The Devil Made Me Do It

Parashat B'reisheet (Genesis 1:1-6:8)

Generally, when we study Parshat B’reisheet we focus in on either the days of creation or the Fall of Man. However, there are many more lessons to be learned from this brief account of the origins of humanity and sin. We can learn an important lesson from the story of Cain and Abel about how we are the masters of our own destiny. 

As we know, Adam and Eve’s first two children were Cain and Abel, respectively. Cain was an agrarian, one who worked the land to grow produce. Abel, however, was a herdsman, raising livestock. They both brought offerings before the LORD:

Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. (Genesis 4:3–4)

Immediately after this we read that the LORD accepted Abel’s offering, but rejected Cain’s. Because of this Cain became jealous of his brother, Abel. He allowed his hatred toward his brother to grow until, unfortunately, he lured his brother out into a field where he killed him. Before this happened, however, the LORD noticed Cain’s sullen attitude and his resentment toward his brother. He warned Cain about this, saying:

Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it. (Genesis 4:6–7)

As we see in this passage, Cain was not merely the victim of his sinful nature, but actually had the ability to conquer it. He had a choice to listen to the yetzer hara (the evil inclination) or the yetzer hatov (the good inclination). In His admonition of Cain, the LORD made it clear that he had the ability to overcome the cancer of sin that was growing in his heart. He told Cain that his choices and his actions would set the stage for whether or not sin would be able to dominate him. When the LORD told him, “you must rule over it,” He was letting Cain know that the choice was fully in his hands.

We would all do well to heed the LORD's instruction to Cain. Every day we each have a choice as to what voice we will obey. We can listen to the lies of the Adversary, or we can listen to the truth of Hashem. Our yetzer hara wants us to listen to the Adversary, while our yetzer hatov wants us to listen to Hashem. Once we make the choice of who we will listen to, our commitment to that voice is strengthened, as we are taught in Pirkei Avot:

Ben Azzai said: Be eager to fulfill the smallest mitzvah and flee from transgression; for one mitzvah induces another and one transgression leads to another transgression. The reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, the reward of one transgression is another transgression. (m.Avot 4:2)

When we choose to obey a commandment and flee from sin, we are strengthening our connection to Hashem. It will make it easier to choose what is right and resist temptation when we face our next decision. But when we choose to succumb to temptation, we strengthen our connection to sin and make more difficult to resist temptation in future trials. 

The Midrash Rabbah (B’reisheet Rabbah 22:6) records Rabbi Akiva expounding upon this concept using Isaiah 5:18, which says, “Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes.” He explains that when we first give in to sin it seems as thin and breakable as a spider's web. But through our continued submission to sin it will eventually become as thick and as strong as a ship's rope.

We’ve all heard the expression, “The Devil made me do it.” Many times we tend to allow our feelings and our circumstances to overtake us and we blame our bad decisions on the Adversary. However, blaming the devil didn’t work out for Cain, nor for his mother, Eve. Just like us, they were both accountable for their actions. James, the brother of our Master Yeshua confirms this by telling us:

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14–15)

We have the ability to make either good choices or bad choices. When we are faced with temptation, we must remember the LORD’s instruction to Cain: “You must rule over it.” We can either make choices that strengthen our sinful nature, or make choices that strengthen our godly nature. Let’s work to ensure every choice we make brings us closer to our Heavenly Father, rather than taking us farther away from Him.