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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

The World’s First Murder: A Closer Look at Cain and Abel — Cain and the kitten

By Rabbi David Fohrman


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To sophisticated moderns, the Bible can sometimes seem like a collection of fairy tales. No longer.

Combining a careful reading of the text with ancient rabbinic analysis, the author takes us behind the scenes in Scripture, revealing a startling tapestry of meaning in stories that many have written-off as fiction.

As before, he has designed the series to be interactive. You are encouraged to pose questions and offer comments. Try to stump the rabbi — he'll respond!

The ninth in a series

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Just before Cain goes for that fateful stroll in the fields with his brother, the Almighty speaks to him. This is what He says:


Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? Is it not the case that if you do well — lift up! And if you do not do well — sin lies crouching at the door, its desire is unto you, and you can rule over it (4:6-7).


What do these rather cryptic words really mean? And, whatever they in fact mean, why is it that Cain needs to hear them right now?

BEYOND BROWNIE POINTS

A cursory glance at the words might lead you to believe that G-d's speech is sort of a standard-issue religious exhortation to be a better person — something along the lines of: "You better be nice! If you are, G-d will reward you. But if you're mean, He'll punish you". And while some Divine nudging to Cain that he "better shape up or else" would not seem entirely out of place here, a closer look at G-d's words suggests that something slightly more complex is going on here.


To be more specific: Yes, G-d does talk about two alternatives that lay before Cain, a sort of fork in the road wherein he can choose either good or its opposite. But I would argue that what G-d says next is enigmatic, and has little in common with conventional "brownie points vs. fire-and-brimstone" style thinking.


First off, the L-rd never suggests that Cain will be "rewarded" for good conduct. The text says something else entirely: That if Cain "does well", then, "lift up!" Now, what precisely this means is a very good question — we'll get back to it — but it doesn't sound like G-d is promising Cain some sort of tangible reward for doing the right thing. Something else is going on.


And let's proceed a bit further: What, exactly, is to happen to Cain if he chooses the other path, if he doesn't "do well"? You might have expected G-d to speak about punishments here — if not full-fledged warnings of fire and brimstone, then at least the rough equivalent of confiscating Cain's ten-speed for a week. Instead, though, G-d says something tantalizing, but a bit confusing: if you do not do well, sin lies crouching at the door.


Now, what exactly does that mean? Whatever it means, it doesn't sound like G-d is imposing a punishment. If anything, it sounds like G-d is saying that Cain, by choosing evil, will become vulnerable, somehow, to sin. Sin will be like a crouching lion, ready to pounce and overcome him.


But that idea is itself puzzling. For if Cain chooses evil — well, that itself is a sin, isn't it? So why say that as a consequence, Cain becomes vulnerable to sin? The verse seems to have it backwards, no?

TALKING CAIN OFF THE BRIDGE

So we have some difficulties with understanding G-d's words here, and we'll get back to these issues — but in the meantime, let's not lose the forest in the trees. Let's step back for a moment and try to take a larger perspective. Let's ask ourselves: Bottom line, what seems to be the overall message of the speech? What is the general tone of the Almighty's words? What is He "more or less" saying?


Well, given the placement of this speech — it comes a sentence before Cain murders his brother — it seems logical that the Lord may have been trying to "talk Cain off the bridge", as it were. The Almighty was surely aware of the dark deeds of which Cain was capable. Perhaps the speech was a last attempt to shake Cain into seeing a different view of reality, into seeing an alternative course of action besides the dark path that lay ominously before him.


But if the speech is an attempt to "talk Cain off the bridge", G-d's tactics seem puzzling. The verse tells us that Cain was angry and he was crestfallen. Well, if someone you knew was angry and crestfallen, and you were trying to get them to reconsider some kind of disastrous, irreversible, step they were about to take, how would you go about it? What kind of tone would you adopt?


Speaking for myself, I would probably try to sound empathetic and reassuring. It's OK, I understand how you feel, it must be hard — something along these lines. But that is hardly the tone of G-d's speech. Instead, G-d forcefully challenges Cain. As a matter of fact, He goes so far as to question Cain's right to feel the way he does:


Why are you angry and why has your face fallen?


When I was growing up, I was often told "you can't help how you feel; but you can help what you do about it". If you feel angry, fine; but, you don't have to act on that anger. In the words of His speech, though, the Almighty seems to take issue with that advice. Apparently, Cain can help how he feels about it. Cain is crestfallen and he is angry — but he shouldn't be. His perspective needs to change.


Why is it so vital that Cain abandon his current set of feelings? Because, I think, those feelings indicate something. They indicate that Cain has misinterpreted what has gone on between himself and G-d. And only by correcting his view of the situation, will Cain be able to steer himself away from a course that leads straight to murder.


To explain:

HOW DO YOU CHANGE YOUR FEELINGS?

Anger and depression make good bed-fellows; they often go together. The reason, perhaps, is that each is basically a passive emotional response. Anger and depression take for granted that the source of our woes is located outside ourselves; that we have been betrayed by others, or have been victimized by forces beyond our control. And while this may sometimes be the case, it is often an exaggeration. More often than not, we do have choices available to us, even if we are not always prepared to recognize them. Once we see this, our anger and depression begin to evaporate.


