G-d’s dialogue with Cain reverberates across the generations.

When Cain has killed his brother, G-d challenges him:

“Where is Abel, your brother?”

Cain responds:

“I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)

Of course, it was unnecessary for G-d to ask. He knew the answer already. Rashi (d. France, 1105) explains that G-d engaged Cain in conversation hoping to prompt him to confess to what he had done. Cain maintains that he is responsible for himself and no one else.

Cain is punished by being expelled from society. “You shall be an exile and a wanderer on the earth.” (Gen. 4:12) The Torah wants us to appreciate that we are our brothers’ keepers. We indeed have a responsibility for our brothers and our sisters, our neighbours and our fellow human beings.

This is powerfully relevant as we face the restrictions imposed on our lives as a result of the pandemic. One of Israel’s leading rabbinic figures, Rabbi Asher Zelig Weiss  issued a letter last Tuesday. Borrowing a title from our weekday prayers, Limno’a Mashchit Umagefah – “To stop the destroyer and the plague” he reiterated his call to listen to the medical authorities and be vigilant in keeping to the rules. The Torah commands us to look after our health and not endanger our lives. Hishamer Lecha Ushmor Nafshecha Meod – “Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously.” (Deut. 4:9) Rabbi Weiss says that the religious community needs to set an example in observing this mitzva and it is a source of shame when it does not do so.

In abiding by the rules, we are not only our own keepers but our brothers’ keepers as well. By contrast, irresponsible behaviour endangers lives and we are accountable.

May G-d bless us and strengthen us, that we have the resolve and resilience to see through this pandemic responsibly and soon be restored to rejoice in our families and our communities without restrictions. Shabbat Shalom.


i Rabbi Weiss’ letter can be found partially translated in the Jewish Press