And Cain spoke to Abel his brother… and when they were in the field, Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. – Gen. 4:8
Cain and Abel are the first siblings to appear in the Torah. Like most brothers, each had his own unique character and interests. Abel was a shepherd; Cain was a farmer. Both men brought sacrifices to God: Cain, “from the fruit of the soil” (Gen. 4:3) and Abel, “the choicest of the firstlings of his flock.” (Gen. 4:4)
God preferred Abel’s offering, perhaps because he brought “the choicest” of the flock while Cain brought an average fruit. This apparent Divine favoritism enraged Cain, and he committed the heinous crime of fratricide: he murdered his own brother. Before the tragic killing, the Torah says that Cain spoke to Abel, but it doesn’t record what he said! Many have speculated on exactly what Cain might have said to his brother before killing him in the field. Rabbi Ya’akov Neuberger’s explanation is simple yet profound. The Torah doesn’t record what Cain said to Abel because Cain didn’t say anything at all! Problems begin when people stop talking to each other. Breakdowns in communication can destroy relationships and families, and sometimes even lead to murder.
Let us all take a lesson from Cain’s mistake. When we’re angry at someone or jealous, let’s not let poisonous rage fester inside us, but rather talk to them, respectfully, about what we’re feeling – and then listen when they answer.
Image: “The Sacrifice of Cain and Abel” by Mariotto Albertinelli, 1510