Let’s take a look at the Biblical scorecard since the beginning of Bereshis. Adam and Chava had three sons: Kayin, Hevel, and Shes. Kayin the bad guy killed Hevel the good guy. Shes remained a good guy.
Noach, a direct descendent of Shes, married Naamah, the one and only good guy (female version) from all of Kayin’s descendents. They had three sons, Shem, Cham, and Yefes. Shem and Yefes were the good guys, and Cham became the bad one.
Terach and Amtalya (Avraham’s mom) had three sons” Avraham, Haran, and Nachor. Avraham was a really good guy. Haran (Sara and Lot’s father) was a so-so guy, and Nachor was a bad guy. Avraham had two sons: Yishmael and Yitzchak. Although Yishmael wasn’t a really bad guy, he certainly didn’t compare to Yitzchak, who was a really good guy. Don’t forget that Haran had three children: Sara, Lot and Milkah. Sarah, a really good guy married Avraham. Lot ends up a not so good guy, and Milkah married her uncle, Nachor, who was a really bad guy.
This week’s Parsha details Rivka’s marriage to Yitzchak. Besuel (Nachor and Milka’s youngest son – Avraham’s nephew and Sara’s 1st cousin) had a number of children, among them Rivkah and Lavan. Lavan was a really bad guy and Rivkah was a really good guy.
In next week’s Pasha, Yitzchak and Rivkah gave birth to Yakov and Eisav. Yakov was another really good guy, and Eisav proved to be a really bad guy. Lavan had a bunch of kids, among them a number of sons and at least four daughters. The four daughters, Leah, Rachel, Bilha and Zilpah were really good guys, and the sons were just like Lavan, really bad. Yakov married the four daughters and they had twelve sons. Each and every one of them was a really good guy.
If we analyze the biblical score-card it appears as if the Torah is describing our national development in terms of a “Theory of Spiritual Evolution.” Darwin could have easily made a case for the notion of “survival of the holiest.”
What underlying lesson can we learn from this line-up? The ongoing natural selection and survival of the holiest is too consistent throughout the centuries to chalk up to chance spiritual mutations!
From the very first moment of creation, the Torah established separation, speciation, and selection as natural and expected. Night from day, heaven from earth, land from water, plant from plant, animal from plant, animal from animal, human from animal, man from woman, and eventually Bnai Yisroel from among the other nations. The commentaries point out that this process of separation and selection was ultimately intended to teach us that we have the responsibility to differentiate between good and evil. Having been endowed with free will, it is incumbent upon the human to embrace that which sets him apart from all of creation and extend his decision making ability to choose between doing G-d’s will or not doing His will.
In the realm of freewill, humans have developed their rational thinking to an impressive degree. There is literally nothing upon G-d’s blessed earth that we might want to do that we haven’t been able to rationalize away and justify by using our freewill. As G-d fearing individuals we are also subject to temptation, but we believe that each and every one of us will have to one day stand in judgment and account for our actions. That belief in the inevitability of judgment (and punishment) tempers the extent of our freewill.
We presently live in a generation that has developed their rational abilities to a new and yet unrealized degree. We have now managed to rationalize away every possible evil and perversion by blaming others for who and what we are. We live in a generations of victims. Not only is the child tortured to death by abusive parents a victim, but the abusive parents are themselves victims of their own early childhood upbringing and or psycho-genetic mutation. Not only is the dead passenger in a drive by shooting a unfortunate victim, but the gang member who intentionally aimed and fired the gun is himself a victim of the inner city and the ills of society.
When the first instance of forced selection between a good guy and a bad guy took place, the story of Kayin and Hevel, G-d attempted to intervene before the actual dastardly deed occurred. In Bereshis 4:7, G-d lovingly approached Kayin in a singular moment of enormous significance. G-d had just rejected Kayin’s offering while accepting Hevels’. Acknowledging Hevel’s disappointment, G-d knew the direction of Hevel’s thoughts and his growing animosity against Hevel. G-d attempted to explain to Kayin that he and only he was responsible for everything he does. The fact that the offering was not accepted had nothing to do with Hevel. It was Kayin’s inappropriate presentation of an otherwise noble idea that resulted in the rejection, not Hevel’s success. Rather than be angry with his brother, Kayin should have learned from his own mistakes.
G-d said to Kayin, “See whether you will use your position of privilege for good or not for good, for this purpose sin lies at the door and its urge is toward you, that you should master it.”
Kayin’s position of privilege was the gift of freewill that only the human created in the image of the Creator had been given. It was up to Kayin to accept responsibility for his own decisions and their consequences. True, we have urges and desires feelings and needs; however, we are able to “Master” them. Unfortunately, instead of advancing humanity’s dignity and divine nobility, Kayin killed Hevel, the good guy.
G-d confronted Kayin after he had killed his brother and asked him, “Where is your brother”? G-d of course knew what had happened to Hevel. He was simply giving Kayin a last chance to take responsibility for his own free willed decision. Instead, Kayin answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper”?
Kayin’s ultimate rationalization was that he too was a victim! How could he be held responsible for his brother’s death? If You, G-d, had not rejected my offering and I wouldn’t have been so depressed and angry, I wouldn’t have killed my brother. What happens to my brother is not my concern, only what happens to me is of relevance and value! And furthermore, if my brother was such a good guy, why didn’t you do something to protect him?
We are the generation of Kayin! We are a generation that does not take responsibility for our brothers. I am only responsible for myself and my own needs, and G-d help you if you get in the way of my material, psychological, emotional, or even spiritual needs.
The lesson to be learned from the biblical score-card is that there is a process of selection that takes place in the realm of spirituality and holiness. However, that process depends upon our own actions and the manner in which we use our freewill. At each juncture in history there are good guys and bad guys. No one person had to be good or bad. Each and every one was given the choice. Each and every one was given a set of circumstances that would have supported either direction. Finally, each and every one is held fully responsible for their decision, good or bad.
The dignity and nobility of humankind is a result of individual’s taking responsibility to be dignified and noble in a manner befitting the image of G-d. In our generation of victims it is incumbent upon us to raise a new generation that understands the gift of freewill and the joy in being the keeper of their brother.
Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.