Cain's Choice in the Here and Now– Parshat Bereishit

Omni-temporal Man - Part III

Choice. An empowering word. An intimidating word. It can mean choosing between chocolate and vanilla ice cream or whether or not to marry. It gives us the ability to feel control over our lives yet it can also paralyze us.

Cain had a choice.1 In Parshat Bereishit, we read that he was unhappy with God's reaction to his sacrifice but what could he do. Furthermore, God assigned responsibility to him and told him 'it's up to you dear Cain to choose your life path'. What, in fact, was Cain's choice? Rashbam, the grandson of Rashi, explains the choice God gave him. If you do better, God says, and sin less, you will be able to bear the weight of the smaller amount of sin. (I love the fact that Rashbam didn’t talk about perfection. He specifically says that you will be able to "bear" the sins you will do, meaning there will be more sin. After all, as Big Bird says, "Everyone makes mistakes."2) The second part of the choice is that if you do not do better and you will accrue more sin, then you will collapse under the weight of your sins. That was his choice. Cain chose.

Viktor Frankl had a choice. He received a visa from the Austrian government in the late 1930's to go to America. He had already become a well-known psychiatrist and had started training doctors in logotherapy. If he exercised his right to use the visa, he would be able to spread the word about the effectiveness of logotherapy. His parents even encouraged him to go. He hesitated because of the situation of European Jewry at the time. They were already suffering under the Nuremberg Laws and the sense was that things would get worse before they got better. Following a certain incident, he felt called  to stay with his parents even though it meant giving up this golden opportunity to spread his teachings. Yet he felt that he needed to stay in the here and now. And right now he was being called to stay in Europe. That was his choice. Dr. Frankl chose.2

We all have choices. Some better. Some worse. Sometimes between two good things. Sometimes it's a choice between two unpleasant outcomes. How do we make that choice? What are we being called to do at that moment?  I am living/being in the present. What is the one right thing that life is asking of me? 

As 'Omni-temporal Man', we experience simultaneously multiple times. We live with the knowledge and memory of our past experiences, our dreams and visions of and concrete plans for tomorrow all the while being in the present and figuring out what is the best choice for the here and now.

It can sound scary. It can also be a source of strength.

How will we choose? We can access our ability to choose with the strength of our yesterday, the belief in our tomorrow and the sensitivity and courage necessary for the demands of our today. 

We can choose.

Notes

  1. Bereishit 4:1-7. This is the relevant part of the written story of Cain and Abel
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHkymY6yKMg. "Guilt", or responsibility for our actions, also happens to be a part of the human condition according to Dr. Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning (p. 137). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.. 
  3. Frankl, Viktor E.. The Will to Meaning, p. 40

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