Eve Names Her Sons

Rabbi Morton Moskowitz

Transcribed by a student

Gen. 4:1,2:

“And man the new eve his wife and she conceived and bore Cain. And she said, "I have acquired a man child for the Lord." Then she bore his brother Hevel (Abel).

Eve is silent regarding Hevel’s name selection. Hevel means “nothing.” Ramban comments: 

“She named one son in the name of acquisition and the second she named “nothing,” because man's acquisitions are equal to nothing. And she did not want to clarify this. Therefore, the reason behind Hevel’s name is not written.”

The matter is that between the names of both children, Eve conveyed the futility of man's acquisitions in the physical world. Eve had a problem with her attachment to the physical world. Her eating from the tree of wisdom reveals Eve’s over-attachment to the physical. A certain amount of attachment is proper according to reason. But an extreme attachment which causes sin is wrong. As Eve could have eaten from any other tree, eating from this one revealed her over-attachment. The forbidden quality drove Eve to desire the tree of wisdom.

Therefore, Eve needed a constant reminder of this flaw to help her restrict her over-attachment. [Acquisition and futility of that acquisition is what Cain and Hevel meant: “Cain” means acquisition and “Hevel” means futility.] 

This question arose: “If all Torah law were suspended for one day, what would you do?" Practically everyone said they would eat something forbidden; food was the greatest drive. Although they could have those foods within Torah guidelines, they displayed their intolerance of restrictions. It is not the object of the restriction, since the one person who wanted to eat at a non-kosher burger place could make burgers even better than those. The emotion was to be relieved of the restriction of that restaurant. So only eating there would be a release of the restriction. If it was the act per se [eating a delicious burger], if all laws were suspended, there would be no difference to what you could do now.

Today, people name children after relatives or great people. But in Torah’s times, child naming, like the tribes, was based on how the mother viewed the situation and how she related to the situation through God. The lesson is to create a certain atmosphere in our homes. Some people go to Israel to learn as the atmosphere helps them. The matriarchs naming their children in this manner teaches us to create a certain home atmosphere which will better raise the children. Most people focus on the child's needs, forgetting about their own needs. Eve could not have told her children, "I do all this for you and this is how you act towards me?" This is because she did not do it for them but for herself. That atmosphere helps the child. Eve set up an atmosphere that she felt important and that she needed for herself. But if one only acts for the child, the child senses it's not vital for you. 

We see that Cain was attached to the physical because he could not give the best of his crops to God, but Hevel did give his best. Cain sensed Eve’s unconscious and her attachment to the physical, and he adopted her emotion, although expressed differently, while Hevel sensed the atmosphere of the ideas and a total relationship to God, and his sacrifice was accepted. Although not a perfect system because we are humans with weaknesses, however, as best we can, that which we need for ourselves we should set up as a protective shield in our own homes. That is the best we can do for our children, besides the active part of educating and raising them.

It cannot be that Eve named her children for their sake. For then, she would have named them each for a different idea. By naming one child “acquisition” and the other child “nothing,” only both names together make sense. Thus, she named her children for her own benefit.

God accepted Hevel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, and Cain became depressed. God said to Cain, “Why are you so angry and depressed? If you do good, you will be uplifted. And if you don't do good, to the doorway your sin will lurk; unto you it will be a desire, and you can rule over it.” Ramban comments:

You have a superiority: you can be raised to a higher level than your brother because you are the eldest. And what made you angry was your embarrassment from your brother: he was successful and you were not. Therefore you are depressed. (And in his jealousy, Cain killed Hevel.)

There is no reason for you to be angry against your brother or to be depressed. Because if you do good, you will have more benefit than your brother. And if you don't do good you won't only harm him, but in the doorway of your house your sin will lurk and it will cause you to stumble in all your ways.

Ramban means there are two reasons for depression. One is rational, a true calamity occurred. But sometimes depression is a result of an incorrect emotion, a fantasy, like in this case, namely jealousy. God tells Cain:

This depression indicates something wrong with how are you view life. You can either correct it and in your particular case you'll be in a better situation and you'll have the rights of the firstborn. Learn to deal with your jealousy and you'll do well. Or if you do not, that emotion will constantly lurk in you and cause you to do greater damage and then you will really be in trouble.

Ramban says that is why later on Cain killed Hevel. Since Cain did not deal with his jealousy, his emotion swelled and he killed his brother.

Depression is difficult to escape. If one is trained to think and his depression is generated from problems with the physical world, one can work out a plan. For example, Abraham faced a problem: remain in a famine-stricken land, or travel to a land of evil people. The famine meant certain death, whereas traveling to Egypt could be strategized to escape harm. But if depression is generated from your emotions, you must deal with them. [In external matters like Abraham, a best case strategy must be thought into and executed. In internal matters, one must examine himself and bring his emotions in line with reality. Both cases have solutions to eliminate depression.] If the depression cripples you, you must seek help from others. 

The verse about Cain sites anger and depression: 2 sides of one coin. First, Cain was depressed; that's when his allergies were turned inward. And since he was in so much pain, that evoked anger against his brother, even though Cain himself was the cause of his predicament. To deny that he was the cause, Cain turned against his brother. Anger and depression are two sides of the same coin, as we said.

There are two types of anger: “Those who love God hate evil” (Psalms 97:10). Getting angry at an evil person is in line with reality. But then there is a hatred which is the result of your conflicts and your ego, which is a wrong hatred. Cain’s ego was hurt and he became depressed. To escape his depression and thinking about his faults and problem, he expressed anger and killed Hevel. Cain felt, “All my problems are due to Hevel and by killing him, my problems are solved.”

It is difficult to deal with one's emotions while in the grips of the emotion. But King David was able to deal with his emotions even while under the influence. The prophet Nathan told king David the following:

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said, “There were two men in the same city, one rich and one poor. The rich man had very large flocks and herds, but the poor man had only one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He tended it and it grew up together with him and his children: it used to share his morsel of bread, drink from his cup, and nestle in his bosom; it was like a daughter to him. One day, a traveler came to the rich man, but he was loath to take anything from his own flocks or herds to prepare a meal for the guest who had come to him; so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” David flew into a rage against the man, and said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay for the lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and showed no pity.” And Nathan said to David, “That man is you!” (Sam. II, 12:1-7)

King David admitted his sin. I think we can reach such a level or close to it, but it takes development. But when first starting out, one can't fight the emotion while in its grips. Cain too was able to overcome his emotions like King David, otherwise God would not have spoken to him.

Question: Let's say while in the groups of an emotion you harm someone. Are you responsible?

Rabbi Moskowitz: The answer is that you see Cain was held responsible. We are not responsible for our personalities or if we get depressed. But Cain should have dealt with his depression and anger and controlled himself. Furthermore, God helped him with his depression and explained matters to him. Even after he murdered his brother Hevel, God helped Cain and made him an everlasting wanderer to have time to deal with his emotions and repent.

Question: What lesson is learned from Hevel who was righteous, and yet did not get to live out his life?

Rabbi Moskowitz: We are responsible to protect ourselves, including protecting ourselves from those jealous of us. Wealthy people can choose to flaunt their wealth. But they then need to protect themselves from jealous people. Whether Hevel could have protected himself from Cain, I do not know. The best I can say is one must protect himself against other people’s emotions that can harm oneself. One must be careful not to become evil, and once wise, one must protect oneself from evil people. You must know your own emotions and once you understand how they work, you must protect yourself from others. 

Our sages say, one’s home should be open to wise people learning there. This returns to Eve making her home a place of learning and ideas.