A Whimsical Dictionary: C is for Cain

A Whimsical Dictionary: C is for Cain

A Whimsical Dictionary of Surprising Influences.

C is for Cain

the world’s first son, first murderer, and first vagrant (Genesis 4:1-16). He was an unlikely recipient of God’s mercy, since he destroyed the first family and disgraced his parents, Adam and Eve, and probably broke God’s heart. Cain murdered his younger brother Abel. Cain was angry that God accepted Abel’s offering of a blood sacrifice, while Cain’s offering of fruits and vegetables was rejected.

God took the trouble to warn Cain about sulking and his apparent anger management problems. But Cain was too upset to listen. Cain proceeded to kill his brother and then gave God the runaround when held accountable. So God put Cain into a homeless exile to wander the earth, east of Eden.

But Cain was understandably nervous that as soon as the cat was out of the bag regarding his fratricide, he’d get lynched. So, for some inexplicable reason, God had mercy on Cain, and He “put a mark” on Cain, so that he wouldn’t die at the hands of another. What was the mark of Cain? Facial twitch? Big birthmark? A disfiguration of some sort that would draw sympathy? No one knows. But it worked. Cain had a big family of many generations, and nobody touched him.

But this was an unnecessary tragedy. It didn’t have to happen. Both brothers could have done things differently. Let’s let Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach lay it out for us: “Let’s look at the first two brothers in the world. What was the problem with Cain and Abel? Imagine if Cain would have said to God, ‘It’s true I am not high enough to bring my sacrifice to You, but I am so glad you received my brother’s. How can I ever thank You for giving me a brother who is so holy.’ Do you know what would have happened? His sacrifice would have reached even higher than Abel’s. But you know, friends, Abel was also imperfect. We can ask,’ Abel, why are you so happy that God received your sacrifice? Why aren’t you crying over your brother’s sacrifice that was rejected? Why don’t you go to Cain and say, ‘I’m sorry that God didn’t receive yours?’ I’ll tell you something stronger. If Abel could have said to God, ‘Thank you very much for receiving my sacrifice, but I don’t want You to take mine unless you receive my brother’s also.'”

So, Abel, the world’s first martyr, a genuine hero of the faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:4, didn’t even have to die, if only the brothers could have been each other’s keeper. Abel’s is a tarnished heroism. There is a simple answer to Cain’s sarcastic question of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer is, Yes! And Cain, if you had realized this, the world’s first family might have remained intact, and the first sibling rivalry wouldn’t have ended in murder.