Raising Cain

by | Oct 19, 2012 | 1 comment

The first few chapters of the Torah tell us the story of the family of man. It all started, of course, with Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel were born; Cain killed Abel; Cain had a family and Abel had no descendants.

Adam and Eve continued their process of procreation and gave birth to a third son, Seth. Seth had a family. Everyone in the world were descendants of either Seth or Cain.

Seth had a descendant called Enoch, after whom humankind was named.

We tend to think of the descendants of Cain as children of the killer while the children of Seth were the hope for the future of humanity.

Cain, however, had some very impressive descendants who contributed much to civilization. He had a descendant called Lemech. Lemech had 3 sons and a daughter. According to the Torah one of his sons was the inventor of musical instrumentation; another was the discoverer of iron and weaponry and the third was a master shepherd.

It is commonly pointed out that Noach was a descendant of Seth, and the rest of the world, the descendants of Cain, were killed out in the Great flood. That would make all of us the descendants of Seth.

According to Rashi, however, this is incorrect. True, Noach was a descendant of Seth but Noach also had a wife. Her name was Na’ama. Na’ama was a daughter of Lemech and therefore a great granddaughter of Cain.

The survivors of the flood were the sons of Noach and Na’ama; Shem, Cham and Yefet. From them came forth all of humanity.

In other words – we all have a little bit of Cain in us. We are all a struggling combination of two forces.

The Holy Ari (Shaar HaGilgulim) identifies in the personalities of history the souls of Cain and the souls of Seth. Astonishingly, some of the greatest Rabbinic leaders of all times, according to the Arizal, possessed the soul of Cain. This did not make them killers. It made them assertive, creative and leaders of men.

We often feel guilty about our deep inner struggles. We idealize our spiritual heroes as perfectly righteous men and women. We assume that they are not even capable of having the thoughts that we are thinking.

This is not so. Our ancestors and role models were not made out of plastic. They were men and women who inherited the forces of Seth and the forces of Cain. They struggled.

We are all programmed to struggle. That is how we grow and that is what makes us unique.

There is hardly a biblical character that was exempt from the base struggles of being a descendant of both Seth and Cain. They were great men and women not superheroes.

To struggle is to be human. Welcome to the club.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.

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