The very same Torah portion that includes the creation of humankind Betzelem Elohim, in the Divine image, also includes the first destruction of a human being, Cain’s murder of Abel. Nahum Sarna, in his JPS commentary on Genesis, captures the literary power of this story: “The first recorded death is not from natural causes but by human hands, an ironic comment on the theme of chapter 3. Man and woman had striven to gain immortality, but their first-born brings the reality of death into the world” (The JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, p. 33).
In the past week, we have seen a murderous foe emulate Cain’s murderous instincts with perverse glee. For a brief period, the Israeli residents of the Gaza envelope were left to the fate of Abel. But it is we, their family around the world, who must confront the brief exchange between God and Cain that follows the Bible’s first homicide.
“The LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'” (Genesis 4:9).
“Hashomer ahi anokhi–Am I my keeper”–doesn’t get a direct answer from God, but it gets a powerfully implicit one in the entire narrative. In the span of 10 verses (4:2-11), the term ah, brother, appears seven times. That number is not by accident. “The sevenfold stress in this chapter on the obvious fraternal relationship of Cain and Abel emphatically teaches that man is indeed his brother’s keeper and that all homicide is fratricide” (Sarna, p. 34).
We are in shock and grief, but we have to spring into action and be the keepers of our brothers and sisters. Rabbi Greene will give us several ways to do so in his Shabbat sermon. I also want to include a powerful Times of Israel podcast with Micah Goodman to emphasize one crucial form of shemirat ahim, fraternal support, that will be incumbent on us in the hard weeks ahead. You can find the podcast and transcript here .
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, and Shalom ‘al Yisrael,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 6:00 PM
Torah Reading: Genesis 1:1-6:8
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18-42