The telling of the children of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, is where the Torah first mentions cheyt (translated often as sin, error, misdeed - that which we atone for on Yom Kippur and potentially every day). This cheyt is the precursor to the Torah’s first murder. Brother to brother. In only chapter four.
The amount of time and space between the glory of creation and the first murder has always made me shake my head.
This week we are reminded of the ways humans can be so terribly violent toward one another, killing siblings - the children of Shem, the namesake of the Semitic people - Arab and Hebrew. The Torah says of Cain and Abel that cheyt was getting cozy at the door, but we have the power to have mastery over it. Indeed cheyt couches at the door today – at the Gaza border. Today will tell if there can be mastery over cheyt or it will be succumbed to. May we find strength to master the temptation for cheyt. Now. Soon. In our days. Today.
What stands out clear in all of this for me is the preciousness and sanctity of life. The Israeli and Palestinian lives lost, at the scale they have this week, in the manner in which they have been taken, and at the scale and manner that we fear might still be to come, particularly as Gaza faces a nightmare scenario. Each one of them is an entire world.
About the creation of humans, the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) comments that to destroy one life is to destroy an entire world. While the Mishnah connects this teaching to the creation of the first human, Adam, the Quran shares a similar teaching in the context of its recitation of the story of Cain and Abel. The Quran (5:32) reads that “whoever takes a life, it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.”
This shabbat we are charged with acknowledging the glory and beauty of creation, but also our proximity to the ways humans succumb to cheyt and destroy entire worlds, diminishing humanity itself. As we gird ourselves for the possibility of another shabbat of carnage, may we hold each life with utmost preciousness. Take time to mourn, but also to take action today to encourage human mastery over cheyt. Today let us, as poet Suheir Hammad urges, affirm life:
First Writing Since
There is death here,
And promises of more:
There is life here.
Anyone hearing this is breathing--
But breathing for sure.
If there is any light to come,
It will shine from the eyes of those
Who will look for peace AND justice,
After the rubble and rhetoric are cleared,
And the phoenix has risen.
We got to carry each other now.
You’re either with life
Or against it.
And in affirming life, I was reminded this week that our superpower is connection. Find people to be with and be held by and hold. Reach. We truly do have one another, and we might just do better with one another. While this week may have strained some relationships, bask in those you can hold and let us see how we can emerge from this together.
PS- I have stayed primarily focused on our feelings, our processing, and our connection this week following the atrocities in Israel and Gaza. Know that as we move through feelings and stay/get connected, Kadima leaders are beginning to think about how we connect with our thinking and teachings – for the sake of leading to collective action. If you would like to be involved in helping create spaces for that, be in touch. In the meantime try these articles being passed around.