Rabbi David Fohrman. The Beast That Crouches at the Door: Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, and Beyond. HFBS Publishing, 2012; Kindle edition. (2660 locations)
Thanks to Jery for the gift. It was a delightful read!
PART I: SERPENTS OF DESIRE: GOOD AND EVIL IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN
Introduction – Beyond the Lullaby Effect: Reading the Bible with Open Eyes
The Lullaby Effect blocks our ability to ask, or even to see, the really important questions that the Bible begs us to ask of it. The Lullaby Effect anesthetizes us through the stupefying effects of familiarity. (Locations 114-115).
In this book, I’m going to challenge you to change all that. Come along with me on a journey, an adventure through biblical text. Let’s read these stories that we thought we knew with fresh eyes and ask the questions that any intelligent reader would ask about them. If this idea makes you nervous, relax. We needn’t fear these questions, for they are not really problems; they are opportunities. (Locations 132-135).
Read the story slowly and carefully. Just the text; no commentaries. And as you do, ask yourself these questions: If I were reading this for the first time, what about it would strike me as strange? What are the “big questions” that the Torah wants me to ask about this story? What are the elephants in the room? (Locations 142-145).
Chapter One – Adam, Eve, and the Elephant in the Room
Let’s talk a little bit about this mysterious tree in the Garden, the one that God places off-limits. It has a name. It is known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By any measure, that’s a pretty strange name for a tree, but if that’s what the Bible calls it, then that’s presumably what it is. It somehow conveys a knowledge of good and evil, an ability to distinguish right from wrong, to those who partake of its fruits. | But there’s a big problem with this. Why would God want to deny this knowledge to people? (Locations 166-170).
…the tree didn’t give us an understanding of right and wrong when we had none before. Rather it transformed this understanding from one thing into another. It transformed our earlier understanding of right and wrong into something called a Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Locations 204-206).
Chapter Two – A Tale of Two Trees
Fascinating. The only other time we meet cherubs in the entire Chumash, they are once again guarding a “Tree of Life.” Only this time, they are not keeping us away from the Tree of Life; they are ushering us towards it, shielding both us and the Torah beneath their protective wings. [Exodus 25:18; 25:20] (Locations 254-256).
THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND THE HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE. If he ate from the Tree of Life, he would become immortal; if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge, he would become a being that dies. In that moment, though, before eating from either tree, he was in the “twilight zone.” (Locations 278-280).
The choice to embrace the Torah or reject it is painted with the same brush as the choice to embrace the Tree of Life. (Locations 292-293).
Chapter Three – The Dark Side of Paradise
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE SNAKE? Jewish thought tends to see Satan in different terms, not as one who opposes the divine plan, but as a sort of “heavenly prosecutor” who is part and parcel of the divine plan. Just as no earthly court is complete without a prosecutor, so too, the Heavenly Court is incomplete without its “prosecutor,” a being who forcefully advocates for the application of divine justice in full rigor. (Locations 310-313).
Indeed, the snake so closely resembles a human that he forces us to ask: what, in the end, makes him a snake and not a human? (Locations 330-331).
The snake forces us to ask: where is the essential dividing line between human and animal? (Locations 333-334).
But that’s not a precise translation of the Hebrew. A better, more literal translation would read: “Even if God said do not eat from any of the trees of the Garden…” (Locations 343-344).
Chapter Four – The Naked Truth
Jewish tradition has long understood that the Torah employs various techniques to help it encode meaning. One of those techniques is a device that’s come to be known as the leading word [milah hamanchah]. Every once in a while, when you are reading a biblical narrative, you will find that the text seems to go out of its way to use a certain word, phrase or idea, consistently and repetitively throughout a story. When this happens, it often indicates that this repetitive element holds a key to the meaning of the word or idea in question, which leads the reader, as it were, to a richer and deeper understanding of the text. It just so happens that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden contains such a repetitive word. If you take a quick break to scan the story yourself, you may well find it. It is the Hebrew word arom, “nakedness.” (Locations 381-387).
THE STRANGE PROMINENCE OF NAKEDNESS. When they ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the immediate effect was: they knew that they were naked. It seems odd. Why does knowing “good and evil” affect our perception of nakedness? Whatever the explanation, there is no denying that nakedness is central to the story. (Locations 397-399).
