Shabbat Bereshit 5774

The events at the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall in Nairobi last week reminded us of the extreme danger of extremist religious thought. The perpetrators were members of al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist opposition group. At least one witness said that the attackers specifically targeted non-Muslims. They killed in the name of God.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, emeritus Chief Rabbi of the UK, points to Parshat Bereshit as the source of the origin of violence in the name of religion. This Shabbat, as we renew our annual Torah reading cycle from The Beginning, we’ll again grapple with that story, the story of Cain and Abel. Remember that while the text is somewhat unclear, what happened just before Cain killed Abel? They had each made burnt offerings to God, and while Cain’s was rejected, Abel’s found favor before God.

Rabbi Sacks poses the question: you offer a gift, and it is politely refused. How do you respond? The answer depends, ultimately, on the reason you offered the gift in the first place. Was the gift about the recipient’s needs, or your own? 

Cain kills Abel. Rabbi Sacks calls this the first recorded act of religious violence. If he’s right, what does that tell us is at the core of killing in the name of God? We’ll explore further on Shabbat morning.

Wishing you a Hag Shemini Atzeret Sameah and Shabbat Shalom, 


Rabbi David Wise