Sunday, October 14, 2012


G-d is not Speaking to Me! (4:8)

People always imagine G-d does not mean them.


G-d is not Speaking to Me! (4:8)

Kayin and Hevel each brought sacrifices to G-d. G-d accepted Hevel’s offering, but not Kayin’s offering. Kayin was very upset at this rejection. G-d inquired of Kayin why he was so upset. “If you will do good (from now on and not be cheap in bringing future offerings - which is why I rejected your offering) then you will be forgiven. But if you will not improve, then the evil inclination will be with you forever. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it.” This is the first lecture in ethical improvement (in chassidic parlance, farbrengen)  in the history of the world.

The very next verse says, “And Kayin said to Hevel his brother. And it happened when they were in the field that Kayin rose up against his brother Hevel and killed him.”  The commentaries are bothered by an obvious question. We are told that Kayin said something to his brother, but we are not told what he said. What was the nature of this conversation? What did Kayin say to Hevel before he killed him?                                         

The Ibn Ezra offers a very simple interpretation that fits in very well with the flow of the pasukim. The Ibn Ezra explains that Kayin repeated to Hevel the contents of G-d’s ethical lecture. He told Hevel what he heard from G-d, and then proceeded to kill him.                                         

In other words, Kayin’s reaction to the ‘mussar shmooze’ from G-d was that “I liked the lecture, but it has nothing to do with me! It does not apply to me. Maybe I’ll try it out on my brother Hevel. He is the one who needs to hear this chastisement.”                                    

However, Hevel did not accept the lesson from Kayin, and he therefore retorted, “Kayin, you have the wrong man.” Then Kayin killed Hevel. This is the classic response to every lecture, “He is not talking to me!”

Sometimes when I speak in certain places, I have great trepidation about what I am about to say. I am afraid people will become offended. They might take my comments in the wrong way and think that I am insulting them. But, invariably people tell me, “It was a great speech. It is a shame the people who should be hearing it were not here.” This is the classic response to every corrective ethical lecture. The source is Kayin. “G-d did not mean this lecture for ME”. (Keep in mind that there were only a very few people in the world at that point.)

The Talmud says that if a Hebrew slave does not want to go free after six years, we pierce his ear and say, “The ear that heard on Sinai ‘they shall be My servants (and not servants to other servants)’ and ignored this exhortation, shall be pierced.” But the question can be asked, why should we pierce the ear lobe? That is not the part of the ear that hears! If we wanted to make this an effective lesson, we should have pierced the eardrum! What does the ear lobe have to do with hearing?                 

The answer is that the purpose of the ear lobe is to funnel the sound. The eardrum certainly heard the message at Sinai, but it was not directed correctly. The direction of the message was deflected to someone else. “This does not affect me. The message is meant for someone else.” That is not the fault of the eardrum; it is the fault of the ear lobe whose function is to properly direct the message.

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