At first glance, the ideas “naked” and “cunning” don’t seem to have much in common. But on reflection, they do seem related in a curious way. Mull the terms over -“naked and cunning, naked and cunning…” – what comes to mind? | These words just happen to be opposites of one another. | When someone is naked, unclothed, there is no hiding. That person’s self is laid bare for all to see. “What you see is what you get.” On the other hand, when one is cunning, he is sly and devious; he “cloaks” his true intentions and hides behind a facade. His true self is not seen. | Fascinating; the two meanings of arom are mirror images of each other. (Locations 432-438).
AN INNOCENT DECEPTION. If “naked” really is the opposite of “cunning”, then it follows that the snake had both opposing qualities: he possessed both honesty and stealth. In other words, the snake really is deceptive; but, on another, perhaps deeper, level, he’s very straightforward. It all depends how you look at him. From one perspective, what he’s saying doesn’t really apply to Adam and Eve, so his words are deceptive to them. But from another perspective, “what you see is what you get.” He’s just telling it like it is – from a snake’s point of view, of course. (Locations 445-449).
Chapter Five – What’s In It for the Snake
We know that he is sly, but that is all the text says about him. We have no clue what his motive for the crime might be. (Locations 455-456).
MAYBE DIGRESSION IS REALLY PART OF THE STORY. I’d like to suggest that the creation of the beasts of the field – and Adam’s rejection of them – is actually crucial to the entire Forbidden Fruit narrative. In particular, I am going to argue that it is utterly impossible to understand the snake and his temptation without all this. (Locations 488-490).
It turns out that chayat hasadeh is a relatively rare phrase. It appears in only one other context in the entire Book of Genesis -in the description of the snake. When we first meet this primal serpent, the Torah describes the creature as “more cunning than all the beasts of the field [chayat hasadeh].” (Locations 495-497).
The snake, however, was more cunning than those chayat hasadeh: he was seeking to convince the human that at least one beast of the field would be a fitting companion, after all. (Locations 499-500).
…the Midrash frequently speaks in the language of allegory, and it intentionally cloaks its message in metaphoric garb. …Perhaps this particular midrashic teaching is trying to lead us toward the very conclusion we have gingerly been approaching ourselves -namely, that the snake’s offer results from Adam’s choice to reject the animals in favor of Eve. In consequence of that rejection, the animal world -with the snake as its representative -leveled a challenge to the first humans: “What makes you so special? What makes you so different from us that you stand alone and require one another as mates? We can be your soulmates, too…”( Locations 506-507, 509-512).
Chapter Six – Beauty and the Beast
So, to which voice should you listen -the voice of God that comes to you in words, or the voice of God that pulses inside you, that animates your very being? Which divine voice is more primary? “I don’t know about you,” the snake says, “but, if I were in your shoes, here’s how I would see it. Even if God said don’t eat of the trees, so what? It’s not the voice that speaks to you in words that’s primary. It’s the voice inside you that’s primary!” (Locations 556-560).
THE NAKED SNAKE. Well, then, if the key to our humanity doesn’t lie in our capacity for speech, for walking on two legs, or for intelligent thinking — all of which were shared by our friend, the primal serpent — in what does our humanity lie? I would argue that it lies in how you answer this one query: “How does God speak to you? Which is the primary voice of God?” | If God speaks to you primarily through passion and instinct; if all you need to do is examine your desires to find out what God wants of you; if your essential self is easily and naturally identified with your passions -well, you are an animal. If you are able to stand outside your passions and examine them critically; if desire is something you have, not something you are; if God addresses Himself to your mind and asks you to rise above your desires, or to channel them constructively – well, then you are a human. (Locations 579-586).
When all is said and done, we are more than the sum total of our instincts or passions. We are not snakes. (Locations 592-593).
A more literal translation of the last phrase, venechmad, “desirable as a means to wisdom,” but rather, that it was “desirable to contemplate” (Genesis 3:6). (Locations 597-598).
