This past week, on the holiday of Simchat Torah (8th day of Sukkot), we read the final paragraphs of the Torah that describes Moses’ death. This Shabbat we immediately restart the Torah with the reading of the first Torah portion Bereishit, which discusses the creation of the world. In our D’var Torah, we wanted to focus on some of the first inhabitants of this world: Cain and Abel.
Cain was a farmer and his brother Abel, a shepherd. They both brought sacrifices to God from their successful labor. Cain brought some of the produce from his field and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock. However, God favored Abel’s sacrifice over Cain’s because Abel’s intention and motivation were pure, while Abel’s were somewhat lacking. Immediately, Cain became enraged with jealousy. G-d warned him to do the right thing and let his jealousy dissipate, however, Cain ignored this warning. Overwhelmed with this jealousy, Cain went out to the fields one day and slew his brother. God asked Cain where Abel was, Cain responded, “Lo Yadati Hashomer Achi Anochi-- I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God cursed Cain and exiled him to forever wander the face of the Earth.
Commenting on this story, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes: “Cain does not deny personal responsibility. He does not say, ‘It was not me,’ or ‘It was not my fault.’ [Instead] he denies moral responsibility.” Cain does not understand that as a person, he has a responsibility to look out and help others improve the world, rather than making it worse. Cain focuses only on benefiting himself: making God accept his offering and gaining power.
Taking on this responsibility is what would have made Cain a leader. Leaders are actively engaged in their communities, and if they see wrongdoing, they will be the ones to get involved. They do not stand idly by like a bystander, rather they are the ones that bring about change. When God created mankind, he gave us the freedom to do the right thing. In this tale Cain had the ability to choose the correct and moral path, yet he faltered, Cain could not overcome his jealousy and eventually murdered his brother.
The Hebrew word for “responsibility” is “achrayut,” coming from the root word “acher” or “other.” We have first a responsibility to God to choose the right path and then the responsibility to motivate others to join in making a positive impact on the world.
BBYO highly values leadership and taking responsibility. It emphasizes standing out of the crowd, speaking up against problems, and imparting change when necessary. Our organization understands the importance of not being a bystander, but instead of taking initiative, and making things happen.
In this season of the high holidays and restarting the Torah, we start the year with a fresh slate. This is our chance to start taking moral responsibility for our brothers and sisters in BBYO and across the world by standing up for what we believe in. We challenge each and every one of you to join us in taking responsibility this week in a way in which we ordinarily would not.
B’Hatzlacha and Shabbat Shalom!
—Sarah and Daniel, North Texas Oklahoma's 35th Regional Sh'lichim
Read commentary on this week's Parsha from BBYO teens around the world.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
I embarked on a journey to study in Israel for a semester and found a deeper connection to my own Jewish Identity
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