Harriett Lerner, in her book, The Dance of Anger, paints a hypothetical scenario that nicely illustrates the point. Imagine that you and your roommate have a pet kitten. One night, the kitten wakes you with some strange meowing. It is two-thirty in the morning and you are concerned. You turn to your roommate, and a conversation ensures between the two of you that goes roughly like this:


You: "She really doesn't sound right. I think we should call the vet."

Your Roommate: "What do you mean, call the vet? It's the middle of the night!

You: "I don't know. She really sounds pretty bad. I think we should call the vet…"

Your Roommate: "Look, just go back to sleep. She probably swallowed a hairball."

You: "Are you sure we just shouldn't call the vet?"

Your Roommate:"Goodnight!"


You both go back to sleep, and when you wake up in the morning, the cat is dead.


Now, take a deep breath and ask yourself: How are you going to feel towards your roommate, when morning comes and you discover the lifeless kitten lying next to your bed?


You are likely to be enraged.


"It's all your fault! Here I was, telling you that we should take the kitten to the vet, and all you could think about was getting a good night's sleep! And now, the kitten is dead…"


Whether you like it or not, though, the reality is otherwise. You were not the victim of circumstances beyond your control here. You were not betrayed by your sleep-seeking roommate. You had free will. There were choices open to you, choices you refused to grab hold of. No one forced you to get permission from your roommate before calling the vet; you could have made whatever calls you wanted to. If you feel angry or depressed here, it is because you choose to see yourself as helpless, as a victim of your lousy, insensitive roommate. But in fact, you weren't a victim at all.


Cain, in feeling angry, locates the source of his problem outside of himself, in G-d. No one can control G-d, and as long as that's the problem, you're nothing but a victim. But that wasn't the reality. The core of his problem lay entirely in the choices Cain was himself making, in the nature of the relationship he was trying to build with G-d, and this was a realm entirely within his control. The first step off the bridge, then, is letting go and of anger and depression, and reclaiming this element of control.

THE PERILS OF NEUTRALITY

So Cain, all in all, is being given an antidote to his feelings of anger and depression. You have choices, G-d says, the ball is in your court. "If you do well, then, lift up!" What had been downcast before — Cain's face (why has your face fallen…) — can now be raised. Cain will be able to look himself in the eye, as it were, when he stares at the mirror in the morning. When we seize on our power to act in a positive way, we begin to lift up our faces again, in the ultimate gesture of self-respect.


Of course, when there are choices available, there is always the option of choosing poorly, too:


And if you do not do well, sin lies crouching at the door….


Earlier, we got stuck on this phrase. How could the consequence of sin, be vulnerability to sin? But when the verse talks about "not doing well", who says that's the same as committing a sin? After all, the text doesn't say "if you do evil", then sin lies crouching at the door; instead, it says "if you do not do well". Not doing good isn't the same thing as doing evil. It is simply being neutral.


Maybe G-d is saying something like the following:


Why has your face fallen? If you are active; if you seek out the good — you can lift up your face. And if you are neutral — if you do not act positively — you can't tread water. While being neutral is not itself an evil — it leaves you vulnerable to evil. Sin lies crouching at the door, and even the most well intentioned neutral party can still be become its prey.


An interesting speech, we might conclude. And let's even grant, for the moment, that we are right in interpreting it this way. But still, we have yet to address a nagging question: Why does Cain need to hear this, right now? It's all very nice, these words about neutrality and activism, about vulnerability to sin. It sure seems like an inspiring thing to put in the Bible somewhere — say, tucked comfortably in a suitable corner of Deuteronomy. But what is it doing right here, right now? Beyond the general idea that Cain can act if he chooses to, how are these words about neutrality and vulnerability uniquely relevant to Cain and to the situation he finds himself in?

BACK TO EDEN

Next week, we'll explore that, and begin to put into place the final pieces of our look at this story. But since I'm in such a great mood just now, I'm going to leave you with a little tip. A key to understanding all this comes, I think, from some surprising language buried within G-d's speech.



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Earlier in this series of articles, we had noted a striking montage of connections between the Cain and Abel story and mankind's expulsion from Eden. Both Adam and Cain hear the Divine question, "ayeh?"; both Adam and Cain express fear and hide from G-d; both Adam and Cain suffer exile, and both are condemned to experience difficulty in farming.


But the connections between the Cain story and the aftermath of the Tree of Knowledge do not end here. A hidden parallel between Cain and the Eden narrative lies buried in the text of the speech we have just studied. If you re-read the speech carefully, you'll realize that you have heard its words before. An entire section of G-d's speech to Cain is almost a direct quote from something that G-d had told someone else, not thirty verses earlier.


Of all the Eden connections we have seen thus far, this one is the most shocking and disturbing — at least when you first see it. If you find the parallel, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. But in the mystery of this last Eden connection lies the key, I think, to really understanding what G-d was telling Cain in the moments before Abel's murder.


I'll see you next week, and we'll compare notes.


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Rabbi David Fohrman teaches Biblical Themes at the Johns Hopkins University, and directs the Hoffberger Foundation for Torah Studies. His intriguing talks on a wide array of Biblical themes are available on tape and CD at jewishexplorations.com


Previously:

The keys to the heavenly cookie jar
Thomas Edison and the glassblower
What kind of 'with'?
Living the dream of Eve
Blood on the ground
Echoes of Eden
The enigmatic genius of Cain
A Closer Look at Cain and Abel
Sure, the Bible is holy, but does it really mean anything?


© 2005, Rabbi David Fohrman