Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Story of Cain and Able

Genesis Chapter 4

10Then He said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground! 11Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a vagrant and a wanderer on earth.”

Let me slow down for a moment and give due to each of these sentences:

He said “What have you done?”
I am assuming that questions like ‘what have you done?’ are rhetorical; God obviously knows what has happened and need not ask the question. God is asking the question perhaps to test Cain’s honesty. But He does not wait for the response, so we have to assume that God talks this way for effect. In effect, He is saying “look what you have done!” This is more an expression of rage rather than a query.

The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground!

Here again, I am assuming that it is not implied that blood actually has a voice and that blood is crying. This phrase, in fact, has been interpreted in various ways. Orthadox rabbis state that by ‘blood’, what is in fact meant is the ‘soul’. They state that it was the soul of Abel that is protesting. Further evidence for this interpretation comes from the Torah’s assertion that the soul is contained in its blood. The Torah cautions against eating blood in several places and mentions that the reason for this is that the soul resides in blood (see for example, Leviticus 17:10 “Any man of the House of Israel or of the Proselyte who dwells among them who will consume any blood…I will cut it off from the midst of its people.11For the soul of the flesh is in the blood…”)

Now we have apparently come to a monumental finding: the soul of man is to be found in his blood. Well, then, at long last, based on this passage, we can begin to guide the multitude of scientists and truth seekers who have looked for a sign of the soul in the proper direction. We can tell them that the long sought soul resides in the blood of a man. Surely if we were to replace the blood of a person with someone else’s, then the soul of the blood donor would invade the recipient, no? Here, once and for all, the religious among us can wait for the results of such an experiment with baited breath for at last the existence of a soul would be well established. Alas, though, this is not the case. In fact, blood is routinely donated. Victims of trauma, for example, who have lost large quantities of blood are typically given blood. No ‘soul’ exchanges have been noted to date! Either the soul does not reside in blood, or it finds a place to hide when the body loses blood!

What then, does “the blood cries out from the ground” mean? Once again, the burden of explanation falls on the believing orthodox who take the words of the Torah to be wholly true and without fault.

11Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12When you work the ground, it shall no longer yield its strength to you. You shall become a vagrant and a wanderer on earth.”

Previously, I argued that Cain aught not have been punished, as he apparently did not have the knowledge of the Ten Commandments, and thus did not know that murder was a sin. But, alright, for one reason or another, Hashem has decided that Cain should nevertheless be punished for what he has done. Hashem is sore with Cain for having killed his brother and he chooses to curse. He tells Cain that the earth will no longer bear fruit for him, so there is no point to his becoming a farmer. He, Cain, is sentenced to wander the earth.

But are we not told that the punishment for taking life is forfeiting one’s life? We will later come to Genesis 9:6, saying “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”. How is it that genesis 9:6 seems to clearly demand the shedding of the murderer’s blood and yet God has chosen to make a vagrant out of a murder in this case?

If we are to learn morality from the Torah, which of these lessons are we to take? Who decides which lesson is the correct one?

13Then he said to Hashem, “Is my iniquity too great to be borne? 14Behold, you have banished me this day from the face of the earth – can I be hidden from your presence? I must become a vagrant and wanderer on earth; whoever meets me will kill me!”

Recall that Adam and Eve had borne two children, Cain and Able. We have come to learn that the former has killed the latter. Thus, there are now 3 people left on ‘the face of the earth’. What then does ‘whoever meets me will kill me’ mean? Is Cain afraid that his parents will come upon him and murder him? Or is he thinking way ahead of the possibility that his parents will bare more children who will then grow up and come to kill him? Do you, dear reader, see that the author of this section of the Torah has apparently slipped and forgotten that there are no other people on earth at the time of Cain? I am sure that the Torah apologists will simply assert that Cain was fearful of his future prospects. I will leave it to the reader to decide the veracity of such assertions.

15Hashem said to him, “Therefore, whoever slays Cain, before seven generations have passed he will be punished.”

Here is another peculiar moral code. If Cain’s blood is shed, then God will punish the killer within 140 year (seven generations)! It is weird justice indeed to meet punishment on a murderer no later than 140 years! I guess even back in those days the appeals processes must have been exhausting!

And Hashem placed a mark upon Cain, so that none that meet him might kill him.

I am not certain what that mark was, but it must have been some version of ‘DO NOT KILL THIS PIECE OF SHIT”!

