One of the most well known funny guys of Eastern European Jewry in the last centuries was Herrsch Ostropolier. When he was a child he once came home, crying: "The neighbours kid wanted to beat me!" His father was wondering: "How would you know that he wanted to do that?", while "If he did not want to do it, he would not have done it!" was Herrsch's answer…
Living together was at no time an easy task. As long as there is mankind there are also conflictual situations. Even in the very beginning of mankind, having only four human beings on the whole world, two parents and two brothers, the first conflict came up and ended badly, by the murder of one of the two brothers by the other. Why do things like these happen? And how can this be avoided? And how is this applicable to our times and societies?
Like Herrsch's neighbor, who did not just beat, but in the first place wanted to beat, there is always a development, no situation is born out of nothing. Our sages bring that very shortly to the point, saying: "Run after a good deed and avoid the sin, since one good deed is causing another, and one sin is causing another."
If we have a look at what happened before Kain murdered Abel, we will reveal several interesting observations:
1. It all started by Kain envying Abel, because his offer was accepted and Kains not. G'd talks to Kain and tells him: do not try to get rid of your responsibility. Do not try to shame everyone but yourself, because it is up to you to get up and make a switch. Get rid of your bad feelings, get control over your bad drive and make your future a better one – because you are able!
Just a pitty Kain did not really listen to G'ds words, or not strong enough believe in them.
2. During the whole story G'd is very present, from the moment accepting Abel's offer, then talking to Kain after not having accepted his offer, and finally punishing him for killing his brother. Interestingly just at one point G'd seems not to be present at all: during the murder itself!
Our sages in the midrash go even one step further and compare the situation to a thief, who managed to get into a town and steal a lot of jewelry. Finally he is caught by the guardian of the town, who started yelling at the thief: "How do you dare steal things in this town!" But the thief answered straight away: "Why do you ask me this question? I am a thief, I did what I know to do: to steal – so I did just my job! But what is about you? Are you not the guardian of the town? Are you not supposed to watch the town that people like me will not be able to steal? So it is actually you who did not do his job, not me!" Likewise said Kain to G'd after the murder: "You ask me, where my brother is, and what I have done to him? But it is not you who was supposed to watch us and prohibit enabling things like these?"
It looks like a strong question, why did G'd really not prohibit the murder? Why did he disappear just in this very moment? The answer is as clear, as it is meaningful: Kain, it is you who murdered! You did the evil! G'd gave us manhood the Free Will, with all its meanings! It means that we are really able to choose the bad choice, and it means that the outcome of such a choice maybe very bad, catastrophic – yes, it is possible! It is possible by bad choices to destroy life, to destroy the world – this is part of the Free Will and of our choice! So it is up to us to choose a better way, because otherwise… bad things will really happen, and not just theoretically be possible!
3. The story in the bible does not reveal what was the fight about between Kain and Abel. Our sages bring up some possibilities, among them, how to divide the world between the two. This explanation is quite amazing, since everyone understands that the whole world should be big enough for two persons, without getting into a fight how to divide it, and for sure this should not be a reason to evolve to murder!
But in the same way we can look at the current situation: The world has enough resources for mankind, there would be enough food for example to nourish all human beings several times! Why then do people still starve? Because we are not wise enough to divide everything in a fair manner! Maimonides brings that insight to a visionary point: In future times, when the Messias will have come, there will be no change in natural laws, but still there will be enough food and welfare for everyone, and each one will sit under his fig tree and under his grapes, as the prophet Isaiah says…
4. Another point which is fundamental plays an important role: Before the murder happens, there was an interaction between Kain and Abel: "And Kain talked\said to his brother Abel, and it was, when they were in the field, and Kain stood up on his brother Abel and killed him." Interestingly it says that Kain talked to Abel, told him anything, but there was no reaction of Abel! There was no dialogue, it was a monologue. Maybe, if Abel answered or reacted to Kain, if they were talking to each other, having a real dialogue, maybe the murder would not have happened! What makes clear that dialogue is necessary, even there maybe a long way to go, but where people talk to each other there is hope and worse things can still be prohibited.
5. The last point to be pointed out goes back to a very basic fact, but exactly because of it the whole story becomes much more irritating: Kain and Abel were brothers! Whatever reason could have been there to be different opinions about, and to fight about, but there is always a much stronger reason to overcome all the difficulties and to become friends again: brotherhood! The bond of love within a family should always make clear, that though living together is not always easy, yes it maybe even very challenging, but it is always worthwhile to overcome the challenges and to get together – because of being a family!
Our sages in the oral tradition emphasize that there is a reason why all human beings came out of one person, Adam: So no one could feel being better than the other, because of descending from better families. No, we are all equal, coming from the same family, which makes all of us being brothers and sisters! So whatever differences there are, we are able to overcome them, because of being one family. This perspective should emphasize the common between us, which leads us to the ability to respect and estimate the differences between us.
To conclude the messages learned of the story of Kain and Abel: It is up to us and our responsibility to make a difference, to switch the direction, otherwise bad things can happen and G'd will not necessarily prohibit them. So it is important to talk to each other, to see the common and the connection between us, but at the same time to acknowledge and appreciate the differences, and to realize, there is enough place and resources for everyone, especially when everyone is willing to work together.
(Now, since I was probably asked to add my contribution to this panel also due to the fact living in Israel, which is known as a country with conflictual societies, I would like to refer to that situation:
First of all I will not try to represent the opinion of the Israeli population. This would be problematic, since Israel is known to be a country with not only one president, but over 7 million presidents, and each one knows best how this country should be ruled. On the other hand I would like to point out, that besides the conflicts in this wonderful country, and each conflict is one too much, there are countless many situations each and every day, where Jews and Arabs live and cooperate side by side, accepting and often enjoying living together in one place. So it can be seen where I live, in the central Galilee, but people all over the world will not get to know this picture since no media, no newspapers or television would talk about it, since this is not interesting. This is a real pity, because it shows that living side by side is possible. This does not mean that the societies have to mix up, to become one, each can and should keep its identity. It does not mean you have to be of the same opinion about everything, and it does not mean that danger should not be acknowledged and banned, but it means there is hope for a good living side by side, for a better life for everyone.)
So: yes! We do not give up, since we believe it is in our hand to make the difference!