Chapter Seven – A World of Broccoli and Pizza
WHAT IS REAL KNOWLEDGE MADE OF? To summarize, then, in attaining “knowledge” of good and evil, humanity didn’t gain a better intellectual understanding of right and wrong. We gained an experiential understanding of these things. We began to know right and wrong from the “inside.” (Locations 647-649).
To sin is not primarily about hell-fire and guilt. If it is, that part is only secondary. What it’s about primarily is “missing the mark” – failing to align myself with the reality called the Will of my Creator. (Locations 699-700).
Chapter Eight – A Dark and Rainy Night in Manhattan
THE MIND-GAMES OF DESIRE. Perhaps the difference between a righteous person and a wicked one is not that one has a greater or more intense yetzer hara than the other; it’s that, by and large, the wicked person succumbed to that yetzer hara, whereas the righteous person didn’t. (Locations 769-771).
THE BEGINNINGS OF DESIRE. Even as Adam and Eve stood in the world of true and false, the world of good and evil beckoned to us, and desire began to assert its subtle influence. (Locations 790-791).
Chapter Nine – The I of the Beholder
IS THERE A PATTERN HERE? To put it baldly: if eating from the tree marked the beginning of a more profound role for desire in the life of mankind, then this snapshot of a conversation gives us our first case study in the unseen mechanics by which desire can confound our perception of the way things really are. (Locations 830-832).
For Eve, though, the tree she can’t eat from becomes the center. (Location 846).
In portraying Eve’s conversation with the serpent the way it does, the Torah seems to be constructing for us a case study in the dynamics of desire. (Locations 848-849).
…for some reason, in Adam’s mind, this sense of shame is trumped by something even more overwhelming — awareness of his own nakedness. (Locations 872-873).
Chapter Ten – Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
Maybe this explains the Rabbis’ insistence that Torah is the tavlin, the spice, for the Evil Inclination. The Torah gives direction to our most basic, most powerful drives. (Locations 958-959).
Feel your passion, your sexuality, your ambition, the Torah says; don’t destroy it. But direct it this way rather than that way. Steer it; don’t let it steer you. (Locations 964-965).
A NEW FOUND FEAR. Fear is a world away from embarrassment. I become embarrassed when a peer teases me, when I make a gaffe in public. I am fearful, on the other hand, of something I sense that is bigger than I am, of something beyond my control, of something that can crush me. (Locations 983-985).
…mankind, no longer at home with himself, finds himself no longer at home in the world created for him either. He suffers exile from the Garden and must make the best of it in new and vaguely foreign terrain. (Locations 1011-1012).
Chapter Eleven History’s First Question: Where Are You?
The Almighty was not asking, “Where are you?” – a simple request for location. Instead he was asking, “Where have you gone? Why are you not here?” (Locations 1048-1049).
ADAM’S CLOTHES AND MOSES’S GRAVE. …in providing appropriate clothes for Adam and Eve, God provided them with a means of transition from Eden to a world they had chosen on their own. (Location 1100).
The stark reality is that beings who possess free will don’t always hew to the hopes and expectations of their creators. …When our children disappoint us, when they make choices we don’t approve of; when they exchange the world we have carefully crafted for them for a dubious world of their own making – perhaps we too, after all the consequences have been meted out, after all the words have been said, after all the anguish has been absorbed – perhaps we, too, can provide them with clothes for the journey. (Locations 1101-1102, 1104-1106).
PART II: THE WORLD’S FIRST MURDER A CLOSER LOOK AT CAIN AND ABEL
Introduction – From Eden to Murder
In the pages that follow, I will argue to you that the story of Cain and Abel bears the unmistakable imprint of the episode that immediately precedes it, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (Locations 1116-1118).
Chapter One – “So Whose Picture Do You Like Better: Mine or Debbie’s?”
Chapter Two – The Enigmatic Genius of Cain
WAS CAIN COMPARED TO ABEL — OR TO HIMSELF? The bottom line is: Abel brought the best he could; Cain didn’t. Each brother is compared not to the other, but to himself. What he did is compared to what he could have done. (Locations 1240-1241).
Chapter Three – Echoes of Eden
A “MISSING PERSONS” ALERT. In each story, God quests after a missing person. And the quest itself is of a very particular kind. It takes the form of the question “ayeh” — “where is he?” (Locations 1283-1284).
