I am tempted to say that I am glad I do not have a son like Cain. But then I realize I must be very careful. A “Cain” could be waiting for me tomorrow. What can we learn from this very sad story?
Cain and Abel were different, with different personalities and tastes. Cain preferred working in the dirt, Abel preferred animals. But for some reason, Cain was found lacking. Let me just say that I don’t really think it matters what Cain did wrong, at least not for this purpose. The point is that we have a scenario where one child did well, and one child failed. How do we wisely handle this situation? Let’s take a look.
(Gen 4:1) And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
(Gen 4:2) And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
(Gen 4:3) And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
(Gen 4:4) And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
(Gen 4:5) But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
(Gen 4:6) And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
(Gen 4:7) If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
(Gen 4:8) And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
(Gen 4:9) And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?
(Gen 4:10) And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
(Gen 4:11) And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;
(Gen 4:12) When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.
(Gen 4:13) And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear.
(Gen 4:14) Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.
(Gen 4:15) And the LORD said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the LORD set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.
(Gen 4:16) And Cain went out from the presence of the LORD, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.
First of all, we see that YHVH did not make a big deal about Cain’s offering. He did not accept it, but there is no patronizing, harping, embarrassing, or belittling. Cain is the one who immediately develops a bad attitude. He pitches a fit, as it were, and YHVH then has to deal with him. Cain is not a five year old, so YHVH does not treat him as such. He talks to Cain man-to-man, which can be done with little boys sooner than many people think. He asks Cain to explain his attitude. Then He logically explains to Cain where his behavior will take him. If he chooses to do right, blessing will follow. If he chooses to do wrong, curses will follow. (Sounds a bit like Torah, doesn’t it?) Then He leaves Cain to make his own decision. (Ouch! That’s a risky one. Are we willing to let our children make their own decisions? Again, remember that Cain is no five year old. This level of parenting is much farther down the road.)
Fast forward: Cain has obviously made the wrong decision. He has murdered his own brother. Even now, YHVH does not approach Cain in a belittling manner. But He makes it clear, with no question, that Cain has messed up very badly, and the curse that follows is inevitable. We reap what we sow, and that will never change. Cain was warned, and did not heed that warning. Now he must pay for what he has done.
Our children must pay the consequences when they do wrong. We cannot bail them out. We cannot make their sin disappear. The beauty of parenting is that we can have some control over those consequences while they are learning. But we mustn’t remove those consequences, or they will follow a path with consequences we cannot save them from.
Cain begged for mercy, and YHVH graciously gave him some. But please notice that the punishment did not change at all. YHVH simply promised to avenge Cain if anyone killed him. (That does not bring me much comfort.) If only Cain had corrected his bad attitude at the beginning of the story!
1. We must address bad attitudes before they become bad actions.
2. We need to warn our children diligently that they will reap what they sow. Take the consequence right down to the end of the road for them, so they can begin to see the seriousness of sin.
3. Use natural consequences for punishment whenever possible. Rig them if necessary. Spanking is essential when natural consequences are unavailable or too dangerous to inflict. For example, spank your child to train them to obey your voice. You cannot risk them getting injured by ignoring you.
4. Patiently instruct your child as you discipline. We are only asked to discipline as a tool to help our children stay on the right path.
5. Avoid comparing children. Each is unique, and each struggles in different areas. Deal with each as an individual.
I hope you are finding this study as helpful as I am. I am reevaluating myself as I go along, and see much room for improvement. As always, happy Torah parenting!