promise Land, it was worthwhile to add in all the stories of the Torah, the law book of Hashem, the King Of All Kings, into the book written mainly as The Law of the Land. Though many mitzvos do apply outside of the Land of Israel as well, they apply doubly inside The Land.