|Introduction: Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve. Each son brought an offering. Cain’s offering, which was from inferior produce, wasn’t accepted by G-d; Abel’s offering was.) Cain was upset at being rejected; G-d asked, …why are you so angry and why has your face fallen? If you improve yourself, you will be forgiven. But if you will not improve yourself, then sin crouches at the door. Its desire is toward you, yet you can conquer it. (Gen. 4:6-7) The choice of good and bad is up to every individual and depending on those choices, he might find himself on the threshold of the consequences. G-d asks Cain why he is angry but isn’t the answer obvious? Cain was upset because Abel’s offering had been accepted but his wasn’t. How does merely telling Cain that if he improves himself in the future (and then he will be forgiven) address his being angry? If Cain is angry about the past, why does G-d speak about the future? Why do some people act like Cain (i.e., with anger) when criticized? The truth of the criticism is so painful that it leads to anger. Think about it, if one knows the criticism is absurd and incorrect, it wouldn’t anger him or her. If a sports columnist accused LeBron of being completely ignorant of the basic rules of basketball, LeBron wouldn’t get upset because he knows the accusation is absurd. He’s been playing the game professionally for years and therefore must know the rules. However, if a columnist wrote that LeBron should retire because he can no longer play well, that may cause his temper to rise. Consider another case: Imagine a teenager who angrily tells her mother, “you’re not my mother” as opposed to “you know nothing about parenting; you are a bad mother!” The second statement is far more painful and detrimental to the relationship and the mother might use anger as the vehicle to express her pain at hearing the child’s statements. The message to Cain was, You know that you are angry because you didn’t do your best; as such, you are angry at yourself. You initiated the offering but did not give from your best. Your hurt stems from confronting that reality and now you are attempting to project that anger onto your brother. If Cain was confident that he did his best, he wouldn’t have gotten angry because untruths don’t debilitate a person. Of course, in his heart of hearts he realized that his offering wouldn’t have been rejected by G-d if he had done his best because it’s not possible that the Almighty would ever reject someone who did their best. The truth of this reality is what angered Cain. Examples of this come up regularly in life. When a person is late for meetings on a regular basis and is called out for it, sometimes he answers with anger and says how difficult the commute is or (total denial) how being five minutes late isn’t called being late and goes on a tirade on how people are overly critical and have their priorities confused. However, the honest person admits the lateness, apologizes, and assures the group it will never happen again. By doing so he has acknowledged he has not been trying hard enough to make it on time. When a wife accuses her husband of not paying attention when she speaks because he is texting, emailing, or using on his iPad, there are two ways he can react. The first is to truly consider her words and think about what it must feel like to speak with someone who doesn’t make eye contact and is involved with something else. The second reaction is one of anger, where the husband minimizes her comments by denying that he is on devices when they speak OR he accuses her of being overly sensitive because she should realize that he can do two things at once and that he always gives her his full attention when they speak. The angrier he gets, the more he realizes—consciously or subconsciously— that she is right and that he has the ability to address her needs but chooses not to.
The next time someone corrects or rebukes you, assess your reaction. Are you getting angry, self-defensive or overreacting to a situation that doesn’t merit this type of behavior? Even if you can’t bring yourself, at the moment, to act as you should, if, when you are by yourself, you are willing to acknowledge your incorrect behavior, you are on the road to a happier life. This isn’t advice for righteous people, it’s advice for wise people. Blaming others for our shortcomings seems to work in the moment but it is the beginning of a road leading to resentment, bitterness, and isolation.
May we all have the courage to confront ourselves—even the tough parts. Instead of living in denial or being frightened by what you encounter, use those fearful moments as prayer opportunities. Ask G-d for the emotional strength to deal with yourself and have trust that your prayers have been heard. Feed your faith and starve your fear. (Sources: Ohr HaChaim; Targum Onkelos, Rashi, Radak )