> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Where Is Your Brother?

Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

We begin a new Torah reading cycle this week (immediately after Simchas Torah) and with it new opportunities to discover the wonders of God's Torah.

We read about Cain killing his brother Abel, mankind's first homicide, which was the first fratricide. (This implies that all murder in history is in actuality fratricide since all men are brothers.)

Genesis 4:9

"And God said to Cain 'Where is Abel, your brother?' "



Where is Abel, your brother? - RASHI: For the purpose of engaging him in calm conversation, so that he might repent and say, "I killed him and have sinned to You."

What would you ask on this comment?

Your Question:



A Question: Why the need for this comment? Why does Rashi assume that God "just wanted to make conversation"?

What's bothering him?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Certainly Rashi cannot accept the idea that God must ask Cain where his brother is. Hashem is Omniscient, meaning He is all-knowing; nothing is hidden from His perception. So why the need to ask of Abel's whereabouts - He surely knew the answer.

This is the reason Rashi offers a different explanation for God's question ? to engage Cain in conversation, so that maybe he'll have thoughts to do tesheuva.

The explanation is clear and in and of itself presents no problem. But when we compare it to another Rashi-comment, we do have a problem.

See an earlier Rashi (3:9) on the verse:

"And Hashem called to Adam and said to him, 'Where are you?' "

We have the same question here. Certainly God knew Adam was hiding. Why did He ask? Rashi says the following on that verse:

Where are you? - Rashi: He (God) knew where he was. It was only to engage him in conversation so that he would not be too bewildered to respond if He were to punish him suddenly. So likewise regarding Cain, He said to him "Where is your brother, Abel?" So, too, in the case of Bilaam (Numbers 22:9) [He said] "Who are these men with you?" to engage them in conversation.


Rashi cites the case of Bilaam in Numbers 22:9, who was asked by Balak, the king of Moav, to curse the Jewish People. He sent a delegation to Bilaam for this purpose. When the men came, God asks Bilaam: "Who are these men with you?"

Again we have a case where Hashem asks a question, the answer of which he already knew. Rashi there comments:

Who are these men with you? - Rashi: [God gave him a chance] to err. He (Bilaam) could assume (because of God's question) that all is not known to Him.



The question is obvious. Here in Numbers, Rashi says the purpose of God's question was to mislead Bilaam. Whereas in our Parsha, Rashi says it was only "to engage him in conversation." We would also ask: Why was Cain dealt kindly by God and encouraged to repent, while Bilaam was "lead to err" by God?

Can you think of an answer?

Your Answer:



An Answer: The commentaries on Rashi explain that in all cases Rashi cites the purpose of God's question was "to engage the person in conversation" and certainly not to obtain information that God needed. So both in the cases of Cain and Bilaam, the purpose of God's question was to start a conversation. But the purpose of these two conversations was different. In Cain's case it was to allow him to do teshuva while in Bilaam's case it was to cause him to err.

Of course we still have the question: Why the opposite purposes of God's questions, one to lead to teshuva and one to lead to sin?



Cain had in fact sinned, he had already killed his brother, so there was need to do teshuva. But Bilaam had not yet sinned so there was no need to do teshuva, yet. But we must ask: Wht did God want him to err and curse the Jews?

The answer, I think, is that cursing the Jews was in no way harmful, because God had other plans. God in fact wanted this curse to take place ? or at least Bilaam's attempt to curse. This was to show Israel and the world how Hashem protects His People. God wanted Bilaam to err to have this historical incident take place. It would be a lesson for all time - a lesson as to how the plans of Israel's enemies will be stymied by their Protector, Hashem.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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