Monday, November 07, 2005


Long Delayed Post on Cain and Abel

I hope that after so much of a build up, this post doesn't disappoint you, my readership (how many are you? two, three, four people?).

Anyway, I was wanting to say more (as is my wont) than what is below, but here goes ...

I was thinking about why God would accept Abel's sacrifice and reject Cain's. What occurred to me is that there are two kinds of sacrifices, or more accurately, two ways of thinking of a sacrifice.

One way of thinking of a sacrifice is to think of it as something of yours that you give up for the sake of God or for Godly purposes. The other way of thinking of a sacrifice is to think of it as something belonging ultimately to God which, while maybe it was "leased" to you for use for your own purposes, you have, either bound by duty or motivated by charity, reverted back to God (to use the true meaning of the Hebrew term for "sacrifice", Korban -- brought closer to God) for the sake of God or for Godly purposes.

While capitalism is a good system for distributing wealth and providing for economic growth, at some fundamental level we must realize we do not own things -- we merely lease from God whose universe this is. To view a sacrifice as giving up something of yours is fundamentally to miss the point. Tsedakah is not mere charity and Korbanos are not things of yours you have given up. Perhaps the sin of the landed Cain, whose punishment was to be made to wander without land, the sin which prevented him from being able to receive God's grace in an acceptance of his sacrifice, was to view capitalism as something other than a pragmatic system, to invest his ownership of the land with significance other than a pragmatic means to an end? I have no evidence for this interpretation: that Cain's sacrifice was not accepted because Cain thought of himself as giving something up whereas Abel thought he was giving something back to God -- but it is an interesting possibility. Consider God's reaction to the fast of so many as described by Isaiah ("is this not the fast I seek?" ...) ...

To look both forward and back to the Akedah: note that Abraham reassures Isaac that "God will provide a ram" ... what is sacrificed is provided by God in the first place. To look forward to Deuteronomy -- the Land is presented as a jealous land that must be maintained but is never really owned ... indeed, the institution of the Jubilee year indicates that transferance of property has limits and land has fundamental liberty to not be owned. Do contemporary figures who want to institute an "Old Testament" theocracy here stop to consider what that would mean in terms of the free market their political allies so cherish? That an unfettered market and a not merely pragmatic notion of property rights does not square with what the Bible has to say? Are they the new 'Cain's of our era?

DAS, you think Cain was punished because of his capitalist mindset? I dunno; taking capitalism back to Genesis seems a stretch. However, I do agree with your thinking that everything belongs to God and is only on lease to us.

In my church the Gospel for yesterday was the parable of the talents from Matthew 25:14-30. This was a stewardship Sunday, one in which we are urged to share our time, treasure, and talents with our worshipping community. The thought came to my mind, as I heard the words, that none of what we have is ours; it all belongs to God and when we give back, we are giving back to God what belongs to him already. What synchronicity with your post as I read it today!

I agree that if we take the teachings of the Old and New Testaments seriously, our enthusiasm for the unbridled free market will be much dampened.

It is a stretch to call Cain a capitalist, but not Abraham (who insisted on purchasing the burial plot) -- but it does kind of give Cain's punishment an interesting twist if his sin was taking his "ownership" of land to be anything more than a practicality.

Anyway -- thank you for the comment!
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