Nazarene Space

Cain and Abel: A Tale of Two Souls

By

James Scott Trimm

 

In the early 19th Century Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi (founder of the Chabad movement) wrote the Tanya in order to give an intellectual basis for Hasidic Judaism.  One of the major topics of the Tanya is that of the conflict within the beinoni (the average man) between the animal soul, influenced by the evil inclination (yetzer ra) and the divine soul, influenced by the good inclination (yetzer tov).  The Tanya summarizes this conflict well when it says:

Just as two kings wage war over a town, which each wishes to capture and rule, that is to say, to dominate its inhabitants according to his will, so that they obey him in all that he decrees for them, so do the two souls— the Divine and the vitalizing animal soul... wage war against each other over the body and all its limbs.

(Tanya Chapter 9)

 

 

Cain and Abel

 

The first century Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria understood this concept well.  He saw the very principle of this conflict in the Torah, as being revealed through allegory in the Torah.  In his commentary to the story of the offerings made by Cain and Abel he gives is a very good illustration of this conflict between the two souls:

 

(2) It happens then, that there are two opinions contrary to and at variance with one another; the one of which commits everything to the mind as the leader of all reasoning, or feeling, or moving, or being stationary; and the other, attributing to God all the consequent work of creation as his own. Now the symbol of the former of these is Cain, which name, being interpreted means, "possession," from his appearing to possess all things; and the symbol of the other is Abel; for this name, being interpreted, means "referring to God." (3) Now both these opinions were brought forth by one soul. But it follows of necessity that as soon as they were born they must have been separated; for it was impossible for enemies to dwell together for ever. Until then the soul brought forth the God-loving doctrine Abel, the self-loving Cain dwelt with her. But when she brought forth Abel, or unanimity with God, she abandoned unanimity with that mind which was wise in its own conceit.  

(On the Birth of Abel and the Sacrifices Offered by Him and His Brother Cain 2-3)

 

Philio (whose Bible was the Greek Septuagint) interprets “Cain” to mean "possession," which is in keeping with the Hebrew verb KANA “to own, to possess, to acquire”.  He interprets Abel to mean "referring to God” probably understanding Abel (Havel in Hebrew) to be derived from HAV EL “to give [to] El”. 

 

Philo sees Cain as representing the animal soul and the evil inclination which is completely self-centered and only desires to acquire, own and possess for self the pleasures of this world.  On the other hand Abel represents the divine soul and the good inclination, which only wishes to serve YHWH. 

 

Philo also saw this conflict between the two souls as symbolized by the conflict between Esau and Jacob:

 

(4) And this will be more evidently shown by the oracle which was given to Perseverance, that is to Rebecca;  for she also, having conceived the two inconsistent natures of good and evil, and having considered each of them very deeply according to the injunctions of prudence, beholding them both exulting, and making a sort of skirmish as a prelude to the war which was to exist between them; she, I say, besought God to explain to her what this calamity meant, and what was the remedy for it. And he answered her inquiry, and told her, "Two nations are in thy womb." This calamity is the birth of good and evil. "But two peoples shall be divided in thy bowels." And the remedy is, for these two to be parted and separated from one another, and no longer to abide in the same place.

(ibid 4)

 

And Philo also understood this concept of the conflict of the two souls as being symbolized by the commandment in the Torah concerning the rights of sons of two rival wives (Deut. 21:15).  Philo writes:

 

(19) And concerning this doctrine Moses also records a law, which he makes with great beauty and suitableness. And it runs thus, "If a man have two wives, the one of them beloved and the other hated; and if both the one who is beloved and the one who is hated have borne him children, and if the child of her who is hated is the firstborn, then it shall be in the day in which he divides the inheritance of his possessions among his sons that he shall not be able to give the inheritance of the first-born to the son of the wife that is beloved, overlooking his first-born son, the son of her who is hated; but he shall recognise the son of her who is hated as his first-born, to give him a double share of all the property that he has acquired; because he is the beginning of his children, and the right of the first-born is His."