HIDE AND SEEK. Just as Adam speaks of hiding from God, so, too, does Cain. Tucked into Cain’s response to God is a curious premonition that he is destined to spend his life hiding from the Almighty: “… and from your face I will hide …” Adam hides in the past tense: at a particular point in time, he hides from God and then explains to the Almighty that he has done so. Cain hides in the future tense: banished to a life of exile, Cain intuits that he will spend his days in a continual state of isolation from his Maker. (Locations 1298-1301).
Cain, in the aftermath of his sin, cannot find a home anywhere. (Location 1305).
In each of these four examples, the response to Cain’s wrongdoing is a more intense version of Adam’s experience. Whatever happened in the wake of Adam and Eve’s eating from the Forbidden Fruit, happens again after Cain murders Abel – but when it occurs a second time, it occurs with greater force and impact. Each of these parallel elements intensifies in the story of Cain. (Locations 1334-1337).
Chapter Four – Blood on the Ground
The ground is not an incidental part of Cain’s punishment; it is the essential core of it. (Locations 1367-1368).
In Hebrew, Cain’s name is kayin. The context suggests that the name derives from the word kanah, which means “acquire.” Cain the Farmer works the earth. And Cain the Acquirer seeks to ground himself in possessions. For both, land – ground – is indispensable. (Locations 1382-1384).
In Hebrew, Abel is hevel, which means, of all things, “breath,” or, more precisely, the steam that escapes one’s mouth on a cold winter’s day. (Locations 1390-1391).
“One generation comes, one generation goes, but the land lasts forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). (Locations 1401-1402).
Hevel – Abel/breath – dies. Hevel is unattached and transitory; he chooses to herd sheep. But Cain the Acquirer attaches himself to the ground – he becomes a worker of the earth – and relentlessly seeks to share in its permanence. (Locations 1404-1405).
A DIVORCE FROM THE EARTH. When Cain speaks of being “cast away, from the earth, the Hebrew word is gerashti. Speakers of Hebrew will be familiar with the word. Its other meaning is “divorce,” the termination of the marriage bond between a man and woman. (Locations 1425-1426).
Chapter Five – Living the Dream of Eve
“I have acquired a man with God!” (Genesis 4:1), Eve cries exultantly. Look what God and I have done. We have created this little man together! (Locations 1486-1487).
We are now, I think, in a position to see a deeper, more vibrant, link between Cain’s name and his profession. It is not just that both of these revolve around land. Rather, both Cain’s name and his profession speak to one of the most intoxicating pursuits that we as human beings can hope to be engaged in. Each speaks to the possibility of becoming a partner with God in the act of creation. (Locations 1488-1491).
Eve’s jubilant exclamation is the seed of Cain’s name, and Cain, in turn, devotes his life to planting seeds – seeds which carry forth his mother’s dream, bringing it to fruition in the new dimension of agriculture. (Locations 1527-1529).
Chapter Six – What Kind of “With”?
…calling myself the owner of what I’ve made is not necessarily a selfish act. I may well be ready to part with what I’ve made, to bestow it as a gift to others or to the world, but I still want to make sure the world receives what I intended to give it. (Locations 1574-1575).
In using the word “acquire” rather than “create,” perhaps Eve was making some sort of journey from creator to owner. Not an owner in a base, economic sense, but in a fuller, even spiritual sense. What she created with God was not something trivial or incidental, but something imbuing her life with new sanctity and meaning. Indeed, Eve’s very name speaks to this life goal. Eve, or in Hebrew, Chava, is short for em kol chai, “Mother of All Life.” The fruits of her partnership with the Almighty are not incidental to who she is; they help define who she is. (Locations 1585-1589).
- One kind of “with” denotes full companionship; the other denotes subservience.
- One kind of “with” indicates an equal partnership; the other, an unequal partnership.
- One kind of “with” is denoted by “im”; the other by “et.”
The “im” type of “with” points to a co-subject – another author, for example, who along with me, plans, plots and writes the chapter. The “et” kind of “with,” though, doesn’t point to another subject at all. It points to an object – a tool that I make use of to achieve my goal. (Locations 1620-1624).
