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Why Did Cain Kill Abel?

Why Did Cain Kill Abel?

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Murder is one of the most heinous—and oldest—crimes in the world. In the very first Torah portion, when the world is only a few days old, we read that Abel is murdered by his very own brother, Cain. Part of what makes this so shocking is that it seems to come out of nowhere. Here is the Torah’s cryptic account:

Now, it came to pass at the end of days that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the L‑rd. And Abel, he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the L‑rd turned to Abel and to his offering. But to Cain and to his offering, He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell. And the L‑rd said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen? Is it not so that if you improve, it will be forgiven you? If you do not improve, however, at the entrance, sin is lying, and to you is its longing, but you can rule over it." And Cain spoke to Abel his brother, and it came to pass when they were in the field that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.1

In short, Abel was a shepherd and Cain was a farmer. Cain brought an offering to G‑d from the fruit of his harvest, and Abel brought from his firstborn sheep. G‑d accepted the offering of Abel, but not that of Cain. Cain was upset, and G‑d spoke to him, letting him know that sin awaited him (in the future) unless he repented. And then, all of a sudden, Cain met Abel in the field and killed him, ostensibly out of jealousy.

But there seems to be more to the story. Right before Cain killed Abel in the field, the verse says, “Cain spoke to Abel his brother”2—yet the Torah does not tell us what this final exchange of words was all about. Could they have argued over something that led to the murder of Abel? The Midrash offers us a number of explanations, each of which represents a different philosophical reason for the sibling rivalry.

Over Inheritance and Property

According to one Midrash, it all boils down to what has caused much strife in families throughout the ages, namely, the division of property and inheritance.

Seeing that they were the only two humans around, Cain and Abel decided to divide “ownership” of the world. One would take all the lands and things that grow from it, while the other would take movable objects such as animals and the like. Thus, one became a farmer and the other a shepherd. It came to pass, however, that Cain said to Abel, “The land you stand on is mine,” while Abel retorted, “What you are wearing is mine." One said: “Strip”; the other retorted: “Fly off the ground.” It was out of this quarrel that Cain rose up and murdered Abel.3

Others say that they both split the lands and the movable objects, but they were quarreling about on whose portion the future Temple should be built.4

Over a Woman

Another explanation is that they were fighting over—what else?—a woman. According to the Midrash, both Cain and Abel were born with twin sisters, whom they married. However, Abel was actually born with two sisters, and they fought over who would marry the extra wife. Cain said he was the oldest and thus it was his right, while Abel claimed that since she was born with him, it was his right.

Over Theology

Cain, upon seeing that his offering was not accepted but his brother’s was, said to Abel, “It appears that G‑d isn’t just and shows favoritism.” Replied Abel, “Heaven forbid that it be as you say; rather, the reason why my offering was accepted was because it was better.” Cain, in turn, replied, “It appears that there is no reward and punishment for good or bad.” Said Abel, “Surely the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished.” It was from this quarrel that Cain ended up killing Abel.5

In Conclusion

Although the Midrash explains that Cain ultimately killed Abel over either money, a woman or theology, perhaps one reason why the Torah records the incident in a cryptic manner is to teach us an important lesson. Cain may have been jealous that G‑d accepted Abel’s offering, not his, but G‑d explained to him that it was his own fault that his offering wasn’t accepted. His brother's offering did not make his offering better or worse by comparison; the onus was on Cain to better himself. Likewise, we should not be jealous of others; rather, it is up to us to better ourselves.

Footnotes
3.
Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 22:7; see also Midrash Tanchumah 1:9.
4.
Midrash Rabbah, ibid.; see also Zohar, vol. 1, 50b.
5.
Targum Yonatan on Genesis 4:8.
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Isaac Brooklyn NY November 23, 2016

Measure for measure, Midah KeNeged Midah, believed to transcend current gilgulim when Reward and Punishment are allocated in a future lifetime, i.e.Karma.
Ethics of the Fathers, 2:6
"He (Hillel) saw a skull floating upon the water. He said to it: Because you drowned (killed) others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned (killed)."

