Friday, 1 October, 2021 - 12:12 pm

 It is the first murder in history, in this week's parshat Bereshit it happens between the first siblings of history.

Following the murder, G-d tells Kain, “the voice of your brother’s blood cries out from the earth.” But who buried Abel? The Torah is silent on that.

The Midrash, as always, fills in the gaps.

Adam and Eve sat in front of their slain son, Abel, the first dead human in history, cried, and mourned, “and did not know what to do.” A raven flew near them carrying a dead raven in its beak. The raven proceeded to scrape the ground until a furrow was dug – large enough to place the dead bird in and then the raven covered and buried the dead bird. Adam saw this instinctive act of the raven and said: We shall emulate the raven. He proceeded to take the body of his son and buried it in the earth.

It is a strange story. Why did Adam and Eve “not know what to do?” G-d told them earlier, “for dust you are, and to dust, you will return." And burial of a body is not so complicated a feat.

Also, why was it a raven that was sent to teach Adam and Eve what to do?

The Rebbe offered the following explanation.
What perturbed Adam and Eve was not what to do with the body, but rather what to do with themselves. After observing such cruelty in the world, their own son murdering his brother, how could they possibly move on? They knew that natural death is part of the plan but murder? How can this happen in G-d’s world? And if it can, is there any hope for the future of humanity? In the presence of such darkness and hopelessness, they sat and wept and did not know the way forward.

The response came from a raven. The raven is considered an unkind bird. A scientific study a few years ago reached this conclusion: Don’t try to wrong a raven, not even once. It’s not going to forget and it’s probably going to shun you for a long time. When it comes to animal personalities, there are dogs, which are loyal and usually love you no matter what. On the other side are ravens, who are only too happy to remember what you look like and ostracize you.

In the words of Job: “Who prepares for the raven his prey, when his young cry out to G-d, they wander for lack of food?”

The raven has been described as a “grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore”. One flock of ravens has attained notoriety by taking up residence at the Tower of London, site of many gruesome beheadings and royal murders. To this day, the Beefeater guards warn visitors from getting too close, lest the ravens supplement their usual diet of carrion with a tourist's finger or toe.

It was this raven, considered a selfish and cruel creature by instinct, who showed up at the funeral of Able. involved in a generous activity: bringing another raven to burial. The raven could not hope for reciprocity, for the other raven was dead. So why did the raven engage in this kind act? Even in a raven there is a kindness that can be found which is not self-serving, but part of an inherent kindness G-d implanted into nature. It is not rational and part of “survival of the fittest.” It is love for the sake of love.

This was the comforting message to Adam and Eve of how they can move on from here. The only response to insane evil is insane goodness. The only reaction to baseless hatred is baseless love. When observing such cruelty, it is common to surrender to anger and helplessness—that is a normal emotion. But there is a far deeper response, and it is much better for the soul and the world: when you see the cruelty of such a grand nature, create goodness of a grand nature. Anything less will never fill the void and heal the pain.

This is a concept called penance commensurate to the sin, "to balance the scales." The energy invested in the sin must now be invested in recovery. Adam and Eve were being taught, when confronted with such irrational devastation, one can only respond with equal irrational commitment, one that is radical, wild, and all-pervasive. When I see people becoming less than human, I must become super-human. Nothing less will do.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks A”H once explained the Rebbe’s aspiration to reach every Jew in the world, sending out thousands of emissaries to every community on the globe. Why did he do it? It was perhaps a form of penance commensurate to the sin, of the Holocaust. Hitler Y”SH hunted down every Jew in hate, so the Rebbe sought out every Jew with love. Ordinary love would not suffice. Experiencing such insane hatred, of humans turning against humans with unparalleled sadism, there was only one way forward: radical love, insane love, super-rational love, love without conditions, limits, or reasons. Love for the sake of love.  That would be the only force that can equal and conquer such evil.

Perhaps the seeds of these ideas were planted in the Rebbe’s mind during this summer 1942 as the fires of the Holocaust were raging.

Today, when you see such insane antisemitism, what is the correct response? You reach out to every Jew and tell them how much they are loved! The antidote to ludicrous hatred is ludicrous love.

Do you know who understood this? Shlomo Sulayman, who passed away this past year, on Simchat Torah.
He was 117. Israel’s oldest man, and probably the oldest man alive.

Shlomo Sulayman, a Yemenite Torah observant Jew, had long Yemenite payot and a handsome snow-white beard. He was living on his own and his mind was clear until the very end (his wife passed away a few years ago). He went to shul every single day and was considered an expert in Jewish law.

The secret of his longevity? His grandson says: “He loved life. Anyone who ever debated him always responded with kindness, common sense, and a sweet demeanor. The whole community loved him.”

“He ate little and was highly active till his last day. In the morning he ate bread and leben, in the afternoon—fish, or chicken, with rice. In the evening, a salad, and an egg. And he walked by foot miles each day.

“Until the pandemic, he would go to the synagogue, even at the age of 116. He was a very modest man, which is why everyone loved him. But I guess the isolation at home contributed to his health deteriorating,” the grandson Radia said.

Every year at Israel's official state Independence Day celebrations on Mount Herzl, 12 individuals are granted the honor of lighting a torch. Last year, the honor was given to the 93-year-old great-great-grandmother for an almost unbelievable feat: quietly, and far from the public eye, she took into her home dozens of children no one else wanted, children abandoned by terrified parents in hospitals because they were born with physical deformities and diseases.

80 years ago, Nahmias, 17 and going by the name Marie Sabah, fled the Nazis who hunted Jews in the streets of Tunisia during the German occupation in November 1942. She ultimately arrived in Israel to a life of poverty in the vast tent towns established by the fledgling state to house hundreds of thousands of immigrants, mostly from the Arab world, whose homes could not be built as quickly as they arrived. She married and raised eight children there, eking out a dignified existence on the social and economic periphery of Israeli society.

In 1973, her son Shaul was badly wounded during fighting in the Yom Kippur War. “I took an oath that if G-d gives me my son back, I’d be willing to do any mitzvah or mission that is given to me,” she related.

G-d heard her prayer, she said, and her son recovered, becoming a municipal social worker in the city. One day, he called her and said he had a little girl who needed a home.

“That’s how it started. She was the first,” she said. Soon, news of her kindness spread, and children began arriving at her doorstep from around the country, sometimes even from beyond Israel’s borders.

As her fame grew, it became known everywhere that she was willing to take in and raise any child, because she believed in her heart that every person was made in the image of God, no matter where they came from or what difficulties they had in life. It is hard to believe. This woman became the mother of 52 foster children raised and loved in her house.  

She is known today as the “mamo” (“mother” in Tunisian-accented French) of Afula. At the ceremony, the host broke from the rigid text, turned to Nahmias, and said, “Mamo, bless us, bless Israel.”

Nahmias, sitting in a wheelchair and smiling broadly in her heavy jacket against the night’s unseasonable cold, did not hesitate, yet once again. “May Israel be blessed, from all my heart, God will hear me, Israel will rise ever upward, that we grow, that our soldiers don’t fall anymore — that the Jews and the Arabs and the Christians and the Druze, will all become one single hand. We are all created by God, may He give us peace."

Nahmias was still mid-blessing when the audience, including past Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, responded with a raucous standing ovation, drowning her out. It was a sight to behold. Many shed a tear.

Nahimas understood the raven’s message. The only real response to the challenge of life is an absolute and unwavering commitment to unbridled kindness and goodness. This is what the heroes of everyday life know so well.

Like Adam and Eve, she learned from the raven, that to heal your soul from such deep trauma requires a love of infinite magnitude.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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