Parashat Hashavuah: Bereshit

“And the Lord set a sign for Cain” Genesis 4:15


A midrash on the familiar story of Cain and Abel asks what was the sign that God gave Cain? And to what end?

Rabbi Yehuda says that God caused the sun to highlight him, indicative of divine protection. Rabbi Nechemia retorts how inappropriate to cause the sun to shine on a wretch. Rather, Cain was afflicted with leprosy. Rav says that God gave Cain a dog. Abba Yossi says that Cain grew a horn. Rav says God made Cain an example to murderers. Rabbi Hanin says he was an example to penitents.

Clearly, we might understand the horn as either fearsome protection or hideous disfigurement. As Cain experiences life seeing people recoil in horror, he will be constantly reminded of the magnitude and revulsion of his sin.

But what is meant by the idea that God gave Cain a dog? Ramban explains it as a guide dog. The dog went ahead of him and ensured he did not stumble into the greater danger of wild animals which would attack him without any moral compunction. Ramban further explains: God made Cain himself into a sign, a warning to humanity.
How do we match Rav’s claim that God gave Cain a dog with his later statement that He made him an example to murderers?

Dogs are loving, loyal and affectionate to those who show them kindness. However, they can turn savagely against those who betray them. Giving Cain a dog to guide him, God also made Cain responsible for his only dependable companion.  If he wanted affection, he would need to show kindness and he would come to appreciate the interdependence which had eluded him in his relationship with Abel.

Cain’s dog is both protector and companion; a sign for interdependence and healthy relationships; that you must constantly invest if you hope for a return. With the dog, the onus for initiative is upon Cain. 

In the Eden story, the serpent demonstrates the animal kingdom to be the instigator of sin and destroyer of relationships. With symmetry, Cain’s dog is presented as a means of rehabilitation and bonding.

May we learn to treat each other with kindness and compassion, appreciate the blessing of companionship and responsibility in relationships. May we choose friends who will guide us in the right direction and may we be true friends and guides to our fellows.

Our sidrah panellists for 5779 are:

Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, senior rabbi, Finchley United Synagogue
Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet, St Albans Masorti Synagogue
Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen, associate rabbi, Manchester Reform Synagogue
Rebbetzin Shalvie Friedman, educator, Aish UK,
Rabbi Steven Dansky, Redbridge United Synagogue


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