Eve perceives herself a partner with the Almighty in the sacred and miraculous act of creation. The fruit of this partnership matters to her, means everything to her; she has acquired, not merely created, and the product of this creativity expresses the essence of who she is. And yet this is not a partnership of equals. One partner is subject; the other is object. One is innovator; the other, a tool. | But which partner is which? Which is the innovator, and which is the tool? (Locations 1630-1633).
Chapter Seven – Thomas Edison and the Glassblower
Genesis 37:2. On the one hand, yes, Joseph is shepherding along with his brothers, and what they are shepherding is sheep. But on another level, what Joseph is really tending is not sheep at all. He is tending his brothers, and he is doing it through the medium of sheep. (Locations 1722-1724).
Perhaps a secondary meaning whispers something else: God, her partner in this act, has been the means through which she has been able to acquire this man-child. She has used the services of God to bring about her dream. (Locations 1730-1731).
Chapter Eight – The Keys to the Heavenly Cookie Jar
IF THE ALMIGHTY HAS NO NEEDS, HOW CAN I GIVE HIM ANYTHING? Does God really need what we are trying to give Him? The answer must be that an offering, in its genuine religious sense, is not an attempt to fulfill the “needs” of God. The Almighty doesn’t have any needs — that, indeed, is why they call Him “all mighty.” The unexamined false premise that gave rise to our question was the notion that gifts are always meant to fulfill needs. That is not always true. Among the other reasons we give gifts is something we call “gratitude.” (Locations 1771-1774).
BEYOND LOGIC. Ultimately, when the gift you give is little more than a spiritual insurance policy to make sure you get what you want from God, you may, ironically, be creating distance with that gift, not closeness. The nature of this distance is something we have yet to explore, but for now, suffice it to say that when a recipient refuses such a gift, what he is really saying is, “Try again – you’re not in the insurance business. This isn’t what our relationship is meant to be about.” (Locations 1802-1806).
Chapter Nine – Cain and the Kitten
…it sounds like God is saying that Cain, by choosing evil, will somehow become vulnerable to sin. (Locations 1827-1828).
Chapter Ten – Can Desire Be Divorced From Need
If you happen to be flipping through this book and have opened randomly to this chapter, you need to promise me that you’ll read the whole thing, all the way to the end. If you can’t make that commitment, I am going to ask you to stop right here. (Locations 1906-1907).
Although both verses use similar language, it does not follow that Cain is like Adam, nor does it follow that Eve is like Cain’s Evil Inclination. Rather, what follows is that the relationship between Adam and Eve — or, more broadly, between man and woman — is analogous on some level to the relationship that Cain is asked to develop with his Evil Inclination. (Locations 1950-1953).
THE FOUR PRIMAL DESIRES. …The Bible uses the Hebrew term teshukah (desire) in both verses we have been discussing. (Locations 1956-1957).
There are four [basic] teshukot in the world. The teshukah of Eve for Adam, the teshukah of the Evil Inclination for Cain, the teshukah of rain for land, and the teshukah of the Master of the Universe for humanity. (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, 20:7) (Locations 1958-1960).
WHEN DESIRE IS DIVORCED FROM NEED. I would argue that the Sages define teshukah as something entirely different from what we usually think of when we use the word “desire.” When you and I normally talk about desire, we associate desire with “need.” Think about the synonyms we use for desire. (Locations 1972-1974).
God doesn’t need people a whit either, but somehow, He still desires them. The Sages are arguing, I think, that teshukah is a code name for this special kind of desire. And it is this very kind of desire, this teshukah, that the feminine has for the masculine. And that the Evil Inclination, whatever that is, has for Cain. (Locations 1982-1984).
Chapter Eleven – The Case of the Laughing Rabbi
Desires based on fullness are every bit as real as those based on need. In fact, one might argue, they are felt even more intensely than those based on need. Consider the following statement made by the Rabbis of the Talmud: “More than the calf wants to suckle, the mother wants to nurse” (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 112a). (Locations 2023-2026).
