2

Rashi (Bereishis 4:3) says

מפרי האדמה. מִן הַגָּרוּעַ, וְיֵשׁ אַגָּדָה שֶׁאוֹמֶרֶת זֶרַע פִּשְׁתָּן הָיָה:

OF THE FRUIT OF THE GROUND —of the worst fruits (Genesis Rabbah 22:5); there is an Agada which says that it was linseed (Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 9).

What was so bad about Kayin bringing flax as the first recorded sacrifice to Hashem? I've always been told that flax is the worst plant, but aside from the health benefits (helps with heart disease, high triglyceride levels, high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and metabolic syndrome, along with being a good source of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids) there seems to be a preference for it in Chazal like Mishna Shabbos (2:3) -

כָּל הַיּוֹצֵא מִן הָעֵץ אֵין מַדְלִיקִין בּוֹ אֶלָּא פִשְׁתָּן. וְכָל הַיּוֹצֵא מִן הָעֵץ אֵינוֹ מִטַּמֵּא טֻמְאַת אֹהָלִים אֶלָּא פִשְׁתָּן - Whatever comes from a tree they may not light [the Shabbat light] except for flax. And whatever comes from a tree cannot be defiled with tent-uncleanness except linen.

So why is the sacrifice frowned upon?

  • 1
    He didn't bring from his choicest so even if it isn't inherently bad, it isn't best. – rosends Oct 24 at 19:16
  • 2
    I don’t think Hashem particularly cares about the health benefits of flax; it’s not like He’s eating it. – DonielF Oct 24 at 20:44
  • I think you ask two different Qs here: 1. what's the connection b/w Kayin's sacrifice and the Mishna (very interesting observation!) 2. WHy G-d didn't like it. An answer to the second might not be the flax by itself but the way Kayin did it. – Al Berko Oct 24 at 23:11
  • @DonielF I hear your point, but I was under the impression that we view korbanos from our own perspective? From His perspective, every "gift" is just giving back what belongs to Him. – NJM Oct 24 at 23:41
1

Rav Hirsch explains this at length in Beraishis 4:3-6

3 Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.

4 And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.

5 But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.

6 And the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you annoyed, and why has your countenance fallen?

Rav Hirsch explains that it was the intent behind the sacrifices that made the difference and not the content of the sacrifices.

Two people can bring exactly identical offerings, pray exactly the same prayers, and still present themselves to Hashem in infinite dissimilarity. That is clear just here at the very first offering. It does not say her: Hashem turned to Abel's offering and did not turn to Cain's offering, but He turned to Abel and his offering but to Cain and his offering He did not turn. The essential difference lay in the person of the offerer not in the offering itself. Cain's attitude was unpleasing and therefore his offering was unpleasing too.

Perhaps some nuances in what is told us reveal a difference in the attitude of the two brothers. It was מקץ ימים, after some time had passed, accordingly, after a time in which Cain's fields and Abel's flocks had flourished under Hashem's blessing. So there was occasion for an offering of acknowledgement.

Cain brings to Hashem ממפרי האדמה, some of theproduce of the earth, any, withpout choice. After all, he must offer Hashem too, "something". This shows that objectionable attitude which Malachi later censures so severely. The attitude which looks on our relationship to Hashem and the godly, "religion", as it is called, as something which also belongs to our affairs, something which is not to be entirely left out, and so we can devote just the "spare moments of life" to it, and give "the lame and the sick, and whatever else is useless" to it. וניבו נבזה אכלו is how Malachi describes it. "All that the Altar gets is food which is otherwise despised. It is that allegiance which is only brought by fear, which supports temple and church in the same spirit as it builds hospitals and prisons.

But Abel took מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן, took some of the firstlings of his flock, and of those the very best. He who brings the first and the best, places his relationship to Hashem and the godly in the foreground, for him this relationship is the first and most important, to which all the rest of his life is only accessory; more, offering the "first" is always taken in the Torah as representative dedication of all the rest.

Additionally, Rav Hirsch points out that Cain was, as the bchor (first born), the representative of the family and his sacrifice was supposed to represent the entire family. Thus Abel was not originally supposed to have to bring a sacrifice at all. It was only because Cain did not bring a proper sacrifice that Abel felt compelled to later bring his own.

So here too we should have expected that Abel would have been included and represented in Cain's offering and that there would have been no occasion for him to bring a separate one. But if in spite of that it is stressed that Abel גם הוא, he also brought an offering, then either Abel did not feel himself represented in Cain's offering, or Cain, caught up in his egoism, did not want to include him also. From what follows the first supposition seems more likely.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .