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Bereishit 5782 ~ Oct. 1, 2021

To what extent is competition healthy? This weekend the sports world is abuzz with the visit of Tom Brady back here in New England to take on his former team. Needless to say, as a Pats fan, the rivalry between a former coach and a former player is more hype than reality. The two teams are not equal, one with a rookie quarterback and one with a veteran quarterback with an assured place in the Football Hall of Fame. The hype of the visit, however, will make this Sunday evening one that is noteworthy.

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat is filled with rivalries: the sun and the moon vie with one another for dominance; the snake and Adam are rivals in the courtship of Eve; and the most famous is the definite jealousy of Cain against his brother Abel.  In Jewish mysticism and superstition, there is an additional rivalry between Adam’s first wife Lilith and Eve. According to many beliefs, she has one intention – to steal babies away from their mothers and husbands from their wives, and to create havoc to any being that is a descendant of Adam.

The question is asked by the rabbis in Genesis Rabbah:  What was the real dispute between Cain and Abel?  What were the motives behind the argument of Cain and Abel? The Midrash states:  “They said: come let’s divide up the world, one will take the land and one will take the moveable property. This one said: the ground you are standing on is mine. The other one said: what you are wearing is mine. This one said: take it off! The other one said: fly! Because of this, “…Cain rose against his brother Abel and killed him.” Rabbi Yehoshua of Sakhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: they both took the land and the moveable property. What were they arguing about? One said: the Holy Temple will be built in my boundary. The other said: the Holy Temple will be built in my boundary. As it says, “…when they were in the field…” and the field only refers to the Holy Temple. This is what it says, “…Zion shall be plowed as a field…” (Micah 3:12) Because of this, “…Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.” …. Rabbi Huna said: an extra twin sister was born with Abel. This one said: I will take her because I am the first born. The other one said: I will take her because she was born with me. Because of this, “…Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.””

Professor Nechama Leibowitz suggests that the Midrash proposes three reasons for the dispute:

  1.  Economic considerations
  2. “Religious and ideological reasons, each side maintains that the Temple should be built in his domain, that his religion should be accepted.”
  3.  Sexual passion


Such disputes have become the downfall of humans since the beginning of time. Most wars and murders have been committed with these motives as the rational. But it is not only actual acts of these kinds, but variations that have hampered our relationships with others.   This week, as an example, there is a dispute between Google’s (Alphabet’s) YouTube TV and NBC Universal which has both companies threatening to shut off NBC stations from its subscribers (including the Tampa Bay/New England game.) As one of those subscribers, I recently asked the same question: what is the real dispute about? I have come to learn that it has nothing to do with money, but rather which NBC/Universal programs and stations are included in the YouTube TV package.  In the end it is the subscribers that suffer through this dispute and rivalry between two big corporations. 

Would it be wrong to state the obvious here in our community? What we can only hope for is that we can go beyond the motivations that the Midrash states, and build our friendships and experiences within our community which will foster stability and growth for all parties concerned.

Pro Football’s hype of this Sunday night’s game featuring Tom Brady and Bill Belichick might provide us with the answer, when I hope the two will end the game shaking each other’s hand and perhaps even hugging one another.

Clearly the beginning of the Bible does not give us such an ending. It simply maintains that “this is the narrative of man.” Adam committed an offense against God by partaking of the fruit of the tree, and Cain murdered his brother. Perhaps we can change that narrative. I pray so.

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782