Shabbat Parashat Bereshit | 5763
Did He Repent or Not?
Cain was found lacking regarding the sacrifice he brought and was confronted by Hashem with words of reproof and advice. Following this incident, Cain committed the world’s first act of murder. Hashem confronted him again. He responded with the famous, chutzpadic remark, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Hashem continued by telling him what his punishment would be for the sin of fratricide. Upon conviction and sentencing by the Divine Judge, did he finally repent, as his father did for his critical sin?
Cain’s response was: “My sin is too great to be borne” (Bereishit 4:13). It doesn’t say explicitly that his punishment was too great but that his sin was great. On one hand, that sounds like an acceptance of responsibility, finally. On the other hand, the next pasuk and Hashem’s subsequent response seem to dwell on how Cain would be able to survive such a punishment. Chazal (Bereishit 22:11) seem to go in different directions. One approach is that the above statement should actually be read as a question, indeed another chutzpadic question. “What, Hashem, You are not capable of bearing my sin?!” There’s certainly no repentance there, but rather yet another example of deflecting responsibility for his actions. The second approach understands his statement that he was not only admitting sin, but declaring that his sin was more horrible even than that of his father. Therefore, the Torah continues, he expected his punishment to be greater, as well. Now that’s repentance! Or is it?
There are different approaches that one can take when he is confronted with evidence that he is flawed and has sinned. When Hashem told Cain that he had sinned but could overcome the yetzer hara (4:7), he countered by putting the blame on Hevel for his disgrace and killing him. That is the approach of transferring the blame, and people do this quite freely. But Cain’s approach, according to Chazal’s apparently more generous treatment, may be no less dangerous. He may have been saying that his sin was so great that he could nothing to repent and salvage the rest of his life. He was not like his father, who spent the rest of his life trying to improve himself. Rather, said Cain, “My situation is so bad that it doesn’t even pay to try to fix things.” In some ways, this approach is more dangerous than denial. When one denies, it is likely that, at some point, the sin will become so clear that he will be forced to admit it. In contrast, when one “throws in the towel,” the longer he fails at making amends, the stronger he proves to himself that he is really not capable.
After completing the days of repentance, we are hopefully aware that we are capable of making necessary changes and need to make the efforts to realize and carry out our obligations.
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