Rav Kook Torah

Breishit: Cain's Offering


“God did not turn to Cain and his offering; Cain became enraged and his face fell.” (Gen. 4:5)

In the story of the world’s first murder, it was God’s decision not to accept Cain’s offering which triggered Cain’s anger and jealousy, ultimately leading to his murder of Abel.

Why did God refuse to accept Cain’s offering? What was wrong with it?

The Cainite Philosophy

Rav Kook suggested that the very fact that Cain, soon after this incident, would kill his own brother indicates that terrible evil was already lurking in Cain’s soul. The potential to murder existed within Cain’s personality at the very hour that he offered his crops to God.

Bringing an offering to God under these circumstances is an abomination. It only serves to amplify the power of evil. The approach exemplified by Cain is one in which a person does not seek to purge himself from evil and immorality; rather, he covers up inner evil with an outward appearance of holiness. This approach provides evil with strength and influence within a framework of holiness.

This is the core philosophy of paganism and heresy. They do not aspire to refine human desires and sanctify life. They reject God’s great plan to elevate the world through the formation of Israel as a holy people, a source of moral and spiritual inspiration for all humanity.

But in its inner soul, heresy knows that God rejects it and its path. Like Cain, its face falls and rage smolders within. At every opportunity, the violent hand of a murderer is revealed.

Only by Toil

The world must recognize that one cannot gain admission to Paradise by virtue of a pronouncement of faith, while evil and cruelty permeate every chamber of one’s heart. The implication of such a theology is that there is no need for introspection, moral reckoning, character refinement, and spiritual growth.

This darkness, however, will not continue forever. Humanity will realize that its energies need to be directed toward purifying the spirit. The method for elevating the nations has been formulated and prepared by God: the establishment of one nation in the world, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The Jewish people are a sign that Divine light penetrates the lives of nations.

Then it will become clear that holiness is not some cheap trinket that can be snatched by tainted hands. It is a treasure that is acquired through tenacious toil and self-sacrifice, and through the merit of generations who lovingly upheld this sacred charge. Heresy’s mask of hypocrisy will be exposed. Its path of appeasing evil will be recognized as a sham, an ideology that fools the eye and contaminates the soul.

“They will no longer harm nor destroy on My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of knowledge of God.” (Isaiah 11:9)

(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Orot, pp. 32-34)