After Kayin’s heinous act of murdering his brother Hevel, Hashem decreed upon him to be a wanderer around the earth, he was never to have a permanent dwelling. It is a basic tenet of Torah that any ‘punishment’ that Hashem decrees upon a person is not arbitrary, rather it is intended as a tikun for that person’s aveiro. By adhering to the conditions of the onesh a person can rectify his initial mistake; living in this state of galus was intended to be the tikun for Kayin. However, it seems that Kayin did not adhere to the form of tikun that Hashem decreed for him, rather he tried to avoid it. Immediately after receiving his onesh the Torah tells us how Kayin proceeded. “And Kayin was a city builder..” The Ramban notes that the lashon of the Torah hints to the fact that Kayin was constantly building cities but they would immediately collapse because of the curse that he be in constant exile. However, instead of learning from this and accepting his status as a wanderer, Kayin continued to build cities throughout his life.
Kayin’s actions seem to have generated a trend in his descendants to avoid the tikunim that Hashem had ascribed to mankind to metaken the chet of Adam HaRishon. He told Adam after the chet that the tikun for him was to work the land with his own hands in order to earn his livelihood. However, Kayin’s descendants preferred to avoid working the land and turned to other forms of earning a livelihood: The Torah describes how they did this: “”And Adah bore Yaval; he was the first of those who dwell in tents and breed cattle. The name of his brother was Yuval; he was the first of all who handle the harp and flute. And Zilla, too - she bore Tuval-Kayin, who sharpened all cutting implements of copper and iron..” Rashi explains that these innocuous passukim are of great significance because they represent the development of some of the basic aspects of modern civilization. Yuval chose to be a shepherd, avoiding Hashem’s instructions to work the land. It is also possible that the ‘dwelling in tents’ in the passuk represents the development of business activities, also something not consistent with the tikun that Hashem ascribed to mankind. Yuval was the first to develop the art of music; this represents how mankind tried to avoid the pain of working the land by distracting itself with entertainment. And Tuval-Kayin was the first to develop weapons which enabled man to survive by overpowering others, another way in which he could avoid the klala to work the land. Thus we have seen how the development of mankind was based on a desire to avoid the method which Hashem had given them to rectify the chet of Adam HaRishon in favor of an easier lifestyle which would not metaken chet Adam HaRishon. Consequently, mankind developed in a state of ignoring Ratson Hashem, which culminated in their subsequent moral degeneration and destruction in the Great Flood.
There was one person who did attempt to deal directly with Hashem’s directive to work the land; “Lamech .. begot a son. And he called his name Noach, saying, ’this one will bring us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands, from the ground which Hashem had cursed.’” Rashi tells us that Noach invented farming tools and this made the working of the land more successful. Noach was the first person who did not try to avoid the klala of Adam HaRishon, rather he faced it directly and this helps explain why Noach was also the one person who Hashem did not destroy. Unlike the rest of the world, his life was dedicated to fulfilling Hashem’s ratson, therefore he was not subject to the moral degeneration that plagued mankind.
There are two significant lessons that can be learned from this brief tour of early world history. Firstly, we have discussed how the development of civilization was characterized by a desire to avoid Ratson Hashem. This too is a great nisayon in today’s society; we are blessed with constant advances in technology - these can be used to provide great spiritual benefit for mankind if used with the correct intentions, however, often this is not the case. This even seems to be true to an extent among observant people. The cell phone, for example, is a device that can have great benefits, however, all too often these are outweighed by its damage. For example, Gedolim have decried, amongst other things, the tremendous bitul Torah caused by people having their cell phones at hand even during learning. Moreover, cell phones have brought a new dimension to disrespectful behavior both for Hashem and people. We are all familiar with the sound of a cell phone during davenning, weddings, and speeches. Rav Frand Shlita even mentions a case in which a person neglected to turn of his phone during a levaya, but what is far worse is that he actually answered it and spoke whilst the levaya was taking place! This does not necessarily mean that we should not utilize the great potential of modern technology but we must be vigilant that ensure that we are using it to further Ratson Hashem and not negate it.
A more general lesson that can be derived from here is that very often Hashem places us in a situation from which He wants us to grow but we have a tendency to avoid seizing that opportunity. The Toras Avraham writes that Hashem communicates us through yissurim - this does not just refer to major tragedies, but also to the general difficulties that we all face in life. A good example of this is marriage; how can a person know which area of growth to focus on in his marriage? By noting in which area there is the most friction in the marriage and how his failings contribute to this problem. Clearly Hashem is sending him these yissurim as a way of telling him that he should work on this area of his midos. However, even a person who is willing to work on his marriage may prefer to focus on aspects of growth that come more naturally to him; for example, a person who has a leaning to the bein Adam le Makom aspect of Avodas Hashem is more likely to focus on working on tefilla than rectifying his issues in Bein Adam Lechaveiro. Obviously, it is a great thing to work on tefilla, however even this can emanate from atsas hayetser hara that wants to divert us from focusing on the most needed aspects of our growth.
Parshas Bereishis is far more than a historical description of the early generations in history. It is an account of how Hashem communicated to mankind how they should rectify their mistakes and how the vast majority of them refused to heed His instructions. It is upon us to heed their mistake and directly learn from Hashem’s hashgacha how we can do His Ratson.