Hatred of Religion?

There is a curious verse in the Bible that refers to the time of Enosh, the son of Seth (Adam and Eve's third son). "At that time (people) began to call upon the Name of the Lord." What prompted this? Did Adam and Eve not call upon the Name of the Lord themselves? Why was this a new thing?

The medieval commentator, Rashi, translates the verse differently: "At that time, God's name was profane and used to call people." In other words, people would refer to each other, and perhaps to the natural world, with names of divinity. God was no longer special, he was now represented by the forces of nature and by human beings.

Other commentators stay with the original translation and attempt to put a context to the need to call upon God's Name. They say that this refers to the righteous people in the generation, who were proclaiming God's existence and power to all who would listen. These commentaries see a parallel to Abraham, who proclaimed God's Name to the unbelievers. This was a response to the rise of idolatry, which was causing people to forget about God. These righteous people wanted to stop that trend.

How was it that they were forgetting about God? Rabbi Solomon Sorotzkin explains that the earlier generations gave honor to the forces of nature as representatives of God, whom everyone knew about. As time went on, however, those forces of nature became more important in people's eyes, especially since they could not see God Himself. Thus, there came a time when God was no longer part of the religious equation. There was now a need for the righteous people to remind the masses and proclaim that it was God who created and rules the world.

Rabbi Meir Simcha of Divinsk offers a fascinating insight into this process. According to him, humans stopped bringing sacrifices to God in the aftermath of Cain's killing of Abel. They were so horrified by what the sacrifices of those two brothers had brought about that they abolished the practice. In a more modern terms, because some people are killing each other in the name of religion, other people want nothing to do with religion.

I believe that the cessation of bringing sacrifices accelerated the spread of idolatry among human beings. Had people continued to bring sacrifices to God, they would not have forgotten Him. Let's look deeper into this process.

Why did Cain kill Abel? Granted, Abel's sacrifice was excepted while Cain's was rejected by God, but that was not Abel's fault! He did nothing to hurt his brother, so why was he murdered? Is jealousy that powerful? If so, why?

The root cause may lie in the sacrifices they brought, and the perceptions behind them. Cain brought some of the fruits of the land, while Abel brought the firstborn of his flocks. Abel's was the better sacrifice, clearly. It shows a desire to become close to God, and that is why God accepted it. This was deeply important to Abel. Cain, on the other hand, brought a sacrifice to appease God, so that he should not be punished.

I think that both brothers were looking back at their parents' sin with the Tree of Knowledge. The result of that sin was their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. There were two elements in this consequence, and each of the brothers emphasized one of them. Cain emphasized the aspect of punishment, of their expulsion from a good place and the suffering they would be forced to endure. Abel, on the other hand, emphasized the exile from God's direct presence, the distancing that their sin brought about. Thus, Cain brings a sacrifice to avoid punishment, while Abel brings a sacrifice to draw close to God again.

Now, when Cain sees that his brother's sacrifice was successful, he is fearful. He is afraid that he will appear in adequate by comparison, and that God will bring punishment upon him. "Abel is too good, he makes me look bad," Cain might say. Thus, his bitterness is directed foremost at his brother.

It goes deeper. God instructs humanity to not spill each other's blood, because "man was made in God's image." If we seek to become close to God, we must be close to our fellow man. "Love thy neighbor as thyself," is a core element of the Torah, and it includes and implies belief in God. The reverse is also true. If we are angry at our fellow man in a jealous fashion, we are, in truth, angry at God. This entire process comes as a result of fear of God's punishment, rather than love of God and desire to draw close to Him.

The power of speech is evident in the entire Genesis story. God created the world by speaking. He Eve was tempted to sin through speech, which was then rescinded from the snake. And notice how the Bible describes Cain killing Abel: "and Cain spoke to his brother Abel, and then when they were in the fields, Cain rose up and slew Abel his brother." It started with speech.

Speech is important, and powerful. Evil speech, slander and gossip, can kill. One needs to but read the news to know that this is true. When we look at other human beings as competitors for God's favor, we are attempted to harm them verbally, and sometimes physically. And when we do so, we limit God to being someone who plays favorites, whose favor is limited. By extension, then, gossip and slander are an attack on God's way of running the world.

Maybe that is what is meant by Rashi when he says that God's Name was profaned by its being applied to people and things. The generation of Enosh increasingly saw God as a, well, Greek god. A jealous, unfair, vindictive power that must be appeased. If someone else becomes God's favorite, it means that others will be punished.

