A. Response to Catastrophe
Cain and Abel coped very differently to the tragedy of the expulsion from Eden. Abel became a shepherd. Since sheep graze most of the day, this left him ample time for spiritual pursuits. Cain, however, turned to farming, a far more arduous pursuit. This made him much more vested in the material world.
B. A Philosophy of Gift-Giving
In time, both brothers brought offerings before G-d. Cain’s was rejected, whereas Abel’s was accepted. The gifts diverged in two ways: Cain was the first to bring his offering. However, Abel’s gift was far more generous.
Cain, the materialist, nonetheless recognized that he needed G-d’s assistance in order to succeed in his pursuits. Thus, he sought to “bribe” G-d through bringing such a gift. Yet he found it too difficult to give up the best of what he had.
Abel, on the other hand, felt a strong desire to connect to G-d, but attributed little value to the physical world. Thus it did not initially occur to him to bring such a gift. However, once he saw Cain offering a physical gift, , Abel decided to do the same, and generously gathered the best of what was his as an offering to G-d.
C. Dealing with Rejection
Cain responded to G-d’s rejection of his sacrifice with anger and despair. G-d addressed both emotions. First, G-d explained that there was no need for him to feel angry or blame Abel for his rejection, for Cain was able to control his own fate through his action. Likewise, there was no need for him to despair of ever finding favor in G-d’s eyes, for it within the power of every individual to control the inclination to evil. G-d told Cain that it was up to him to see G-d’s rejection of his sacrifice as constructive criticism, rather than an act of unfair discrimination.
D. The Fatal Argument
Yet G-d’s warning to Cain went unheeded. Cain picked a fight with his brother, and in a fit of range, killed him.
Cain and Abel were different in nature, but had they found a way to bridge their differences, could have made a perfect team, each completing the other. Abel could have provided the spiritual focus while Cain, skilled at laboring, could have provided the material resources for bringing spirituality into the material world. Unfortunately, they chose separate paths, each wanting to be self-sufficient. However, neither world-view was sustainable alone.
E. Justice is Done
Adam was expelled from Eden to return to “the land from which he was taken.” His mission was to fix the earth’s spiritual imperfections. Cain betrayed this mission by abusing the earth instead of elevating it. Adam caused a gap between man and the natural resources of the world. Cain widened the gap by taking the land and turning it into an ally for his crime. As a consequence, Cain couldn’t retrieve adequate sustenance from the earth. He was forced to spend the rest of his life as in itinerant wanderer, constantly searching for sustenance.