THE NATURE OF LOVE; THE ESSENCE OF TEACHING. Love means not just that I’m happy you serve my needs, but that I appreciate who you are in and of yourself, independent of what I get from you. When I love in that way, my love comes not from lack but from fullness. My affection for you doesn’t come solely from your ability to fill the holes in my personality, but from the desire of a mature human being to give what he can to someone he admires and values. (Locations 2033-2036).
The Hebrew verb “to teach” (le’lamed) is identical to the verb “to study” (lilmod), except that the former, “to teach,” is the intensive form of the verb (what’s known as its piel conjugation).* When you stop to think about it, this says something profound about what it means to teach. Teaching is nothing but “studying intensively.” When someone is so passionate about what he is studying that he can’t help but overflow and share his learning with others – well, that’s teaching. (Locations 2038-2042).
MALE AND FEMALE DESIRE. Rain wants to give land what it can. Rain becomes meaningful because of its ability to nourish and to share itself with land. Without land, rain is frustrated, restless. The desire of rain to give life to land is intense. (Locations 2050-2051).
And [the Lord] took one of Adam’s ribs, closed up his skin, and built [the rib] he had taken from man into woman… (Genesis 2:20-21) (Locations 2062-2063).
When a man “takes” a woman in marriage, what he is really doing is taking back his lost rib. The person experiencing a loss is the one who searches for what was lost. (Locations 2064-2065).
The feminine does not have, imprinted on her soul, the sense that she is missing something without a man. Since woman was created as a whole being, she does not experience that same, masculine sense of lack within herself. Instead, the feminine desires the masculine out of teshukah. The feminine – like rain and like God – embodies a mysterious life force, and she seeks to give that gift to the masculine. (Locations 2067-2069).
Chapter Twelve – Cain, Creativity, and the Spice of Life
In Hebrew, the verb “rule over” – moshel – is spelled identically to the noun mashal, a word that means “parable.” (Locations 2086-2087).
WHY PARABLES RULE. When I try to make sense of what occurred, I may tell a story, a parable, which I present as comparable in some important way to what happened. In that sense, parables “rule” over experience. …A parable takes a series of events and directs our understanding of them in a particular way. (Locations 2091-2092, 2094-2095).
Can the Evil Inclination really be classified as “very good?” It seems impossible! Yet, were it not for the Evil Inclination, a man would not build a house and would not marry a woman; he would not have children and would not engage in business… (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, 9:7) (Locations 2116-2118).
The Evil Inclination, in real life, is neither more nor less than our passions, the desires that fuel us and make us go. These desires, far from being inherently evil, are an essential part of our humanity. (Locations 2118-2120).
The responsibility thus devolves upon Cain to “rule” his passions: not to crush them, but to direct their power and energy as a ruler directs the energy of the nation he governs. A car isn’t a car if you destroy the engine. (Locations 2130-2131).
We have discussed how the language describing the expulsion from Eden is vividly recreated in the verses detailing the aftermath of Abel’s murder. God asks both Adam and Cain the very same “ayeh” question; Adam hides from God, and so does Cain; Adam suffers exile and difficulty in farming, and so does Cain. These ideas are not merely repeated from story to story; they intensify from story to story as well. With Adam, God quests after a temporarily missing person (Adam); with Cain, He quests after a permanently missing one (Abel). Adam hides momentarily; Cain forever. Adam is exiled, but can find a new home elsewhere; Cain is condemned never to call anywhere home. (Locations 2138-2142, 2142-2143).
Passion, and its proper role in the human psyche, are the conceptual core of both these stories. (Locations 2147-2148).
FROM EDEN TO CAIN. According to the Midrash, the Tree of Knowledge was about the mysterious and sublime drive to create. | In the realm of human biology, creativity expresses itself in sexuality. Hence, immediately after eating from the tree, Adam and Eve fear their nakedness. They feel dwarfed by this force called sexuality. But creativity expresses itself in other realms, too. One of those realms is agriculture. In agriculture, creativity expresses itself as the desire to plant. (Locations 2175-2179).
The drive to create – or even better, the drive to create in partnership with God – may be the deepest passion we human beings can know. Rendered literally, the Evil Inclination, at bottom, seems to be nothing more than the drive to create gone awry.(Locations 2182-2183, 2187-2188).
