Two of a Kind – Parshat Bereshit 5773

Did you catch a certain video that made the rounds earlier this year featuring Doug Pitt, the second most famous Pitt in his family? As you might have guessed, Doug is Brad’s brother, and the video is a commercial for Virgin Mobile Australia, in which Doug explains how normal and understated his life is compared to his superstar brother Brad.  When Doug was interviewed on Today, Matt Lauer asked him if he would ever want to trade places with his brother; after all, Brad Pitt has fame, fortune, a gorgeous wife, and everything he could ever want.
It’s natural to think Doug should be jealous.  We learn about jealousy early on in parshat Bereishit with Cain and Abel, the first sibling relationship in Torah.  Cain and Abel are typical brothers; they argue, they fight, they drive each other mad, and each one wants to be the favorite.  At the outset we learn that Abel, the younger child, is the keeper of sheep.  Cain, the oldest, is a tiller of the soil.  This is the first comparison between the brothers and the source of a number of inferences by the commentators.  Perhaps Cain became a farmer to be just like his father, or maybe to somehow reclaim what his parents lost by leaving the garden and live out their dream.  Abel is the shepherd, a position held by many younger children (Abraham, Moshe, David), which gives us certain clues about Abel’s perspective.  The commentators help us see similarities and form conclusions based on these surface qualities.  Four chapters into the Torah, and we’re already analyzing.
After a while Cain brings an offering to God from the fruit of the soil, and Abel brings the choicest fruit of the firstlings of his flock.  As we learn, God chooses Abel’s offering over Cain’s, and Cain falls to the ground in emotional pain, wondering why he and his offering aren’t good enough.  Ultimately, Cain kills his brother Abel out of rage, and when confronted by God about this, he answers “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a questioning of the entire concept of brothers and what it means to be related.
It’s a complicated lesson that Cain and Abel teach us, especially because no one really shines through as truly good.  Even today we don’t hold Adam, Eve, Cain or Abel in high esteem as part of our lineage the way we do with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses or even Noah.  One reason is because it’s not enough to either differentiate yourself or take care of your relationships.  You have to do both.  Cain saw neither the value in his uniqueness or the responsibility to his family.
The Torah, which we begin anew this week with parshat Bereshit, is a living document that not only shares with us the narrative of our past, but the entire spectrum of human emotions and actions.  Reading the Torah from the beginning each year reminds us that our understanding and connection to our narrative changes too.  As we all start our new beginnings with the New Year, we must remember that no matter who we’re related to or what we think is expected of us, what we each have to offer truly matters.
May we find the strength and the vision to see each other not as a copy of another or as merely the “second most famous,” but as individuals joining together on this journey.
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Big Brothers Big Sisters, our nation’s largest mentoring network, was started over 100 years ago to provide role models for children and help them succeed as individuals.  Which person from the Torah do you think would have made a good “big brother” or “big sister” role model?  Which person from the Torah do you think most needed a “big brother” or “big sister” role model?
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