One of the ways of appreciating the Torah's beauty is by comparing similar phrases and seeing how there is clearly an internal consistency in the Torah's mode of expression. In many places in the Torah, the phrase of "charah aff - heating up of the nose" is used to refer to anger.
One of the ways of appreciating the Torah's beauty is by comparing similar phrases and seeing how there is clearly an internal consistency in the Torah's mode of expression. In many places in the Torah, the phrase of "charah aff - heating up of the nose" is used to refer to anger. Occasionally the term "charah - heat up" is employed (without the word "nose") to describe an emotion, but it is not entirely clear what emotion it is. When Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve, offer sacrifices to Hashem, only Abel's is accepted. The Torah then informs us that Cain was very "vayichar - heated up" (Genesis 4:5), a form of the word "charah". What exactly does this mean? Does it mean that he was jealous? Does it mean that he was ashamed? By analyzing an identical phrase in Parshat Korach, we can reveal the secret.
In this week's portion, we find Korach, along with Datan, Aviram, and 250 other scholars challenging the authority of Moses. In an effort to make peace, Moses sends messengers to Datan and Aviram that they should come to discuss their complaints, a plea which they promptly reject, stating, "Even if you would gouge out our eyes, we shall not go up" (Numbers 16:15). The very next verse continues, "And Moses was very heated up (vayichar)." Rashi, the great French commentator, explains that this "vayichar" refers to a feeling of pain. How, though, are we to characterize this feeling of pain? After all, weren't Datan and Aviram the archenemies of Moses from their first appearance in the Torah? Weren't they the people who tried to get Moses lynched for slaying the Egyptian? Weren't they the people who accused Moses of "causing the smell" of the Jewish people "to become foul" before the Egyptians by his pleading before Pharaoh to free the slaves? Weren't they the ones who defied Moses' charge by going out to collect manna on Shabbat? Why now, with one further rejection by Datan and Aviram, does Moses suddenly express a sense of pain?
The answer is evident in what Datan and Aviram said. Their words "Even if you would gouge out our eyes" are sending a new message to Moses. Heretofore, Moses, who "made himself sick" in the words of our sages to save the Jewish people from annihilation after the sin of the golden calf, had hope for Datan and Aviram, despite their constant insolence towards him. At this point, though, Datan and Aviram were telling Moses, "There is nothing you can do to change our minds, even if you poke our eyes out." This caused Moses to feel "vayichar", pain - pain that the situation of Datan and Aviram was hopeless. This is the true meaning of "vayichar".
In the case of Cain, we now understand the meaning of the word "vayichar". Cain perceived that Hashem's rejection of his offering was an irreversible statement. Cain felt a sense of hopelessness. In fact, Hashem responds to Cain, "If you improve you will be elevated" (Genesis 4:7). There is an opportunity to do teshuvah, repentance, and it always exists. You, Cain, can reestablish your relationship with Me. All is not lost.
We too, should hear Hashem's words. Let us all, in whatever degree possible, have a positive outlook and do teshuvah.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a founding member of the Columbus, Ohio Community Kollel.
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