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Posted on October 13, 2023 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Kayin brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to HASHEM. And Hevel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and HASHEM turned to Hevel and to his offering, but to Kayin and to his offering He did not turn… (Breishis 4:2-5)

Kayin started something amazing and profound. He brought a gift to HASHEM. That is certainly an awesome matter. His brother Hevel surpassed him, gaining the favor of HASHEM. What was the difference in their offerings? Where had Kayin fallen short? What were the essential ingredients of each gift and most importantly, what can we learn about how to best serve HASHEM?

Why did Kayin bring his offering? Does the verse give us any indication? Perhaps it is in those introductory words, “It was (literally) from the end of days”. I saw translations that it was after a period of time. That makes it readable, but what are those words teaching us? Why does it matter that it was after a period of time? What time lapse motivated his action? The literal meaning, “It was from the end of days and Kayin brought a gift to HASHEM” may prove more helpful in explaining the heart of Kayin.

Up until that point in history no person had ever died, but since the sin of Adam and Chava man was now made to face his mortality and return to the earth. The candle of life would inevitably burn down. Kayin understood this reality and his thoughts wandered correctly to the end of his days. Even if a person would live 1,000 years after that he would spend eternity with HASHEM. I once heard from the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself that “any number no matter how large is still infinitely shy of infinity”. That’s a long time. I had better begin to groom a relationship with Whom I will spend eternity. So, it was from considering the end of days that Kayin brought an offering to HASHEM. Sounds noble!

What did Hevel add? How did he improve upon this action? That Hevel brought an upgraded sacrifice is no secret. Hevel brought… from the first born of his flocks and of the fattest.” Here the quality of the gift is explicitly stated but by Kayin no description of his gift is mentioned. So, for sure he exceeded him in that area, but there is another potent ingredient hinted at here that may be the big difference maker.

The verse tells us in a slightly awkward way that he also brought a Korbon. It says, “V’Hevel haivee gam hu”, again literally, “Hevel brought also he… from the first born of his flocks and of the fattest.” Why after mentioning Hevel in the verse is it necessary to refer to him again immediately with a pronoun “HU” –“he”?

The Kotzker Rebbe detects this seemingly extra word and explains, “Hevel brought himself”. He did not just bring an improved offering but he brought himself. The proof of this is that the verse continues to describe that HASHEM turned to Hevel and his offering but to Kayin and his offering He did not turn.

We see clearly from here that there are two parts to a gift, the gift itself and the sincerity of the giver. I was told explicitly by my teachers in preparation for marriage that when you give a gift to your wife write a note. The note is the Neshama, the Soul of the gift. The necklace may break or get lost or go out of style but the note will be cherished forever.

Both are necessary. The quality of the gift is a demonstration albeit a token of what the heart wants to express. A beautiful note won’t help the husband if his anniversary gift is wooden nickel, and neither will a diamond necklace do much to enhance a relationship if it is presented with a sour face. When the gift itself is worthy and the heart is congruent, that combination creates an everlasting bond between the giver and the receiver.

Kayin considered HASHEM, it would seem, as an afterthought. His lack of fealty showed up in the inferior quality of his offering. He got a clear message that he could do even better but he didn’t.

What does HASHEM want? The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin tells us, “Rachmana Liba Boye” – “HASHEM wants the heart”. It occurred to me recently that this Talmudic statement can be read the other way as well. What does the human being long and yearn for most? What is the deepest desire of the soul? The human heart wants Rachmana, our heart wants HASHEM. Now, with both of these approaches in mind, we can begin to appreciate that what HASHEM wants most, and perhaps the greatest gift we can give is our heart, especially so, if ours is a heart that wants HASHEM.