The question often asked, inspired by this verse,
"Who did Abel kill?" (Maybe, as if asking, "What came first the chicken or the egg?")
This concept may also explain, why Hashem allowed for the Holocaust and all other seemingly injustices we see throughout history and in our daily lives. Reply

Lon W. November 22, 2016

Justice will prevail This comment is self-explanatory... Justice will prevail. Always has and will prevail. For me, my choice of timing, sequence, and penalty doesn't always co-inside with how God chooses to enact his will in righting wrongs.
Am only knowing for sure that every hair on every head is counted. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand November 22, 2016

Dear Ed, There is an old saying, "G-d says, 'Take what you want and pay for it." G-d gives us each free will, and we pay for the way we use it. The only way G-d could have stopped the Holocaust would have been to take that free will from the perpetrators. If he did that, to be just he would have to do the same to us. For Adolph Hitler and his followers to express their free will it was necessary for the horrors of that time to take place. But notice the second part of that saying, "... and pay for it." I find it difficult to think of a penalty worthy of the things they did, but I live believing that G-d has an appropriate answer for that.In Deuteronomy 32, 35 G-d says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay". I live in the belief that G-d will also repay (compensate) those who were treated so abominably. We do not live in this corrupt and unfair world only, but in the next as well, where all wrongs will be righted. That is a comfort to the just and a warning to the unjust. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand November 22, 2016

Dear Ed, There is an old saying, "G-d says, 'Take what you want and pay for it." G-d gives us each free will, and we pay for the way we use it. The only way G-d could have stopped the Holocaust would have been to take that free will from the perpetrators. If he did that, to be just he would have to do the same to us. For Adolph Hitler and his followers to express their free will it was necessary for the horrors of that time to take place. But notice the second part of that saying, "... and pay for it." I find it difficult to think of a penalty worthy of the things they did, but I live believing that G-d has an appropriate answer for that.In Deuteronomy 32, 35 G-d says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay". I live in the belief that G-d will also repay (compensate) those who were treated so abominably. We do not live in this corrupt and unfair world only, but in the next as well, where all wrongs will be righted. That is a comfort to the just and a warning to the unjust. Reply

Lon W. November 22, 2016

Who knows why things happen? Why "didn't God prevent the murders in the camps. Why didn't God stop the Black Plague? Why did that innocent child die in an automobile accident? As some have said, "Ours is not to question why, but to do or die." Reply

Ed Florida November 20, 2016

Why Again my question: Why couldn't G-D stop the holocaust (pardon my spelling) in Europe? Reply

David Rankin New Zealand November 18, 2016

When G-d talked with Adam and Eve in the garden, what did they talk about? He would not have allowed them to break their close bond with Him, thereby causing their tuition to cease, until they had whatever knowledge was necessary for them to live outside of the garden.It would then be their responsibility to pass that knowledge on to their children. A part of that knowledge would have been that only the best was good enough to be offered to G-d as a sacrifice. Able took notice of that instruction, Cain chose to ignore it. That is why G-d warned Cain of the sin that lay in wait at his door, and urged him to deal with it. This is the first proof of the warning in Proverbs 12,1 He that loves discipline loves knowledge, and he that hates reproof is a fool. Reply

Anonymous NC November 16, 2016

Wonderful teaching. Sad story if considering how each man must have felt when offering up a sacrifice which came from his labors on a daily basis. There was no prior command of how or what to offer in a sacrifice. There were no commandments or stern warning which would have prevented the outcome of the sorros of rejection turned against a person. Perhaps it started as a common argument turned to fighting, but Abel's death may not have been premeditated but accidental. Nonetheless Cain knew he did wrong because his many reactions to Abel,'s death bespeak such. Thus, he had a conscience of his actions.

God has purpose in all events and it is not my desire to over think or read between the lines with summations of my own opinions. But, to just say, this was truly one of the saddest accounts in the Scriptures. Reply

Mario Lerario Phila, Pa November 6, 2016

General response to Cain and Abel When interpreting the actions and words of our biblical ancestors, it is important not to think in terms of our modern world nor use our own experience. Rather than expecting Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel to see the world through our eyes, we must understand they are responding to a brand New World, the World with dew still on it. They have a similar capability to season, yes, but they do not have the same information we have. Too, they have a direct response from G-d while we have their story to interpret what G-d is telling us. Reply

