Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bereshit
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tishrei 25 5779
In this cataclysmic first portion of the Torah, the world is created. But how is it created? The pasuk tells us clearly: Hashem creates through words. He says, "Let there be light!" & there is light. "Let there be Heaven, & Earth, & vegetation & stars; let there be fish, & birds & animals, & Man," and all this comes into being – by words alone.

From the very beginning, Hashem is informing us that words have power – to create, yet also to destroy. G-d’s greatest creation – Man – is distinguished primarily by his unique ability to speak, to use words, & to thereby connect to other human beings via the power of speech. Though we are continually cautioned to guard our words & use them wisely, it is often the inability or unwillingness to speak which leads us into very dark places. Two vivid examples of this cry out to us from the story of Gan Eden.

When Chava eats from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she starts a chain-reaction of Shame & Blame culminating in the first family’s expulsion from Paradise. But G-d’s castigation of Adam – "Because you listened to the voice of your
wife & ate of the tree…." is quite strange: Where, exactly, do we see Chava speaking to Adam? Nowhere does the text record discussion between them!

True, but Chava did speak to the snake, when they discussed whether it was proper to eat from the Etz HaDa’at. It was then that Adam heard her voice, listened to the conversation, & yet did nothing! THAT was his sin! He should have spoken up & warned Chava, he should have protected her from sinning; for that, he deserved to be punished.

Fast-forward now a bit to the epochal story of Kayin & Hevel – the ultimate account of sibling rivalry. When Kayin’s offering is spurned by Hashem - yet Hevel’s accepted - Kayin reacts violently & murders his brother. But note the text’s account of the brother’s confrontation:

"And Kayin said to his brother Hevel; & it was when they were in the field, Kayin rose up against Hevel his brother & killed him."

You see what’s missing here? Whatever Kayin may have said to Hevel, we don’t know; but Hevel never answered him! Not once, but twice, Kayin calls Hevel "his brother." Clearly, a distraught & dejected Kayin sought some support, some words of comfort from his sibling, but he got nothing! This may well have been what pushed him "over the edge" to commit the greatest murder in human history – a full 25% of the population!

While Hevel’s silence certainly does not justify Kayin’s crime, we see from here how devastating silence can be, & how therapeutic the right words at the right time can be. There are times, to be sure, when talk is cheap, & silence is golden; but there are also times when it is just the opposite. May G-d help us distinguish between the two.
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