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 to rectify that person’s mistake. By adhering to the conditions of the ‘punishment’ a person can rectify his initial mistake; living in this state of exile was intended to be the rectification for Kayin. However, it seems that Kayin did not adhere to the form of rectification that Hashem decreed for him, rather he tried to avoid it. Immediately after this, the Torah tells us how Kayin proceeded. “And Kayin was a city builder.” The Ramban notes that the wording 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 also avoid the forms of rectification that Hashem had ascribed to mankind to fix the sin of Adam. He told Adam after the sint that his form of repentacne 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 verses 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 verse represents the development of business activities, also something not consistent with the form of rectification 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 curse 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 sin of Adam in favor of an easier lifestyle which would not fix Adam’s sin. Consequently, mankind developed in a state of ignoring Hashem’s Will, 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 curse 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 Will, 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 Hashem’s will. This too is a great test 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. 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, 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 prayer, weddings, and speeches. Rabbi Yissachar Frand even mentions a case in which a person neglected to turn of his phone during a funeral, but what is far worse is that he actually answered it and spoke whilst the funeral 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 Rabbis teach us that HaShem communicates us through challenges - 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 difficulties as a way of telling him that he should work on this area of his character traits. 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 kindness may devote a significant amount of time and energy in helping other people, however he will neglect his obligations to his wife and children.
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 Divine Providence how we can do His Will.