Thursday, December 18, 2008

Was G-d's Rejection of Kayin's Sacrifice Just? What Does "Also" Mean?

Here's another kasha that my reform rabbi asked against Chazal, our sages, when I was studying with him as either a Sophomore or Junior in high school. I have not heard a satisfying answer to this kasha yet.

He pointed out that Kayin and Hevel (Cain & Abel) both brought offerings to G-d. But that G-d favored Abel's offering but not Kayin's. This sparked Kayin's jealousy of Hevel, which precipitated his murder of Hevel soon afterward. This rabbi pointed out that Chazal (Rashi, Onkelos, Tanchuma, Sifsei Chachamim) say that Hevel brought the best sheep, while Kayin brought his worst produce. He pointed to the pasuk in Breishis 4:4 though that says "וְהֶבֶל הֵבִיא גַם-הוּא מִבְּכֹרוֹת צֹאנוֹ," "And Hevel also ("גַם") brought from the firsborn of his flock." He argued that the word "also" implied contrary to what Chazal say (in explanation of G-d's preference for Hevel's Korban) that Hevel brought a good Korban while Kayin brought a bad one. The word "also," he argues, implies that Kayin and Hevel both brought equally good (or bad) korbanos.

I had thought that perhaps the word "also" does not necessarily imply a sameness in kind or quality between things. However, Rashi's explanation in this week's parsha belies that approach.

In this week's parsha, Vayeishev, the Torah says that Er married Tamar. He committed a certain sin that cost him his life. Then his brother Onan marries her and also dies. In regard to that, the pasuk in Bereishis 38:10 says, "וַיֵּרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיָּמֶת, גַּם-אֹתוֹ." "And what he [Onan] did was evil in the eyes of G-d and He also ("גַּם") killed him. Rashi infers from the use of the word "also" that Onan committed the same sin that Er committed. You can see from here the logical inference that whenever the Torah says "also" does mean that the described idea is the same for the thing before the "also" and the thing after the "also."

So at this point, I don't have an answer to why the word "גַּם" by Kayin and Hevel doesn't imply that their korbanos were of equal quality! I think I've looked in the mikra'os gedolos for a satisfactory explanation in the past but haven't found anything. If anyone else knows a good mehalech, approach, to this question, please let me/us know!

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of geographyofgrace)

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yitz said...

i would look at the Pri Ha'aretz, i'll have to try and find the source for you, he comes out saying that it wasn't the right time for Kayin's offering, rather than that it was a bad offering -- basically Kayin offered from the Gevurot and Hevel from the Hasadim, but the time of the Gevurot is only after Moshiah.

(this is oversimplified, but that's the basic idea. It relates to shatnez, Tzemer (wool of sheep) and Pishtim (linen from vegetable matter) -- and the fact that the bechor represents gevurah, and there needs to be mituk haDin. So for his mehalech it would seem the Gam is there to teach us that Kayin brought ALSO from the bechorot, but the bechorot of gevurah--too much gevurah. Whereas Hevel brought from the gevurah (bechorot) of hesed, sweetened judgement.)

This makes sense in context also with HaShem's response: im teitiv, if you 'make it good' ie. if you sweeten the judgements..

also on a metaphysical level the different treatment between kayin and hevel relates itself to the way to approach gevurot versus hasadim, gevurot need to be dealt with with gevurah whereas perhaps hasadim can be allowed to flourish on their own. (maybe i will post about this..)

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of what happened in Switzerland to one of Rav Wolbe's many students. She decided to keep Shabbos, but her parents had other plans so they enlisted their Rabbi for help. He showed her that immediately following the commandment of Shabbos is the commandment of kibud av. "You see; this clearly teaches that one must even violate Shabbos to fulfill the mitzvah to honor parents!"
The girl was very broken by this since she sensed that it was false even though she didn't know how to explain why. She burst into tears and was so besides herself that her parents backed down....
I am truly amazed you survived this Rabbi's machinations!
Anyway, although gam means also it still depends on the context. If the verse is cryptic, then it means identical but if the verse seems clear, it just means in general.
Gam in our context teaches that Hevel also brought a sacrifice to Hashem just like Kayin. But the specifics of his sacrifice seem different in the verse. Regarding Kayin's it states that he brought from the fruits of the land. Doesn't say the best at all. Immediately after we find that Hevel "also" brought a sacrifice from the best of his sheep. Just as we are sure that the gam doesn't imply that he brought fruit like Hevel, it also doesn't imply that Kayin brought the best of Hevel's sheep exactly like Hevel, it need not mean that when the verse says he brought from the fruit that this indicates the best of the fruit.
If that had actually been the case, the verse would have done what it does in Vayeshev: stated that Kayin brought a sacrifice from the best of his fruit and then written that Hevel also brought a sacrifice from his sheep (or the best of his sheep if the fact that it is a different specific makes us unable to learn anything about that specific from "gam.")

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thanks for that mehalech. I can see how it would answer the questio, although not according to Rashi's pshat, who says that the korban actually was worse by Kayin. Accoridng the mehalech you're bringing, Kayin's was just as good, but since it was from "gevuros," it was rejected for that reason since it wasn't the time yet. Yasher koach!Though I would still be interested in a pshat (like Micha's) that explains the difference in the use of the word "gam" within Rashi's pshat.

