Bereshit — 5771 — Look Forward Without Anger

24/10/2010 at 10:16 Leave a comment

“Look Forward Without Anger”

Shabbat Bereshit

2 October 2010

Neil F. Blumofe

 

As we begin this cycle of Torah past our experiences of the High Holydays, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, this morning, let us explore the relationship between the first two brothers, Cain and Abel.  Our Torah describes them working, consistent with the decree to Adam and Eve that outside of the Garden of Eden, humanity must find its way through labor.  Cain became a farmer and Abel became a shepherd and each offered a sacrifice to God – we know the story – our Torah relates that God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, which caused Cain to become angry and advance to dire consequences – to murder his brother.

 

An early Hasidic master, Rabbi Simcha Bunim comments on why Abel’s offering was accepted and not Cain’s – he writes that Cain only came to God after a long period of time – miketz yamim – Cain came to acknowledge God only when he was old and his faculties were diminished, whereas Abel brought the firstlings of his flock – mibchorot tsono u’meichelveihen – that Abel was in service to God from a young age.  Is there a difference, or should it matter if one comes to God earlier or later in life?  Does not our tradition teach that the door is always open for one to make teshuvah, no matter when?  What then would provoke God to accept Abel’s sacrifice and not the one of his brother?  Can we not identify with Cain’s disappointment and resulting anger?

 

And then God’s asks a question that should affect us as well – lamah charah lach l’lamah naflu fanecha – why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen?  According to our tradition, God proceeds to outline a path of repentance and a way of acknowledging and subduing our yetzer harah – our inclination to do wickedly – however this thread is interrupted and then next description is of Cain killing his brother.

 

From a place of anger, Cain seems steadfast in confronting his brother about this situation, which leads to a tragic result.  Including anger, our sages teach there are three qualities that take us away from a clear path towards God – sexual desire, anger and depression, with anger the most explosive – for it may be at the root of the other two, as well.  What causes our frustrations and our anger – what gives us disappointment – is it rooted to our most basic fears?

 

Further, our tradition compares anger to idol worship because even after anger subsides, it leaves an imprint in our soul, altering the character of a person, just a trace amount.  Our Talmud teaches that the essence of a person is revealed in three ways – through a person’s anger, how one spends their money and how one acts when they are drunk.

 

And yet, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, a great 20th century thinker says that getting angry is understandable – however, it is not excusable – he encourages us to figure out what the sources of our anger are – as we realize that anger disconnects us from our mind, it upsets our balance, or our equanimity and thus it plays havoc with our emotions and our spirit, as well, spiraling us out of control until something happens that we may regret, or may cause us to wander for the rest of our lives.

 

Cain is exiled a second time – first, with his parents from the Garden of Eden and then too into the land of Nod, which is east of the Garden of Eden – in his life, even though he is married and does have children, he is destined to be a wanderer – perhaps hollow inside and certainly cut off, he lives out his life with resignation – utilizing and inspired by a quote from Henry David Thoreau — going to his grave with his song removed from him.

 

Why does our Torah set this as the foundation for the rest of the generations?  Do we not see how destructive anger is, unraveling our lives and causing trouble for others?  What is the lesson here for us?  By reflecting on Cain’s situation, is this not the world’s first anger management program?

 

Beyond all of the other challenges of our life, is not anger lurking behind them?  And if anger is a root cause for our emotions, can we not dig a little deeper and discover a point of calmness in our turbulent seas?  Beyond our own feelings of self-worth and how we compensate for our insecurities and our fears, can we not find something that sustains us, before we are set off and find ourselves like Cain, a shell of a person?

 

The lesson is not whose sacrifice is better – or who has a better or more materially successful life – these are things that we cannot control.  How we situate ourselves – how we take control of what we can take control of – our priorities and our reactions, will serve us more positively.

 

And regardless, if we have reflected on this from our earliest days like Abel, or if we are acknowledging this link now, a bit later like Cain – we have a legitimate chance to succeed without having our anger define us in ways past points of no return with a further diminishment of our self.

 

Let us learn from this first story of anger — God is the great equalizer and with our full hearts may we continue to serve and strive to know God’s ways.   May we explore our inner essence and discover the song that is still within us – and though we are scarred and still effected by our own moments that maybe we would like to recall, may we persevere and prevail in the new chances that we are given to bring our spiritual work forward, not expecting any reward, rather may we bring our gifts forward in generosity, hope and with the chance that they will improve us and the world in which we live.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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