This was a direct result of the cessation of sacrifices. Sacrifices are intended to draw man and God together, and not exclude anybody. The righteous tried to stop the trend by proclaiming God's Name, but it was too little too late. Parents are bonded to their children because of the sacrifices they make for them. Once man kind ceased bringing sacrifices to God, he became estranged from Him.

So to those who throw out the baby with the bathwater, I would say that Cain and Abel are not equal. Yes, some religions follow the pagan approach of seeing God as one who plays favorites. They ally with their God and kill all of the rivals. But there is a better way, the Abel way. See God as a loving, unlimited source of compassion and support. Seek to draw close to Him at every opportunity, and then you will seek to draw close to all of the amazing human beings that He has created.

The Four Secrets of Fulfilling Your Mission

There are two outstanding mitzvot (commandments) that Jews fulfill on Sukkot: 1. Sukkah (a booth that becomes a temporaya home recalling the booths of the Israeliotes in the wilderness) 2. The Four Species (a palm branch, willow branches, myrtle branches and a citron that are waved during a synagogue ceremony).

The Torah, regarding the Four Species, commands "And you shall take for you on the first day the fruit of ..". Why, asks the rabbinical commentary, does it say "the first day" when, in fact, it is the fifteenth day of the month? From here, they say, we learn that the first day of Sukkot is the first day of the "accountings of sins."

In other words, the five days from Yom Kippur until Sukkot do not count towards our "sin account". Does this mean that we have a free pass? And why, many ask, does this idea relate to mitzva number 2, the Four Species, and not mitzva number 1, the sukkah? What is it about the Four Species that re-activates our sin accounting, our repsonsibility for our actions?

The answer contains a beautiful insight to help us fulfill our missions. The name of the citron (etrog in hebrew) is given as "The fruit of a pleasant tree". Our tradition teaches us that the etrog and the tree that bears it basically taste the same. This is significant.

According to the midrash commentary on Genesis, God commanded all of the trees as he created them to be this way, with their fruits and their trunks, branches and leaves all sharing the same taste. All except one, the etrog, failed to accomplish this. They may have wonderfully tasty fruits, but would one eat the wood, it would be different.

How, we may ask, do the trees created by God not fulfill this Divine directive, and dare to have varying tastes? Perhaps this midrash is teaching us a valuable lesson in disguise. For what is the tree and what is the fruit in this equation? The mission and the fulfillment. All of the beautiful trees in the world save one do not fully complete their mission. The fruit, while it may be great, is not as great as it could have been, is not what it dreamed it would be.

Well, then, what is the etrog's secret? We all want to know!

I think there are four keys. Four elements of this mitzva may help us follow the etrog's example:

  1. The etrog is taken together with the branches of the palm, willow and myrtle trees. In other words, it realizes that any mission in life must be connected to, and with the support of, a community. We need famiy, friends, society. After all, hard-wired into our very existence is the need to fix the world, to contribute. No worthwhile mission does not improve the world, so how could one ever fulfill it without involving and inspiring others?

  2. The etrog is held in the oposite hand as the other three. In other words, one must be a leader, one must have the ability to take one's one direction. If my mission is to write a Torah commentary, for example, I can't allow important distractions to keep me from fulfilling my mission though neglect. I need to know when to separate and say "no" if my mission is at risk. All the more, I should never allow the bad influence of others to weaken my resolve IF the mission is a worthwhile one.

  3. The Four Species must be shaken in six directions: East-South-West-North-Up-Down. In other words, we learn two things here. We must be in motion, we must always be a mover and a shaker. No mission gets fulfilled through laziness and sloth. Secondly, we must be thorough, hitting every possible angle. Once we start to compromise on the mission, we are finished.

  4. Each movement starts at our heart (chest), moves out, and returns back to our heart. Perhaps the most influential aspect, we must be emotionally invested in this mission, and we must renew that investment contstantly, with each movement of the Four Species. I believe the flow of success is hinted at here as well: When I am excited to start my mission, and I accomplish a small step, it returns to my heart and builds even more excitement and motivation. The sages say, "A mitzva brings along another mitzva..".

So there are the four lessons of the Four Species to show us how to fulfill our resolutions and our mission. Connection to others, leadership, constant and thorough motion, and emotional investment.

So it is not that we get a free pass from Yom Kippur till Sukkot at all. This midrash is referring to our mission fulfillment. We can't be held accountable until we have learned the message of the etrog and the Four Species. Once that has happened, the race has started. Thus, Yom Kippur is the time for registration. The days in between are when we are to arrive at the starting line. The moment we shake the Four Species on that First Day is when the call is heard: