16 October 2009
28 Tishri 5770
The Cain and Abel story suggests that sibling rivalry is a primal, timeless reality of life. After God rejects Cain’s offering in favor of his brother’s, he asks Cain, “Why are you angry and why are you crestfallen?” (Genesis 4:4-5) At only the second generation of human beings, it seems reasonable that God is just at the beginning of His learning curve about human psychology. Maybe He does not yet understand how desperately children want to please and how deep is their need to be seen, validated, and appreciated. While the Torah does not usually teach us explicitly about these matters, we can glean hints, sometimes from unlikely places, in the text.
On the fourth day of creation, God creates two “Meorot” (lights/luminaries) – the sun and the moon – to distinguish day from night. “And God made the two large lights, the large light to preside over day and the small light to preside over night . . .” (Genesis 1:15) This line is confusing: were they both large lights or was one a large light and one a small light? One Midrash (in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chullin 60b) resolves this difficulty with a story that personifies the smaller light, the moon. “The moon said to God, ‘Master of the Universe, How can it be possible for two kings to wear the same crown?’ God responded to the moon, ‘Go and make yourself smaller’.” The commentary of the Torah Temimah suggests that the moon was punished because it was jealous of the size of the sun, and it wanted to be the greater of the two. At first, God did create two lights of equal size and both would rule the sky at different times; yet, when the moon insisted that they could not both “wear the same crown,” God responded harshly, by diminishing it.
We could read this Midrash as an inventive way to resolve a textual difficulty. But I think that it is actually a foreshadowing, even a psychological underpinning to the Cain and Abel narrative. The moon illustrates what Stephen Covey calls the “scarcity mentality,” the pervasive and, perhaps, instinctual world view that life is a win-lose game, that there is not enough – money, success, honor, love – to go around, that “two kings cannot wear the same crown.” This mentality produces competition, jealousy, and anger that diminish self-esteem and can damage relationships. God’s responses, both to the moon in the Midrash and Cain in the Biblical text, reinforce this scarcity mentality.
These stories have profound implication for both parenting and education. They call us to reflect on the subtle and not-so-subtle messages we send our children, sometimes without even knowing it. How can we reinforce messages of what Covey calls “abundance” – a perspective on reality in which it is possible for more than one of us to feel smart, to experience success, to shine like a maor hagadol (great light) in the sky? At Gann, we strive to teach our students what neither the moon nor Cain understood. In fact, many kings can wear the same crown – in our case, the crown of learning, of excellence, of finding your own voice. Each of us can enlighten our community in our own way. When we do, we develop confidence and pride in ourselves and accomplishments, and we are able to find true joy in the happiness and successes of others.
May our lives and our relationships be infused with the “abundance mentality” – there is enough learning and love to go around.
Rabbi Marc Baker