What Did Kayin Say to Hevel?

Vayomer Kayin el Hevel achiv vayehi bih’yosam ba’sadeh vayakam Kayin el Hevel achiv vayahargeihu (Bereishis 4:8)

In Parashas Tazria (Vayikra 13:45–46), the Torah commands a metzora to dwell outside of the Jewish camp and to announce his impure status to others by calling out, “Tamei, tamei!” The Gemara in Moed Kattan (5a) explains that this is done for two reasons. When the metzora informs others about his condition, they will pray that he should be healed quickly. Additionally, their awareness of his impure status will enable them to avoid becoming defiled through contact with him.

However, the Kotzker Rebbe suggests that the Torah’s words “tamei tamei yikra — he shall call out, ‘Tamei, tamei’” — can also be homiletically interpreted as saying that “tamei — an impure person — tamei yikra — will call other people impure,” as the Gemara (Kiddushin 70a) teaches that kol ha’posel b’mumo posel — people with faulty character traits and spiritual blemishes attribute their failings and weaknesses to others instead of acknowledging and taking responsibility for their own shortcomings.

In Parashas Bereishis, we find a tragic application of this concept. When Kayin saw that his brother Hevel’s offering was accepted by Hashem while his own sacrifice was rejected, he became depressed. Hashem came to Kayin and reproached him for his conduct, encouraging him to improve himself and conquer his evil inclination. Shockingly, the very next verse records that Kayin was in the field with Hevel and murdered him.

How is it possible that immediately after hearing a message of rebuke directly from Hashem, Kayin proceeded to kill his brother in cold blood? Further, the Torah records that prior to doing so, Kayin said something to Hevel, but the content of his message is cryptically omitted. What did Kayin say to Hevel just prior to killing him?

My cousin Shaya Gross, z”l, resolves both difficulties by suggesting that what Kayin related to Hevel was the “mussar shmuess” that he had just received from Hashem. In other words, instead of personally taking Hashem’s message to heart, Kayin decided that his brother possessed the spiritual faults and deficiencies that Hashem was addressing, and he proceeded to share the rebuke with Hevel, which is also how he was able to justify murdering him so shortly after being admonished by Hashem.

In the Yom Kippur Viduy, we recently confessed to Hashem for the sin of kishinu oref — being stiff-necked and refusing to take messages of rebuke to heart. When we hear an inspiring speech, instead of looking inward and applying its lessons to ourselves, we are often tempted to conclude that it is intended for our friend or neighbor, who is far more deficient in the area being addressed.

In doing so, however, we are following in the footsteps of Kayin and the metzora and denying ourselves the critical opportunity to honestly examine our ways. It behooves us to instead maturely acknowledge our own personal shortcomings and strive to grow and correct them.

Q: Rashi writes (Bereishis 1:11) that Hashem commanded the ground to give forth fruit trees that would taste like the fruits they would yield, but the earth disobeyed and instead sprouted trees that don’t taste like their fruits. As a result, when man was punished for eating from the tree of knowledge, the earth was also cursed (3:17–19). Why did Hashem wait to punish the ground instead of doing so immediately at the time of its sin?

Q: The Mishnah in Avos (5:1) teaches that Hashem created the world with 10 utterances. However, a count of them yields only nine. What was the 10th utterance?

A: The Taz explains that it was the sin of the ground in disobeying Hashem’s command that was indirectly responsible for the sin of Adam. According to one opinion in the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 15:8), the forbidden fruit that Adam and Chavah ate was an esrog, and the Gemara (Sukkah 35a) teaches that the esrog is the only fruit that followed Hashem’s command and tastes like the tree on which it grows.

Because of its unique status, Adam had a tremendous desire for it, which would not have been the case had the earth obeyed Hashem’s command, in which case all fruits would have tasted like the trees on which they grew. Therefore, the earth was punished at the time of Adam’s sin.

The Kli Yakar points out that the primary victim of the earth’s punishment was man. At the time of the earth’s disobedience, Adam hadn’t done anything wrong and didn’t deserve to suffer, but once he sinned, the earth could now be punished.

A: The Vilna Gaon suggests that the 10th utterance was 1:29-30, which states that Hashem said, “‘Behold, I have given to you (Adam) all herbage-yielding seed that is on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed-yielding fruit; it shall be yours for food. And to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the sky, and to everything that moves on the earth within which there is a living soul, every green herb is for food,’ and so it was.”

He explains that although Hashem had previously created the plants and the fruits, they didn’t yet possess the capacity to nourish and sustain people and animals that consume them, and it was this ability that Hashem gave to them through this utterance.

Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, adds that this explains why this statement ends with the words “vayehi chein — and it was so,” which is found after the other nine utterances, because these verses also record part of the Creation.

This explanation also sheds new light on the verse (Devarim 8:3) that teaches that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by everything that emanates from the mouth of Hashem, which can now be read as saying that bread itself doesn’t inherently possess the capacity to sustain man, but is only able to do so after Hashem’s utterance.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.