Parashat Bereshit: Kayin’s Mistake
Parashat Bereshit tells the famous story of Kayin’s murder of his brother, Hebel. This story marks the first instance of the age-old question of "Sadik Ve’ra Lo, Rasha Tob Lo" – the suffering of the righteous and the success of the wicked. Hebel did everything right – he brought an offering that G-d found pleasing, testifying to his sincerity and his piety. Kayin’s offering, on the other hand, was inferior, and so it was rejected. Yet, Hebel was killed at a young age, whereas Kayin ended up living a long life, begetting children and producing many offspring. This is a classic, and the earliest, example of the quandary of "Sadik Ve’ro," the theological problem of why righteous people suffer and wicked people prosper.
The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572) taught that Hebel was, in fact, rewarded for his piety. The Torah tells that 130 years after Hebel’s murder, Hava had another son, whom she named Shet, because she said, "Shat Li Elokim Zera Aher Tahat Hebel" – "G-d gave me different offspring, in place of Hebel" (Bereshit 4:25). The Arizal explained this to mean that Hebel’s soul was reincarnated through Shet. Hebel left this world at a young age, but he returned through Shet. Moreover, the Arizal taught, this soul was reincarnated again several generations later, in Noah.
It turns out, then, that Hebel became the father of all humankind. After all, during the time of Noah, all of humanity was killed by the Flood – except for Noah and his children. And thus, although Kayin lived a long a life, all his offspring was eliminated by the Flood, while the soul of Hebel ended up producing all of humanity to this very day.
This teaches us a very powerful lesson. Kayin killed Hebel out of jealousy, unwilling to share this world with his brother. Kayin wanted everything for himself, and he ended up with nothing. He killed his brother so he could take the entire world, and in the end, it was Hebel who had everything.
King Shlomo says in the beginning of Kohelet, "Habel Habalim Amar Kohelet, Habel Habalim Ha’kol Habel" – "Absolute vanity, Kohelet said, absolute vanity; everything is vanity." The word "Kohelet" means "assembly," and Shlomo was known by this name because he would assemble large groups of people to teach them wisdom. This verse might thus mean that "Kohelet" – the desire to constantly "assemble," and amass property and possessions, is vanity, as evidenced by the fact that "Ha’kol Habel" – Hebel ended up with everything. Although it seemed at first that Kayin succeeded and Hebel was defeated, in the end, Hebel ended up with everything and Kayin ended up with nothing.
Our Sages teach in the Talmud, "A person does not touch that which is designated for his fellow, even a hairsbreadth." We are each given our share in the world, and any efforts to seize somebody else’s share will, necessarily, fail. Even if it may seem that we can succeed by seizing that which rightfully belongs to another person, in the long run, such actions are doomed to failure. Let us all feel satisfied and content with our share, with what Hashem has given us, without repeating Kayin’s tragic mistake of feeling envious of what other people have. Let us be happy with what we have and also be happy for others, realizing that in the big picture, each and every person always ends up with precisely what Hashem decides he or she should have, no more and no less.