Chapter Thirteen – Of Roses and Triangles
Cain, like the glassblower, has a choice to make. Rather than be controlled by the monumental passion to create with God, he can rule over it. (Locations 2209-2210).
THE CORE OF THE TRIANGLE. At long last, we are in a position to see the global picture, the composite portrait painted for us in these first two human dramas in the Book of Genesis, the sagas of the Forbidden Fruit and the World’s First Murder. As we have seen, both stories revolve around the proper role of creativity in the psyche of humankind. Failure in one story brought death into the world in theory, while failure in the other brought death into the world in practice. Failure in each story brought exile, difficulty in farming, and hiding from God. | We have seen that the story of Adam and Eve is closely connected to the story of Cain and Abel. The latter doesn’t just happen to come after the former; it really is its sequel, conceptually and thematically. A process starts in the first story, and that process takes another step in the second story. And each of these steps is accompanied by three, interrelated consequences: exile, difficulty in farming, and hiding from God. (Locations 2248-2255).
Chapter Fourteen – There’s No Place Like Home
As a consequence of eating from the tree, humanity is powerfully creative, but the question is: can we also be disciplined? (Locations 2336-2337).
Chapter Fifteen – The Death of Cain
THE ADVENT OF THE UNICORN. A human experiences his or her self as a consciousness that rises above and beyond desire, which can critically evaluate desire and decide whether to act upon it. In each case, God addresses the “essential self” of the being to whom He is talking. God speaks to an animal through its desire; God speaks to humankind by addressing our minds. (Locations 2445-2447).
THE CHILD AND THE BLIND HUNTER. Kayin and Hevel are brothers; Tuval-Kayin and Yaval are brothers. But the resemblance goes beyond names, too. Just as we are told the professions of Cain and Abel, we are told the professions of Tuval-Kayin and Yaval. And, wouldn’t you know it, the professions adopted by these seventh-generation descendants are strikingly similar to the arts practiced by their forebears. Cain/Kayin was the word’s first killer, and Tuval-Kayin, his namesake-descendant, makes weaponry. Abel/Haval is the first shepherd in history, and his namesake-descendant in the seventh generation is Yaval, the father of traveling herdsmen. (Locations 2491-2495).
About the Author
Rabbi David Fohrman (2011-11-03). The Beast That Crouches At The Door (Kindle Locations 2574-2576). HFBS Press. Kindle Edition.
1 The Torah uses the word “tov” in this way elsewhere. When God saw the light and it was “good”, what did that mean? When God said that it was not “good” for man to be alone, what did that mean? Was the light morally good? Was the human morally evil when created without a partner? Neither possibility seems probable. God seems to be saying that the light was desirable, and that it was not desirable for the human to remain a solitary being. To call something “good” is to approve of it, to say that the thing conforms to my desires.
* The verse states that God made “the Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” The phrase “in the middle of the Garden” modifies only the first tree, not the second one. If they were both really in the same place, the way to say it would have been:”… the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the Garden.”
* It is for this reason, perhaps, that God is known as the ultimate “knower of Good and Evil.” Morality, from God’s perspective, really is a matter of will and desire. It is God’s will that we try to align ourselves with. From our perspective, that will is external to us -hence, we can use the terms “true” and “false” to characterize it. But from God’s own perspective, that will is internal. The terms “Good and Evil,” which denote categories of desire, are entirely accurate.
* It is true, of course, that the Bible itself speaks of God “regretting” having made humankind. But the Bible also speaks of the “outstretched arm” of God, and few of us are willing to concede that God has arms. The Bible sometimes uses anthropomorphism with reference to God, speaking of the Almighty — a Being whose essence we cannot begin to understand — in human terms that we can understand. When the Bible does so, though, we are getting just a faint approximation of reality. Whatever God’s “arm” means, it doesn’t mean a structure composed of bone and flesh that God uses to eat his dinner. And whatever God’s “regret” implies, it doesn’t mean the prosaic emotion that afflicts us mortals when we realize we’ve made a boo-boo. The regret of an all-powerful, all-knowing Being is of a different nature altogether, and its true meaning is shrouded in mystery.
