Cain and Abel
It’s bitterly unjust.
Day after day
My father said
Abel brought his firstlings
I’m really blessed.
Day after day
My heart was so full, I felt
Cain brought his fruits
The Midrash relates that Eve had a dream which augured the death of Abel at the hand of Cain. She relayed it to Adam who separated the two lads, assigning them different occupations in the hope of averting such a tragedy – but to no avail.
The Etz Hayim (commentary of the JPS) suggests that Cain as the first-born, inherited his father’s occupation as the farmer, and possibly tried to duplicate Eden for his parents, as children often take on and try to realize their parents’ unfulfilled dreams. Abel thus became the shepherd. The Etz Hayim also points out that in Bible narrative, younger siblings are frequently more virtuous and furthermore there appears to be a special affinity for shepherds (Abraham, Moses and David.)
In Kohelet Rabba (7:28) the Midrash tells how after the Holy-One-Blessed-be-He creates the first Man, he takes him on a tour of the garden of Eden, showing him all the beautiful trees and telling him how they have been created for the benefit and enjoyment of humanity.
As to the offerings, the text gives no reason why Abel’s offering was accepted while Cain’s was rejected. The commentators search for clues. The text says that Cain brought an offering while Abel brought a choice offering. The Sefat Emet suggests that where the text says “Abel brought, for his part, the choicest of his firstlings”, “for his part (gam hu)” is literally translated “also he” and implies he brought also himself or, he brought wholeheartedly.
With regard to the lack of dialogue between the brothers, the text says “Cain said to his brother Abel…and when they were in the field, Cain set upon his brother Abel and killed him.” (Bereishit 4:8). The text says nothing of what was said or what was the response. In his book Messengers of God – Biblical Portraits and Legends, Elie Wiesel criticizes Abel for being aloof. He imagines that Cain was grief-stricken and hurt and wanted to unburden himself and Abel did nothing to console him. He imagines Abel as dreaming and not hearing, or hearing and not listening. Wiesel says’ “In the face of suffering, one has no right to turn away, not to see. In the face of injustice, one may not look the other way. When someone suffers, and it is not you, he comes first.” But Wiesel goes on to say that this does not mean if Abel was guilty, that Cain was innocent. He was envious of Abel and repudiated him because Abel seemed to have been favoured by God.