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Parshat B’reishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

“The man names his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.”
(Genesis 3:20)

Parashat B’reishit stands as a timely commentary on the recent and recurring violence in American life. Cain and Abel, the world’s first brothers, both make offerings to God. God accepts Abel’s, but not Cain’s. So Cain kills Abel. There is much classical commentary on history’s first murder, mostly speculating about what Cain says to Abel in the moments before killing him (Gen. 4:8) and parsing his famous challenge to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, psychologists and authors of Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, take a more contemporary approach. To them, Cain is the archtypic boy who just wants what all boys want: to please the grownups and to be loved and respected in return. But Cain is humiliated by God’s rejection. And God’s response—“…Surely, if you do right, there is uplift/But if you do not do right, sin couches at the door…” (Gen. 4:6)–doesn’t help matters; it’s pretty much a lecture reminding Cain of his failure.

What is striking is Cain’s silence. He expresses his anger and shame with impulsive physical violence with disastrous results. This is Kindlon’s and Thompson’s point: Boys today, like Cain back then, aren’t socialized to acknowledge and reflect upon their feelings or to express them verbally and seek help. Instead, they are socialized to be silent and stoic, to “be men.” But some explode.

Nechama Leibowitz (1905-1997; a scholar who revolutionized the teaching of the weekly Torah portion worldwide) teaches the importance of looking at the week through “Parashat Hashavua (the weekly Torah portion) glasses.” Unfortunately, B’reishit’s story screams at us from newspaper headlines almost weekly.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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