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EXCUSES, EXCUSES

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Torah writes that "Cain said to Abel," and then there seems to be an obvious gap, a pause which strikes us, because the Torah does not tell us what Cain said.

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"Cain said to his brother Abel, and it happened when they were in the field that Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him" (Genesis 4:8).

An immediate question arises upon reading this verse. The Torah writes that "Cain said to Abel," and then there seems to be an obvious gap, a pause which strikes us, because the Torah does not tell us what Cain said. The entire congregation is sitting on the edge of their seats, listening carefully to the Torah reading, waiting for the climactic moment when they will hear what Cain has to say, and then, as if an entire line had been erased, the narrative skips forward to tell us that Cain killed his brother! But what happened? What did the two brothers talk about that caused Cain to react so drastically?

The Targum Yonason, an Aramaic translation and commentary on the Torah, addresses this question by relating a fascinating argument which took place between the two brothers that led directly to the murder. Cain complained to Abel that there is no justice and ultimate judge in the world; there is no world to come, and therefore the righteous will not be rewarded and the wicked will never be punished. Abel disagreed, and as a result of this argument, Cain decided to kill his brother Abel.

However, even after hearing the Targum Yonason's explanation of the conversation, the passage still remains unclear: If they were truly having a disagreement over such a fundamental subject, wouldn't it have been informative for the Torah to directly relate it to us?

It has been suggested that the Torah omitted any explicit mention of the subject of their argument because, in truth, it is totally insignificant to the story at hand. Cain had no right to take the life of his brother, end of story, no matter how much he justified his actions. The fact that Cain had a supposed excuse for his behavior (their difference of opinion) was irrelevant, because whatever his reasoning was, it remained merely a rationalization formulated by the human mind to allow itself to pursue its base desires. In truth, Cain was jealous that Abel's offering had been accepted by Hashem and that his own had not, so he wanted to kill his brother. But he had only one problem - his conscience. Cain couldn't simply destroy his own flesh and blood. He needed an excuse, a rationalization to make himself feel better about what he was going to do. He therefore instigated an argument, "discovered" that his brother disagreed, and proceeded to use that as his excuse for murder. However, because it was merely an excuse, the Torah deemed it to be immaterial and therefore chose to omit it from the narrative.

How often do we create excuses to justify our actions - fabricating rationalizations which, if we would simply take the time to analyze them, we would find that they are totally unfounded? Are we really honest with our friends, our families, Hashem, and ourselves, or do we simply search for the best excuses so that we can satisfy our conscience? As we begin this new year, let us strengthen our commitment to pursue the truth and beware of the dangerous rationalizations which inevitably will impede our quest for a good, moral life.

This article is an encore presentation from a previous volume of Torah from Dixie and it will appear in the Torah from Dixie Book which will be released this Sunday.

Michael Alterman !!!!!!Seperato Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta and is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and Johns Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.

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