By Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
They say that the road to purgatory is paved with the best of intentions. Indeed, the first murder in the world, forerunner to a never ending cycle of violence, occurs moments after a sacrifice snubbed as Kayin (Cain) killed his brother in a jealous rage. What happens is as follows: Kayin brought an offering to the Lord. He was an innovator and even a trendsetter, yet his gift went unnoticed. His brother, Hevel (Abel), who only followed his lead, brought an offering that was received with respect from Hashem. Kayin, in a jealous rage, killed his brother.
Let’s analyze the verses. The Torah in Braishis tells us that “Hevel (Abel) was a keeper of sheep; Kayin (Cain) was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Kayin brought of the fruit of the ground an offering to the Lord. And Hevel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat of it. And the Lord had respect for Hevel and for his offering; but for Kayin and for his offering he did not have respect. And Kayin was very angry, and his countenance fell” (Genesis 4:2-5). I will omit the violent details as we all know the sad ending.
Let’s analyze the difference between the two offerings. Where in the Torah’s words does the sincerity of Hevel’s offering contrast with the superficiality of his brother’s? Why was one accepted and the other not?
In a small farming town, not far from Bellville, Illinois, a Jewish woman had a dilemma. She knew her son was Jewish; after all he was born to a Jewish mother. However there was no one within miles of her small farm to teach him about his heritage. But destiny had other plans. A medical condition compelled her to make weekly trips to the neighboring large city of St. Louis, Missouri about forty minutes away. This was her opportunity. While she would be at the doctor she would drop her son off at a Jewish institution where someone would teach him about his heritage. Celestial forces in heaven joined the cyber forces of Google and guided her to the St. Louis Kollel where she pulled up unannounced in her weather-worn pick-up truck one day last year. The back of her truck was filled with hay and some other residue from her farm, but the front seat held here prize possession – her Jewish son.
The Kollel scholars accepted him with open arms and Rabbi Mintz, the Director of Programming scheduled weekly learning sessions to fill his young mind and eager soul with all the Torah possible for the duration of his mother’s visits to St. Louis. Indeed, the boy grew in Yiddishkeit and his mother, albeit far removed from any observance, was exceptionally grateful.
“You cannot imagine what this means to me,” she explained to Rabbi Greenblatt, the Dean of the Kollel. “I will not let this kindness go unpaid. I want to bring the rabbis of the Kollel a gift — something that is truly meaningful to our family. I will go back home and find something that is truly representative of what is dear to us!”
Rabbi Greenblatt’s assurances that she need not give anything were unacceptable to her, and the fellows of the Kollel assumed that the woman would buy a set of books for the Kollel library, – a gift that would be more than expected to their gracious hearts. After all what kind of meaningful gift can you find on a farm in Bellville, Illinois?
A week went by and they had not heard from the woman. It was only a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah when she returned together with her husband in the pick-up truck. They lowered the gate and led their gift to the front door of the Kollel where the rabbi who opened the door froze. Standing at the door was the woman, her husband and her son and a lamb! “We wanted to give something that is truly from us! Please have the Rabbis share it for the holiday.”
Indeed, my son who is a member of the St. Louis Kollel had first cut lamb chops this Rosh Hashana, a delicacy that his parents have never yet merited for a holiday meal.
Look at the difference in the way the Torah presents Kayin’s gift as opposed to Hevel’s. Kayin brings the fruit of the ground. Hevel, “hayvee gam hu, he brought himself also.” Our sages explain that he brought himself with the sheep. It was not just a gift of sheep. It was “bringing him from his sheep.” He had his own heart and soul intertwined with the gift.
The Torah, from the onset, teaches us that about donating to a holy cause.
It is not only about ewe giving, it is about giving you!