(Ibid 19)

Philo goes on to show how these two women parallel the two inclinations, and their rivalry parallels the conflict of the two souls within each of us: 

(20) Consider, O my soul, and know who it is who is hated, and who is the son of her who is hated, and immediately you shall perceive that the chief rights and chief honours belong to no one else but to him alone; for there are two wives cohabiting with each individual of us, hostile and inimical to one another, filling the abode of the soul with the contentions which arise from jealousy. Of these we love one, which is gentle and tractable, and which we think very affectionate and akin to ourselves, and its name is pleasure; but the other we hate, looking upon it as untameable, ungentle, fierce, and very hostile to us, and the name of this one is virtue. Now what mortal is ignorant of the great mysteries of that exceedingly beautiful and greatly contended for pleasure? And who could worthily describe the multitude or the greatness of the good things which are treasured up by Virtue? (21) For two women live with each individual among us, both unfriendly and hostile to one another, filling the whole abode of the soul with envy, and jealousy, and contention; of these we love the one looking upon her as being mild and tractable, and very dear to and very closely connected with ourselves, and she is called pleasure; but the other we detest, deeming her unmanageable, savage, fierce, and most completely hostile, and her name is virtue. Accordingly, the one comes to us luxuriously dressed in the guise of a harlot and prostitute, with mincing steps, rolling her eyes about with excessive licentiousness and desire, by which baits she entraps the souls of the young, looking about with a mixture of boldness and impudence, holding up her head, and raising herself above her natural height, fawning and giggling, having the hair of her head dressed with most superfluous elaborateness, having her eyes pencilled, her eyebrows covered over, using incessant warm baths, painted with a fictitious colour, exquisitely dressed with costly garments, richly embroidered, adorned with armlets, and bracelets, and necklaces, and all other ornaments which can be made of gold, and precious stones, and all kinds of female decorations; loosely girdled, breathing of most fragrant perfumes, thinking the whole market her home; a marvel to be seen in the public roads, out of the scarcity of any genuine beauty, pursuing a bastard elegance.

(ibid 20-21)

 

Philo goes on to describe the conflict between these two rivals within us, relating the enticing words of pleasure seeking to seduce us.  He then relates the words of virtue as follows:

 

(26) When the other woman heard these words (for she was standing in a place where she was out of sight but still within hearing), fearing lest the mind, without being aware of it, might be led captive and be enslaved, and so be carried away by so many gifts and promises, yielding also to the tempter in that she was arrayed so as to win over the sight, and was equipped with great variety of ingenuity for the purposes of deceit; for by all her necklaces and other appendages, and by her different allurements, she spurred on and charmed her beholders, and excited a wonderful desire within them; she in her turn came forward, and appeared on a sudden, displaying all the qualities of a native, free-born, and lady-like woman, such as a firm step, a very gentle look, the native colour of modesty and nature without any alloy or disguise, an honest disposition, a genuine and sincere way of life, a plain, honest opinion, an language removed from all insincerity, the truest possible image of a sound and honest heart, a disposition averse to pretence, a quiet unobtrusive gait, a moderate style of dress, and the ornaments of prudence and virtue, more precious than any gold. (27) And she was attended by piety, and holiness, and truth, and right, and purity, and an honest regard for an oath, and justice, and equality, and adherence to one's engagements and communion, and prudent silence, and temperance, and orderliness, and meekness, and abstemiousness, and contentment, and good-temper, and modesty, and an absence of curiosity about the concerns of others, and manly courage, and a noble disposition and wisdom in counsel, and prudence, and forethought, and attention, and correctness, and cheerfulness, and humanity, and gentleness, and courtesy, and love of one's kind, and magnanimity, and happiness, and goodness. One day would fail me if I were to enumerate all the names of the particular virtues. (28) And these all standing on each side of her, were her bodyguards, while she was in the middle of them.

