The Book of Breishis seems to be a difficult book to understand why G-d included it in the Torah. The Torah is a book about how we are supposed to live. Yet, there are only three mitzvos in the Book of Breishis. It is basically stories about people – and incomplete stories at that. It only describes a few events in the lives of our heroes. So, what is the purpose of the Book of Breishis?
Rabbi Wein – quoting his teachers - explains that one of the main verses to understand the purpose of the Book of Breishis is at the beginning of chapter five, “This is the book of man.” The Torah does not come to define G-d, nor does it explain creation. The Torah comes to direct and guide each individual human being in that person’s journey through life. Therefore, the Torah is devoted to personal detail about people’s lives. It tells of human heroism and greatness, as well as recording the petty, violent and dark side of our nature.
That dark side of human behavior we find in the quarrel between Cain and Abel. They each brought offerings to G-d. Abel’s was accepted and Cain’s was rejected. Out of jealousy, Cain approached Abel and killed him. That is the simple explanation of that section in the Parsha.
However, our rabbis offer a deeper insight into Cain’s nature. The Rabbis teach us that Abel was stronger than Cain. Abel defended himself against Cain and was about to kill him in self-defense. Cain looked up at his brother - who was then on top of him - and said, “Abel, how can you kill me? It is going to destroy our father. Have mercy upon me; have mercy upon him.” Able agreed and released Cain, who then killed Abel.
The Rabbi’s elaboration of the story magnifies Cain’s crime. Not only did he murder his brother. It was an act of treachery – much worse than straight murder. That is a dark side of human behavior that unfortunately we have seen in other circumstances – turning against people who assisted you, provided for you and even gave you life.
Rabbi Wein also comments that the Book of Breishis provides us with role models - real heroes who inspire and challenge us to live up to our humanity and to the service of G-d. Each hero teaches us a unique path in life that a Torah believer should follow, how to overcome adversity, accept defeat and even tragedy, be positive in a negative society and be God-centered in a physical body.
The Book of Breishis teaches us that evil brings destruction to civilization - no matter how enticing the momentary enjoyment of that evil appears to society. And in the opposite manner, righteousness preserves all humanity and brings eternal blessing to generations yet unborn.
So, though Breishis may seem to be a book of what was, it is truly a narrative of what is and a story of what shall be. It is the book of man that we continue to write – as we grapple with life’s monumental tasks of sustaining the world and bringing blessing to all of mankind.