Parshat Bereshit

Becoming Every Brother's Keeper

All humanity descended from one family.

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And in this original familial relationship resides our profound responsibility to one another. The recitation of the generations of Adam trumps the golden rule as the "greater principle" because it clarifies the subject of the ethical imperative. "Let there be no mistake," the begetting seem to say. "The 'neighbors' for whom you must care are not only the people around you, but the entirety of this large, unruly human family from which you are a lucky, and burdened, descendent. Each member of this family is your 'brother.' And none, therefore, are you free to abandon."

This section of the Torah, the recitation of the generations of Adam, thus challenges us to allow God's question to Cain--"Where is Abel, your brother?"--to reverberate throughout the millennia. It demands that we pose this question with the awareness that, in the eyes of Bereshit, all humanity is descended of one family. It compels us to pay attention to the words of the question itself--to recognize that it is not only a query about Abel's whereabouts, but also an insistence that he is our brother.

As common descendants of Adam, we are not free to shed our brotherhood with Abel. We are simply not at liberty to allow the gulfs created by national, cultural, linguistic, religious, or racial differences to obscure our responsibility to those who are hurt or violated. Instead, we must step up to this haunting question whenever it is asked and answer resolutely: "I am my brother's keeper."

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Rachel Farbiarz

Rachel Farbiarz is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law. Rachel worked as a clerk for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, after which she practiced law focusing on the civil rights and humane treatment of prisoners.