The Birth of Cain & Abel


The Birth of Cain & Abel is the image for October in my new calendar, The Jewish Eye 5778 / 2018 Calendar of ArtThis image illustrates not just the Bible’s classic story of sibling rivalry, but also one of the oldest dichotomies in Western society: meat eaters versus vegetarians.  In Biblical times, that was a matter of shepherds versus farmers.  Today, it might be seen as a rivalry of diets: paleo versus vegan, perhaps.

Why is Cain’s offering of vegetables and grain considered less valuable than Abel’s sheep?  It seems to suggest that meat is more vital – and its place in the food chain does make it more nutritionally dense.  People in ancient times also carried certain beliefs about animal spirits and animal blood.  God speaks of the smoke of a burnt offering as “a pleasing odor to the Eternal”.   Yet our ancestors used both animals (bulls, goats, sheep, and doves) and plants (flour, oil, and incense) for sacrificial rites.  Certainly both brother’s offerings would be considered valuable.

But right or wrong, Abel’s offering is favored.  God issues a warning to Cain about his angry reaction, describing it as “a demon at the door/you are the one it craves/and yet you can govern it”.  Cain must make a choice: will he become bitter and vengeful toward his brother, or will he accept the fact that life is simply not always fair?  It is one of the very first examples of free choice in the Torah – and Cain does not choose wisely.  His resentment yields tragedy and sorrow, and though he tries to worm his way out of it, he is held responsible for his brother’s death.

Yet there is a moral and intellectual lesson to be harvested.  Free will and its consequences are a recurring theme in the Bible.  What choices do we make in the face of rejection and disappointment?  How do we deal with feeling inferior or unfairly judged?  How do we overcome resentment toward our siblings?

The story seems to ask more questions than it answers.  Fortunately, even in literary terms we are not descended from either Abel, who died, or Cain, who was banished.  Rather it was Seth, the third child of Adam and Eve, the child of Eve’s consolation after the loss of her first two sons, who is our mythical progenitor.  Three’s a charm in many a timeless tale, and this is no exception.

Was Seth a meat-eater or a vegetarian?  The story does not tell us.  I’d like to think he was an omnivore, like us.

Something tells me Seth will show up in next year’s calendar!

The Jewish Eye 5778 / 2018 Calendar of Art  is on sale in the new Jewish section of my website:  $16 until the end of Sukkot, including shipping within the continental U.S.  $18 on Amazon.

The Jewish Eye Calendar of Art makes a thoughtful and inspiring gift.

A good week to all!

D Yael Bernhard
Author / Illustrator of
THE JEWISH EYE 2018 / 5778 Calendar of ArtNew!!
LOVE IS – a unique crossover book for all ages
THE LIFE OF AN OLIVEExplore the life of a 2000-year-old olive tree
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!

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