 

And she, having assumed an appearance familiar to her, began to speak as follows: "I have seen pleasure, that worker of wonderous tricks, that conjuror and teller of fables, dressed in a somewhat tragic style, and constantly approaching you in a delicate manner; so that (for I myself do by nature detest everything that is evil) I feared lest, without being aware of it, you might be deceived, and might consent to the very greatest of evils as if they were exceeding good; and therefore I have thought fit to declare to you with all sincerity what really belongs to that woman, in order that you might not reject anything advantageous to you out of ignorance, and so proceed unintentionally on the road of transgression and unhappiness. (29) "Know, then, that the very dress in which she appear to you wholly belongs to some one else; for of ten things which contribute to genuine beauty, not one is ever brought forward as being derived from or as belonging to her. But she is hung round with nets and snares with which to catch you with a bastard and adulterated beauty, which you, beholding beforehand, will, if you are wise, take care that her pursuit shall be unprofitable to her; for when she appears she conciliates your eyes, and when she speaks she wins over your ears; and by these, and by all other parts of her conduct, she is well calculated by nature to injure your soul, which is the most valuable of all your possessions; and all the different circumstances belonging to her, which were likely to be attractive to you if you heard of them, she enumerated; but all those which would not have been alluring she suppressed and made no mention of, but, meaning mischief to you, concealed utterly, as she very naturally expected that no one would readily agree with them." (30) But I, stripping off all her disguises, will reveal her to you; and I will not myself imitate the ways of pleasure, so as to show you nothing in me but what is alluring, and to conceal and to keep out of sight everything that has any unpleasantness or harshness in it; but, on the contrary, I will say nothing about those matters which do of themselves give delight and pleasure, well knowing that such things will of themselves find a voice by their effects; but I will fully detail to you all that is painful and difficult to be borne about me, putting them plainly forward with their naked appellation, so that their nature may be visible and plain even to those whose sight is somewhat dim. For the things which, when offered by me, appear to be the greatest of my evils, will in effect be found to be more honourable and more beneficial to the users than the greatest blessings bestowed by pleasure. But, before I begin to speak of what I myself have to give, I will mention all that may be mentioned of those things which are kept in the back ground by her. (31) For she, when she spoke of what she had stored up in her magazines, such as colours, sounds, flavours, smells, distinctive qualities, powers relating to touch and to every one of the outward senses, and having softened them all by the allurements which she offered to the hearing, made no mention at all of those other qualities which are her misfortunes and diseases; which, however, you will of necessity experience if you choose those pleasures which she offers; that so, being borne aloft by the breeze of some advantage, you may be taken in her toils.

(ibid 26-31)

 

Back to Cain and Abel

Philo finds two major faults with Cain and his offering.  The first is that Cain was sluggish in making his offering:

(52) And it came to pass after some days that Cain brought of the fruits of the earth as an offering to the Lord. Here are two accusations against the self-loving man; one that he showed his gratitude to God after some days, and not at once, the other that he made his offering from the fruits, and not from the first fruits, which have a name in one word, the first fruits. Let us now examine into each of these subjects of reproach, and first into that which is first in order, (53) we must do good works, hastening with all speed, and labouring to outstrip others, casting away all slowness and delay. And the best of all good works is the pleasing the first good without any postponement of energy, on which account it is also enjoined, "If thou vowest a vow, thou shalt not delay to perform It." (Deut. 23:21).  A vow now is a request for good things addressed to God, and the injunction is, that when one has attained the object of one's hopes, one must offer offerings of gratitude to God, and not to one's self, and to offer them if possible without any loss of time, and without any delay; (54) and of those who do not act rightly in this particular, some through forgetfulness of the benefits which they have received, have failed in that great and beautiful virtue of thankfulness, and others form an excessive conceit, have looked upon themselves as the authors of the good things which have befallen them, and have not attributed them to him, who is really the cause of them. A third class are they who commit an offence slighter indeed than the fault of these latter, but more serious than that of the first mentioned, for though they confess that the supreme Ruler is the cause of the good that has befallen them, they still say that they deserved to receive it, for that they are prudent, and courageous, and temperate, and just, so that they may well on these accounts be esteemed by God to be worthy of his favours.