16Cain left the presence of Hashem and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

So we have just heard that God’s punishment for Cain having murdered his brother was to banish him from farming, and making him a ‘vagrant and a wanderer’. Thus Cain comes to Nod and promptly ‘settles’ there! So much for the punishment of God!
It is interesting how God meets Justice. He tells Eve ‘on the day that you eat of it’, meaning the forbidden fruit, ‘you shall surely die’. Yet she surely does not die on that day. Then he tells Cain that if someone were to murder him, God would exact revenge within 140 years! Finally, he tells Cain that he is to be a wanderer so he immediately leaves the presence of God and settles somewhere else. My hat’s off to the reader who has managed to retain even a remnant of credulity!

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Messhiah is in the Mail

A long time ago, I sold a customer a service, and he promised to pay me. A few weeks went by and I still had not been paid. I called this customer and asked whether he had sent me a check. He told me that he had forgotten about it and he would immediately write me a check and send it.
Another month went by and I still had not received my money, so I called him again. He assured me that he had sent the check, and that the envelope is probably still in the post office being delivered. So I waited another month, and called him again. He expressed surprise that I had not received the check. I told him that if he did not mind, to cancel the sent check and to send me another one. He huffed and puffed as if I was asking him to do a great favor and finally said that he would.
Another month went by and I had yet to receive the check. So I called the customer once again, and asked him where my check was. He told me he had sent it to me and again suggested that the check might be in the mail. I told him that I had waited several months and it was unlikely that he had sent the check to me. He became angry and indignantly said “are you calling me a liar?” I told him that I was not calling him a liar but that I had been waiting for the money for over six months and had not received it. He replied that the inadequacies of the mail system in the United States are not his problem. I suggested then that I come in person to get the check. He said that would be fine, but he had to go on a trip and would not be back for another 3 months.
Like a fool, I waited another 3 months and called him again. He said that he would send the check to me by mail. When I said that we had tried that already and the check never arrived, he became angry with me, saying ‘if you do not trust me, I do not want to do business with you. Do not call again!’
It is now many years since that incident. In a wedding recently, I saw the gentleman who swindled me out of the money. I did not want to cross paths with him since I had long forgotten about the account and did not wish to start unpleasant conversations. Instead he came to me and said that if I had only treated him a little bit better he would have paid me my money! He blamed me for the whole affair, saying that he is a righteous man but that business is business.
Now, I realize this blog is not the forum to air bad business deals, and this is not the purpose for this. But it strikes me that our dealings as Jews with our rabbis are somewhat similar. When the Holy temple, the Beth Hamighdash, was destroyed approximately 2000 years ago, we were told that our savior, our Messiah, would shortly arrive to rescue us. Rabbi Akiva, arguably one of the greatest sages of all time, promised that the Messiah is just around the corner. In fact, he mistakenly identified Bar Kokhba, a Jewish military leader, as the Messiah, with disastrous consequences.
Following the disastrous invasion of the Romans into Judea, and following the slaughter of over 1 million Jews, we were told once again, that the Messiah is coming soon. It seems that Hashem took us out of Egypt and into more peril. Yet, we were promised Messiah. Any minute we should expect his coming.
We were then subjugated by the Romans, only to be persecuted by the Muslims. The Spaniards then rescued us only to torment us with the Spanish Inquisition. We then suffered at the hand of the Russians in Pogroms, and at the hand of western Europeans in the form of Purges. Time and time again, we suffered and our blood was shed. Again and again we were told that Messiah is around the corner. Then we experienced the Holocaust, and over half of our population was killed in firing squads and in gas chambers.
We are still waiting for this Messiah. When we say to our rabbis that it has been 2000 years since we were promised this Savior - where is he? – they reply that we have to ‘deserve’ his coming. The rabbis tell us that we are too wicked for the Messiah to come. They tell us that we don’t keep Shabbat else he would come. It is our fault that he is not coming.
And in the wait for the Messiah, I realize that his coming is no different than the check I have been waiting for. The Messiah is the proverbial check in the mail, perpetually being sent by the one who owes you money, and yet it never seems to arrive. The Rabbi is your debtor, always promising that the check is going to arrive any minute; if we can only squeeze a little more Halacha and a slight Tzadakah that Messiah will sooner arrive.Dear Moshe, my check never came and Messiah is never coming. The astute businessman would know to put that account receivable in the ‘bad debt’ column and move on!