Ed Florida November 6, 2016

6 million Why were6 million of us Jewish people killed during ww2...explain that...6 million! Reply

Judith berge Bethel Park PA November 4, 2016

The discussion expounded from the parsha seems to read into the biblical text a whole lot. Instead of dumb jealousy there's a possible hint of "Hey, your hairy sheep can eat anywhere; this particular land ought to have fruit trees or some other crop on it!" Or a midrashic guess over who the heck could these guys ever marry? Or why should Cain pick over the fruit offered as a gift to the G-d? The Most High Himself was the one who let the occasional wormhole or bruise happen; they're still edible produce! I think both brothers needed to know that the world is big enough for more than two farmers; it would have helped both brothers relax. Cain must have worried,at least a little, about his supply for Mom, Dad, and everyone else. Reply

ED Florida November 3, 2016

Cain & able If Cain would have discussed why the situation with his parents and then the Almighthy perhaps things would have been different. Who knows how jealous a person can be in order to take ones life? What would happen if this never occurred? Reply

David Rankin New Zealand November 3, 2016

Anonymous, Texas. Cain never repented of his sin. Indeed his answer to G-d's inquiry regarding the whereabouts of Abel is arrogant and flippant. His only regret was for the danger his own skin was in because of his action. His stiff necked attitude meant that he could no longer remain in the presence of G-d - a loss he preferred to accept rather than admit his wrongdoing. Reply

Pete WA November 1, 2016

Man's essence Man is created in the image and likeness of God. How could Adam be evil in his heart? Not until the fatal bite did Adam taste of the bitter fruit of hate and death. Reply

Anonymous via chabaddb.com November 1, 2016

Wrath I think it's when you constantly lose your property or loved ones, the heart becomes clouded by rage. Imbalanced by rage -- it brings power, but also destruction to the soul. Not all things are anxiety or fear, it's possible for persons to experience "righteous anger" in their hearts if they've been trampled on over and over. At least some are wise enough to listen to 'elders' with wisedom and it helps to ease the pain (pain is cain) Reply

Bobby Hooks Macon, GA October 30, 2016

Man's Heart The reason that Cain killed Abel is the same basic reason that any and all murders are committed. Hatred. The heart is deceitful (trodden in bloody footprints) (Jeremiah 17:9; Hosea 6:8) Since Adam's sin, all men are born with sinful natures. You don't have to teach a child to lie and steal [take from their playmates] - you have to teach them not to lie and steal. (Psalm 58:3)
At man's heart is evil - not good.
If everyone understood this, mankind would be better off. He might be able to restrain himself somewhat from hatred and then there might be less murder. If one thinks that at his heart is good, he is deceived. Reply

Lon W. L.V., NV., USA October 30, 2016

to emulate the first sacrfice Excellent! I have not approached this point of view with my own thoughts, yet. Am glad to have seen the comment. Reply

Pete WA October 29, 2016

Cain's offering It is certainly possible that Cain's offering was his brother Abel.

In which case, the Lord had respect for Abel's offering, i.e.. the first fruits of his flock, but he had no respect for Cain's offering, which was Abel. Reply

ED Florida October 29, 2016

What can I say except that I am glad that I alive. people take life for granted...I did when I was much younger. Nothing hurt me bothered me..I was so young & stupid and innocent but as the years came & went...life changed so much cor me that maturity made me a much wiser yet insecure man and I groped wit that. Reply

Bradley Port Coquitlam, B.C. Canada October 29, 2016

In the process of time. I believe it is quite likely that Cain and Abel were twin brothers, born from the same copulative act, due to the absence of the phrase between their births, "And Adam knew Eve his wife. I also think that the words "In the process of time" tell us that not only had the two lads been taught appropriately by their father what was the appropriate offering regarding this sacrifice, at this time of year. That this specific sacrifice was to emulate the first sacrifice, performed by The L-rd, after the sin of Adam and Eve (And יהוה Elohim made coats of skin for the man and his wife and dressed them). Cain stubbornly and with rebellion in his heart offered an inappropriate sacrifice for this specific commemoration. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as wickedness and idolatry. Cain had chosen his path, and nothing would stop him from inheriting the dominion over the earth, after his father passed away, especially not his younger twin brother Abel. Reply

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