By Rabbi Naftoly Bier
From the onset of the creation of אדם וחוה, Adam and Eve, the human race was prohibited from eating an animal (שטת רש”י ורמב”ן) (or killing an animal שטתת תוס’ סנהדרין נו). Immediately after the מבול, ‘Noah’s Flood’, all the animals were permitted to be eaten. The רמב”ן, Nachmanides, the ספורנו, Sforno and others offer different reasons. Rav Yosef Albo, in his classic ספר העקרים: מאמר ג’ פרק ט”ו, has a profound unique approach that resonates in these times of chaos and tragedy.
Let us pose a few questions.
- If הבל, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by Hashem, why is it that Hashem allowed him to be murdered by קין, Cain; isn’t he a righteous person who should be protected?
- If קין, Cain is the one who initiated the idea of showing appreciation to Hashem for his beneficence, why is he humiliated by Hashem?
- The Torah states Ch. 5, 3 that שת, ‘Seth’, was born “בדמותו, כצלמו” in his likeness and in his image, a reference to Ch. 1, 26, where Hashem, says, “Let us make man in our ןmage and our likeness”. It only mentions this by שת, why not קין והבל?
Rav Albo explains that both קין והבל, Cain and Abel though they believed that G-d created them, their understanding of life was to survive, all while eating the necessary foods enabling them to be healthy. Just as an animal has no spiritual “agenda”, so too, the human being, though it has the gift of articulation, is no different than an animal. But though in unison with this ideology, it led to divergent applications.
קין, Cain, chose to till, farm the land for he had witnessed how his father אדם, Adam had eaten produce as a result of his labor. He felt he had no right to make animals subservient to him. He did want to thank hashem for allowing the human to eat the fruit of land and tree, though animals were only ‘allowed’ to eat grass. (This is also the opinion of the רמב”ן, not like רש”י). Though he initiated the idea to thank hashem by sacrificing some of his G-d given produce, he didn’t bring the elegant fruit of a tree, but rather vegetables or grain, that being secondary in taste and beauty to fruit of a tree. Additionally, he only offered the remainder of his crop, which was the least value. Hashem created humanity with two ideas that are intuitive to every person, for without them there would be no civility and human development. They are appreciation and honesty. Appreciation is the segue to enthusiasm, accomplishment, and dignity. He therefore was humiliated by Hashem for not exhibiting the proper respect, his appreciation being but perfunctory.
הבל, Abel, was of the opinion that despite the fact that humans and animals are of the same caliber, nevertheless, one can dominate and sacrifice an animal to Hashem, for He is ‘above’ all living beings. He also promulgated that a human could dominate an animal, utilizing it to accomplish one’s goal. – to plow, thresh, carry, to ride on it, etc. though he brought a beautiful first-class gift to Hashem, and was shown hashem’s appreciation, nevertheless, it was decreed that he would die- childless!
The reason for this is that his ideology invariably would result in chaos in the world- if one allows the idea of domination to prevail, it will be a segue to dominating other people, for in the absence of a system where G-d is supreme in everyday ;living, humas will unfailingly seek domination and power over others, for there is no other system or ideology to aspire for other than that. Therefor Hashem did not protect הבל. Rav Yosef Albo writes concerning certain rulers of the Roman Empire who personified this idea; domination is perfection of oneself and therefore one should risk their lives to attain power. Our example of this is Hitler ימח שמו וזכרו, who detested the Jews for being people of morality, ethics, and selflessness, for man is only successful when they are on ‘top of the world’, either by power, domination, or control.
שת, Seth was the only son of Adam and Eve who had an internal understanding that one’s drive and purpose is to validate oneself by emulating Hashem.
We were instructed after that Flood that we can- and should- eat meat to recognize that we are not animals! Nevertheless, today we live in a world where equating humans and animals is paramount. We suffer from the legacy of Hitler and Stalin, ימח שמם, from the total lack of dignity of ישמעאל. Their influence is that one’s existence is defined by competition, who has more wealth, who has more value to society and who is more intelligent. The lesson of קין, is that if one doesn’t appreciate correctly but only in a perfunctory manner, or even worse is selfishly absorbed in their status in society, one can’t possibly truly validate themselves and have true enthusiasm for relentless growth. קין killed הבל due to the feeling of competition as an outgrowth of his lack of true appreciation.
The world is on fire against the Jews, the true fight being against G-d Himself. As it states in Psalms 83, 5 “for when they convene together with a unanimous heart, then it is against You, Hashem that they make a covenant” “…We will conquer the pleasant habitations of G-d” (verse 13). Antisemitism is a war against Hashem and His Torah. It is a declaration that there is no modicum of dignity, unity, or morality. Witness the despicable antisemitism of the NY Times! It’s frightening! In the absence of the real G-d, there is no respect for one another, for if there’s is no Creator, then there is no community of people. Without community there’s in turn no sense of individuality and leads to a lack of dignity and nobility.
Our task, our obligation is to unify ourselves as one family, to selflessly ask, am I truly acting in a manner which personifies and is the embodiment of a unified, selfless nation of Hashem? Do we gather together at the same time, do we always think how our actions affect one another and do we think how we can be of service to another? Do we study Torah to elevate the combined נשמה, soul of our people?
Let us arouse Hashem’s infinite mercy by acting in an antithetical manner to those who blatantly despise the idea of spirituality-selflessness- as the definition of life.