Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How can we explain Hevel's sacrifice?

In a previous post on Vayikra, I noted how Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi didn't offer any commentary on the korbanot, because what Rashi and Ibn Ezra wrote already sufficed, and because
I have seen this parasha and many of those [parshiyot] which follow it encircling the details of the zevachim and thekarbonotwhich was written by Moshe Rabbenu in his sefer compelled and against his will, for there is no desire to Hashem in olot and zevachim [seeTehillim 51:18], but rather this was compelled by the practice of all the nations in that time which brought them to this.
The Rambam holds similarly as to the purpose of the korbanot. In the comment section, a commenter recently asked:
How do [Ibn] Caspi and the Rambam account for Cain and Abel's sacrifices.
This is a great question, because Kayin and Hevel were very early in the history of mankind, and therefore before the idolatrous practices of the nation. (Indeed, the generation of Enosh is where idolatry began.) If so, why would Kayin have brought korbanot from the plants and why would Hevel have brought korbanot from the flock? And Hashem liked Hevel's korban!

It turns out that this is one of the objections in the Ramban I linked to there:
והנה נח בצאתו מן התיבה עם שלשת בניו אין בעולם כשדי או מצרי הקריב קורבן וייטב בעיני ה' ואמר בו (בראשית ח כא): וירח ה' את ריח הניחוח. וממנו אמר אל לבו לא אוסיף עוד לקלל את האדמה בעבור האדם (שם). והבל הביא גם הוא מבכורות צאנו ומחלביהן, וישע ה' אל הבל ואל מנחתו (שם ד ד), ולא היה עדיין בעולם שמץ ע"ז כלל. 
We could check out what Ibn Caspi has to say in the incident of Kayin and Hevel. I am not sure how informative it is, exactly. He writes in one sefer:

וראוי שתרגיש ג״כ שקין והבל כל אחד מהם היה מכוין להתקרב אל השם במלאכתו, כי כל דרך איש ישר בעיניו.

"And it is appropriate to realize as well that Kayin and Hevel, each of them, intended to draw close to Hashem in his respective work, for all paths of man are right in his eyes."

So perhaps while Hevel's sacrifice was of similar form to later sacrifices, it took this form as a way of drawing close to Hashem within his chosen profession."

In another sefer, Ibn Caspi explains וישע  as less than full desire, רצוי, found by korbanot in general.
וישע. אינו ריצוי גמור וירצה, כמו שיבא עוד בענין קרבנותינו
"וישע -- it is not complete ritzuy like vayeratzeh, like we find in the matter of our own korbanot"

So perhaps there is a sense here that the korban is not entirely appropriate even here. Neither of these is really a satisfying answer.

As I was listening to various shiurim on this week, I came across this hour-long shiur from last year by Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank:
Rabbi Netanel Wiederblank

The shiur is titled: Rambam's controversial reason for the reason for korbanos. That reason is the one mentioned above, that it was modeled after the idolatrous practice of the surrounding nations, as a way of directing that drive.

At approximately the 5 minute mark, he mentions a series of question by the Ramban, and this question about Hevel's korban is one of them.

At the 35 minute mark, he addresses this Hevel question specifically. The Ritva (in sefer Zikaron, which you can read here) answers the question by saying that one needs to know the secret about what the Rambam writes about Kayin and Hevel. But unfortunately, the Ritva doesn't tell us what that secret it. The footnotes on the Ritva's sefer Zikaron send you to Moreh Nevuchim volume 2 perek 30. There, the idea is developed that neither Kayin nor Hevel were the ones to continue on humanity, but rather Shet was. And we see that Kayin was more physical and Hevel more non-physically oriented. But not in a good way. And their korbanot reflected their natures. So the takeaway is that even Hevel's korban was non-optimal.

But the summary I provided was third-hand. That is, my summary of Rabbi Wiederblank's understanding of the cryptic Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim, where it was already labeled a secret. And which is likely philosophical / mystical, and thus requires the necessary background intellectual background as well as an understanding of the rest of the chapter, as explained by the commentators of the Rambam.

The reference is to this in Moreh Nevuchim:

.וממה שצריך שתדעהו ג״כ ותתעורר
עליו׳ אופני ההנמה בקריאת בני אדם קין והבל והיות
קין הוא ההורג להבל בשדה, ושהם יחד אבדו אף על פי
שתאריך לרוצח,ושלא תתקיים המציאות אלא לשת כי שת לי אלהים זרע אהר הנה כבר התאמת זה

One should listen to the shiur directly. And one should see the Rambam inside.


avi gedalyahu said...

The secret, as alluded to by slifkin and schapiro of late, is that kayin and hevel were not real people in history, just like rambam says that the entire gan edemn story is an allegory. w'hameivin yavin.

joshwaxman said...

This makes good sense, accounting for it being a secret not elaborated upon by Ritva and works with the language, then being representatives of these philosophical concepts

AryehS said...

See this for more info on ibn caspi and the rambam

AryehS said...

And here

joshwaxman said...


Here is a choice quote from the first link:

While Hirschensohn is able to say that “not all prophets knew the true divine philosophy,” for Maimonides this is the basis of prophecy and the only way it comes about. The notion that Cain, or Adam for that matter, could have developed his mind philosophically in order to achieve prophecy is obviously not a serious proposition. Therefore, according to Maimonides, it is clear that God never spoke to Cain. In other words, from Maimonides’ perspective the story never actually happened, and must be understood as a philosophical or moral tale.

This interpretation of Maimonides is nothing new. Lawrence Kaplan has already noted that the standard commentaries on Maimonides’ Guide—Efodi, Shem Tov, Falaquera, Ibn Caspi, and Narboni—leave little doubt that in their mind Maimonides' position is that the births of Cain, Abel, and Seth are to be understood allegorically.[3] When it comes to the Cain story I think the matter is fairly clear-cut, for if a brute like Cain can be regarded as a prophet this would contradict Maimonides’ entire philosophical understanding of what prophecy is.

DF said...

Agreed with the first commenter. But to refine it a bit, the point is that its an anachronism. Whether one uses traditional methods or critical methods, the Torah was written when sacrifices were still the "in" thing to do. Thus, the author applied those terms in writing the Kayin & Hevel account.

DF said...

FWIW, these are my noted to Genesis 4:3. The first paragraph was written 15 years ago. I will update to include this post.

It is commonly thought that God did not accept Kayin’s sacrifice, and instead took his brother Hevel’s, because Kayin did not offer the best of what he had, whereas Hevel did just that. This is supposedly the reasoning why God then tells Kayin, in the next verse, that Kayin can improve. But the meaning behind verses 6-7 is ambiguous in the extreme, (beyond even the obvious connection to 3:16) and thus I don't see how this explains what was wrong with Kayin’s sacrifice.
As I sit here today (June 2, 2008) the reason Kayin’s sacrifice was turned down seems absurdly simple. It was not accepted, and Hevel’s was, because produce are not part of the sacrificial rite, whereas sheep are part of the rite. Vegetables may have been appropriate as first-fruit offerings or tithes, but were never considered appropriate for sacrifices, and hence it was declined.
(That the sacrificial order was not established until much later is no difficulty, as it seems clear that the entire concept of sacrifices was something in vogue at that time in history, or better, instinctive. The laws probably codified things that were commonsense to men of the time. (Cf. Rambam’s discussion of sacrifices in the Guide.) Thus, the fact that in latter times produce was not considered acceptable for sacrifices illustrate that Kayin should have realized that produce was not considered befitting to bring God as a sacrifice.)


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