R' Golshevsky,

Thank you. I hear what you're saying. Since the kind of korban was specified in the pasuk by Kayin/Hevel, and it didn't just say "best korban" or soemthing like that, you can't really apply the "also" directly onto Kayin's korban. But by Er and Onan, it just says that they sinned generically, so therefore the meforshim do use the "also" to clarify what that sin was. But you can't say "first born" applies to a Kayin's korban of produce. Thank you! This really helps!

-Dixie Yid

amolam said...

see malbim who says that the idea behind a korbon is to intend that it should be as if your sacrificing yourself, so malbim says that gam hu implies that hevel fulfilled this ideal intention "Hevel brought "also himself" (gam hu)

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Very nice! Shkoyach! I like it, it fills the need to explain what the "gam" was doing by Kayin/Hevel. Serioiusly, thank you. I don't have a Malbim so I really appreciate you sharing that. Big shkoyach! Obviously works well with the Ramban in Vayikra about the purpose/nature of korbanos.

-Dixie Yid

amolam said...

Baruch Tihiyeh!

you really should see the whole piece, how the malbim explains into the pasuk all the advantages of Hevel's korbon - quite beautiful!

amolam said...

its also appropriate that the malbim should be the one to resolve any "reform" "problems" with the Torah, as this was one of his primary missions in life

Toby Katz said...

"Gam hu" means that Kayin was the first one who had the idea of bringing an offering to Hashem and Hevel followed his lead and "he also" brought an offering.

However, it is very clear from the pesukim that Hevel brought a better offering than Kayin's. Kayin's pasuk just says that he brought an offering from the fruits of the ground -- says nothing about "first" or "best."

Hevel's pasuk says both -- that he brought the "first" ("mibechoros tzono") AND the "best" ("umeichelveihen")

Rashi as is his way picks up on nuances in the wording and deduces that since the pasuk says Hevel brought the first and the best, and also says that Hashem accepted Hevel's offering but not Kayin's, that we can conclude that Kayin's offering was inferior.

Kayin did have an understandable grievance -- anger that Hashem rejected his offering and jealousy that his brother's offering was accepted, when his brother was only a noch-shlepper who didn't even come up with the idea of bringing an offering in the first place!

So the word "gam" helps to explain why Kayin was so upset. "I came up with the idea of an offering in the first place, my brother Hevel then copied me and *also* brought You a gift, and You accept his gift and reject mine?!"

Hashem replied, "If you do better, your offering will be accepted" ("halo im tetiv se'eis") -- I have not utterly rejected you, your idea of an offering is a good idea but it has to be better." IOW if you are already bringing an offering, don't bring your inferior produce! Learn from Hevel, who copied your idea but did it better.

Tragically Kayin did not take the path that would have led to reconciliation with Hashem but instead acted on his emotions, anger and jealousy.

And it all started with "gam."
--Toby Katz

amolam said...

i forgot to add that the Malbim points out that the end of the pasuk says "v'yisha Hasham el Hevel v'el michchaso'. v'el Hevel is extra,

but according Malbim's approach above it means that Hashem was pleased not only with the mincha but also with Hevel's kavan behind the mincha of offering himself

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thank you for the pshat of "gam hu" being "Hevel also brought a korban" since it was Kayin's idea.

It's not clear from the psukim though that Hevel brought a better korban. Without the word "gam" that would be true, which makes the pasuk sound like it's saying "And Hevel also brought a really good korban." All one needs to get out of that pshat though is a plausible "something" that gam could be coming to teach about Hevel's korban from Kayin's korban. It could be that it was the best korban like Kayin's or you could say like R' Golshevsky's explanation or yours that the "also" is going on the idea itself of bringing a korban.

Though the fact that it tells you that Hevel brought a good korban is not an obvious indication that Kayin's was not, even though it leaves out that detail about Kayin's korban due to the word "gam." Although I think that your and Micha's pshatim work together quite nicely to indicate an alternate limud from the word "gam!" Yasher koach and gut Shabbos!

Anonymous said...

First look at Targum: Gam hu = af hu, which means "also him," in the sense of "even him." Which clearly indicates that the referent is to the fact of bringing the sacrifice, not to the content.
The Re'em points out on Rashi that we learn from the fact that the verse says clearly that Hevel's offering was meshubach, coupled with the fact that the Torah only mentions "Mipri ha'adamah" rather than "mi'reishis ha'adamah" or the equivalent, that it is trying to tell us that Kayin brought "from the garuah--the worst." What is the worst? Again, the Nachalas Yaakov, another commentator on Rashi, cites the gemara in Sanhedrin 92 that pishtan/flax is the worst (as we all know, pure fiber, no "fruit"). The Re'em adds a very nice touch: the final letters of korban comes out to be pishtan. (kaf, reish, beit, nun)
So we even have a remez to what the offering was: the "back end" of sacrifice, the p'soles. Which goes back to what yitz wrote, which I have also learned.
P.S. A great investment in the study of Chumash with Rashi is the Leket Bahir chumash, also known as the Chumash Ohr HaChayim. The Leket Bahir sifts through dozens of the meforshim on Rashi and always provides the clearest pshat on Rashi wherever there is a nuance that requires clarification. It is an excellent tool for helping students understand the way in which Rashi works--we used it in seminary.