(ibid 52-54)

Philo's second accusation against Philo is that Cain did not give the firstfruits in his offering, as did Abel:

(72) We have now adequately gone through the first article of our accusation against Cain. And the second is of this nature, Why does he bring the first fruits of the fruits of the earth, but not of the first produce? May it not be for the same reason, that he may give the pre-eminence in honour to creation, and may requite God himself with what is the second best? For as there are some persons who place the body before the soul, the slave before the mistress, so also there are persons who honour the creation more than God, though the lawgiver delivered this injunction, that "we should bring the first fruits of the first produce of the earth into the house of God,"{36}{exodus 23:19.} and not assign them to ourselves. For it is just to refer all the first motions of the soul, whether in point of order or of power, to God. (73) Now the first things in point of order are such as these, in which we participated from the first moment of our original birth: nourishment, growth, sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, speech, the mind, the parts of the soul, the parts of the body, the energies of these parts, and in short all the motions and conditions which are in accordance with nature. But those things which are first in consideration and in power are good actions, the virtues, and conduct in accordance with the virtues. (74) It is right therefore to offer the first fruits of these things: and the first fruits are the language of gratitude sent up from sincere truth of mind. And this language divides itself according to appropriate divisions in the same manner as the lyre and the other musical instruments are divided. For in each of those instruments each sound is by itself harmonious, and also exceedingly adapted to making a symphony with the rest. As in grammar also those of the elements which are called vowels are both capable of being uttered by themselves, and they also make a complete sound in conjunction with other letters. (75) But nature which has created many powers in ourselves, some consisting of the outward senses, some reasoning and intellectual and which has directed each to some appropriate work, and which again has adapted all in due proportion by a union and harmony with one another, may be most properly pronounced happy both in each particular and in all of them.

(ibid 72-75)

What we Can Learn

Just as the offerings of Cain and Abel represent the two souls and two inclinations within us, so does Abel's offering represent the Messiah within us.  The divine soul within us is the Torah within us.  When we learn Torah the wisdom of Torah enters our hearts and gestates in our understanding and gives birth to a knowledge of Torah.  This Torah is the Son of Yah, who is the Word within us. 

Why should a Nazarene study the Tanya and the writings of Philo of Alexandria? Because these help us to understand the teachings of Paul who wrote:

 

14 For we know that the Torah is of the spirit, but I am of the flesh and I am sold to sin….

22 For I rejoice in the Torah of Eloah in the inward son of man.

(Romans 7:14, 22 HRV)

 

Because of this, we are not weary, for even if our outer man is corrupted, yet that which [is] inside is renewed day by day.

(2Cor. 4:16 HRV)

 

…for the flesh desires a thing which is opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit desires a thing that is opposed to the flesh and the two of these are opposed to each other, that you do not do the thing which you desire.

(Gal. 5:17 HRV)

 

The Tanya and the writings of Philo help us to understand the words of Paul in the same Jewish continuity with which they were written.

 

 

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Views: 347

Comment by Malkiel Leib Strokovsky on October 4, 2015 at 9:06pm

I would have to say I agree with you, one if someone doesn't understand Kaballa, Talmud, Philo and so on you are not going to understand Rav Shaul, nor to be honest and of the Talmidim's writings, also to add to what  you said about the war within us Rav Shaul said in Romans 2:15 Additionally they show the of the Torah as it is inscribed on their hearts: and their conscience bears testimony to them, THEIR OWN REFLECTIONS REBUKING or VINDICATING ONE ANOTHER. This clearly shows the conflict between the yetzar ha tov and the yetzar ha ra within each man that without the Ruach of Mashiyach being given to us we would be on the losing end of each day. I want to thank Rabbi James for his excellent work and want to apologize that what I could send this month I have already sent, I am on SSI so can only send monthly, wish I could send more but will Daven. SHolom and Chag Simeach

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