B’raisheet: Whom Do We Listen To?

David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)
David's Star (Patrick Lentz photo via Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.)

So we come again to a new beginning. The opening chapters of Genesis, a portion worthy of a year of study at least, greets us with creation, the Garden and the ethical challenges of Cain and Abel. A Torah study feast! It is the latter story, often overlooked in the drama and sweep of the preceding chapters, that intrigues me this year. Cain brought his sacrifice to the Eternal and God “paid no heed” (Genesis 4:5). The speech by God to Cain in verses 6 and 7 is quite powerful and very reflective of a parent to a child. You can almost hear God saying to Cain, you could do better, I expect more from you. God, as the idealized parent, is much like so many parents of today who challenge children by the approach of rejection instead of love.

This story triggered some thoughts as to how we, as we get older, give and receive advice. There is a story I use at the High Holidays about a grandfather, a  young boy and a  donkey. They are on their way to town and as they pass different people, all give them advice and critique their mode of travel. Some say that it is wrong to have the boy walk, some have it a crime that the boy makes his grandfather walk, some condemn the two for riding on the donkey causing the animal stress. In the end, they decide that the only answer is that they hoist the donkey on their backs. It is a nice story to look at the fact that so many of us, in our life, are afraid to make a decision or take a stand on what we believe in, trying to get a consensus of people’s opinions so we do not offend. We see that approach a lot, especially in the political world in which we live. Yet, I think that many of us, as we get older and have a sense of life experience, come to understand that we, in the end, to be true to our own moral compass, must make decisions not based on what others say, but based on what is in our own belief and moral and ethical foundation.  These are decisions based on our own soul, our own sense of right and wrong. The verses in the story that have God reminding Cain that if he chooses to do right, “there is uplift”; but if not” “sin couches at the door” is a not so subtle reminder that choices do have consequences.

It may be an interesting conversation that finds the beginning of Torah speaking of creation and almost immediately stories of choices and theor consequences. Adam and Eve in the Garden and Cain and Abel. We are still learning.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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