* Yes, the syntax is awkward, but in Hebrew that’s exactly what the text says: that Cain will be cursed from the ground. The strange phrase can either mean that the ground is the source of Cain’s curse (the one doing the cursing, as it were), or that the effect of the curse is to separate Cain from the land. Either way, the sense is that a rupture has occurred between Cain and the ground. The earth is being portrayed in strangely sentient and personal terms, and the implication is that something has gone wrong with Cain’s relationship with this being, the earth.
† Interestingly, the end of the story tells us that Cain settles in the land of Nod and builds a city, which he names after his son. At first glance, Cain seems to have succeeded in subverting his decree of exile, but the place he has “settled” in is not really a place; its name is the Land of Nod, a Hebrew term that means “the Land of Wandering.” And, as the classic commentator Nachmanides notes, the Torah speaks of Cain’s urban construction project – his building of a city – in the present tense. The text doesn’t say, as you might expect, that Cain built a city and dedicated it to his son, but rather that “Cain was building a city and dedicated it to his son … ” | According to Nachmanides, the present tense indicates that Cain never finished the project. He was perpetually “building”: starting at one point, then stopping, then starting again, always dreaming the dream but never able to see the project through to completion. Cain desperately seeks to ground himself – to make a home for himself, or to build a whole city full of homes. But he is a wanderer. The harder he tries, the more the dream evades him. He is truly rootless, condemned in every sense of the word to a life of complete transience.
* Kayin is actually an anagram formed from the first three letters ofkaniti. Kuf, Nun, Yud is transposed to become Kuf, Yud, Nun.
* Indeed, the very word “matter” may well derive from the Latin and Greek word for mother, “mater.”
* Harriet Lerner. The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships (Harper, 1997), 125-126.
* Piel verbs are the same as their regular counterparts, just more intense versions of them. For example: Lishbor means “to break”; le’shaber, the piel form, means “to smash.”
* The Torah states that before Cain killed Abel, both brothers were in the field, and the beginning of a conversation ensued between them. But it was only the beginning of a conversation. Most translations will render the action leading up to murder in something like the following terms: “Cain spoke to Abel, and it happened, when they were both in the field, [that] Cain came upon Abel and killed him.” The problem, though, is that the Hebrew term for Cain’s speaking to Abel is not vayedaber but vayomer, which means that the text does not really translate as “Cain spoke to Abel” but “Cain said to Abel.” This, however, creates a non-sequitur: If I tell you that x spoke to y, I don’t need to tell you what was said between them, but if I tell you that x said to y, I do have to tell you what was said, or else the sentence is incomplete. The sense of the verse, therefore, is of an interrupted conversation, that Cain started saying something to Abel, and, by rights, we should hear what it is – but before actually getting to it, Cain interrupted what he was saying and killed Abel instead. The murder was an impulsive, violent end to something that perhaps could have been resolved through mere words.
† According to one Midrash (Midrash Rabbah, Deuteronomy 2:26), this explains why Cain’s punishment was exile. Later passages in the Torah set forth that a murderer who deliberately kills is subject to capital punishment, but one who kills inadvertently, or without full knowledge of what he is doing, is instead exiled from his land (Numbers 35:22-25). Cain’s exile, according to the Midrash, was the prototype for that law.
— VIA —
Several times reading through this book I had awakening moments, those insights and ideas that shift again your perceptions of the thing that is in front of you. When I first read Genesis in the English, I understood it “as is,” a divine descriptor of the beginning, and an establishment text on orthodox theology. Recently, I just finished reading Genesis in the Hebrew, with a whole different perspective — the nuances of names, the concreteness of the narrative, and the compactness of the Hebrew grammar. Through Fohrman’s book, I now read Genesis with yet another paradigm, added to and augmenting the previous. This (Genesis) is truly a brilliant commentary on the human condition, told through the stories, narratives, and myths of the ancient world. I am struck again at the profundity of the insight that still beckons us to this day. Even in light of all our “modern advancements,” (or perhaps even because of them), we are still as primal as ever, living life out of a struggle to control, rather than be controlled, by our passions. And God’s role? Well, God becomes more complicated now, yet bigger, and more real than ever as the line and division between human passion and God’s passion is fragmented yet again.