Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Bereshit
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Accepting Responsibility


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

29 Tishrei 5767
After going through the High Holy Days period when we were involved in the process of teshuva (repentance), it is still appropriate to view the topic from its roots, in our parasha. Chazal tell us that teshuva predated the world, as the pasuk says: "Before mountains were created ... you said: ‘Repent, sons of man’" (Tehillim 90: 2-3). As Rav Kook explained in Orot Hateshuva, the concept of teshuva exists even before a sin has been committed. On the other hand, for the practical process of teshuva to occur, one must first recognize the sin. Let us see how Kayin (Cain) fared in this regard.

In the aftermath of his sin, Kayin "came out from before Hashem" (Bereishit 4:16). The midrash (Rabba 22:13) gives three possibilities as to in what way he came out. The first two describe different types of deception which Kayin tried to use with Hashem. However, the third idea is that he came out from a discussion with his father, Adam, about the latter’s successful experience with teshuva for his sin of the Tree of Knowledge.

The different approaches to the question whether Kayin did or did not deal with his sin properly stem from the understanding of Kayin’s response after Hashem’s question, "Where is your brother, Hevel?" Regarding the pasuk, "My sin is too great to be beared," Rashi explains it as a cynical rhetorical question to Hashem, questioning why Hashem could not deal with his sin as He deals with a complex world. However, Ibn Ezra and the Ramban view the statement as the first sincere step toward Kayin’s teshuva, that of admitting guilt.

Kayin’s experience teaches us that it is insufficient to admit the correctness of the facts of the sin. One can still make a variety of excuses to try to mitigate the severity of his actions. One can claim that someone else was really responsible even if he physically performed the sin. Or one can claim that what was done cannot be fixed so why should he try. Finally, one can even put the burden of securing repentance on Hashem as opposed to oneself. The common denominator is the refusal to take responsibility.

It is no coincidence that these important lessons about teshuva are found in the parasha that deals with Hashem’s creation of the world. Hashem created a world which needs to be perfected by human activity. By concentrating on fixing matters, man can become a partner in creation, using the powers of teshuva that predated the world. He can help make the world a complete one that serves its Creator.

Let us hope that in our daily, private and public lives, those who make decisions will realize their responsibility for that which was done and not done. Let them be more concerned that no evil result from their actions and less concerned whether they will be able to escape consequences if and when problems arise.

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