This week, with Parshat B’reishit, we begin rereading the Torah from the beginning. Parshat B’reishit contains the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. At the beginning of the Torah, as you would expect, we immediately begin to learn lessons about our own human nature and how we should respond to those natural tendencies.
In the story of Cain and Abel, Cain was a farmer and Abel a shepherd. Each made sacrifices to G-d of their own produce. Cain offered from the fruits of the soil, but not necessarily from the very best. Abel, on the other hand, brought the “choicest of the firstlings of his flock.” G-d paid heed to Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. Jealousy is human nature, especially among siblings. Cain was hurt and rather than recognizing that he had not offered a good offering of the heart, he directed his anger at his brother and murdered him.
G-d comes to Cain and asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” Now, of course G-d knows exactly what has happened. G-d is G-d, after all. G-d asks Cain this in order to give Cain an opportunity to come clean, to repent, to take responsibility for his horrendous actions. But, it is perhaps human nature to skirt responsibility. Cain asks, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The Hebrew word for “keeper” is “shomeir.” A shomeir is a guard or guardian. G-d in fact is called “shomeir Yisrael” – guardian of Israel. We, humans, are created in G-d’s image (as we learn from this very same Torah portion.) The answer to Cain’s question is for all humanity. We are all meant to be our brothers’ keepers. This primary lesson of Torah is taught in the very first parshah. It is our human nature to be jealous, to skirt responsibility, to act out our anger. But we are created in the image of G-d too. And so as we continually strive to be better, we must remember that yes, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
On this Shabbat, let us look around at our neighbors and try to think of ways that we can best be their guardians. United as human beings, we are capable of the greatest things, but divided, we are, as Cain was ultimately punished to be, “ceaseless wanderers on earth.”
Cantor Sally Neff