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What Did Abel Offer To HaShem?

By Shlomo Phillips © 05.10.2010 (last updated 12.09.2013)

According to Torah and our sages the original diet for both humans and animals was vegetarian:

Genesis 1:29 And God said, "Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.
1:30 And to all the beasts of the earth and to all the fowl of the heavens, and to everything that moves upon the earth, in which there is a living spirit, every green herb to eat," and it was so.
1:31 And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.

This seems clear enough. As Rashi explains:

... it will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth: He equated cattle and the beasts to them [to man] regarding the food [that they were permitted to eat]. He did not permit Adam and his wife to kill a creature and to eat its flesh; only every green herb they were all permitted to eat equally. - [from Sanh. 59b]

According to Torah both humans and animals were created as vegetarians (and arguably as vegans). This state lasted until Noach and his family left the ark after the great flood. Rashi teaches the same:

When the sons of Noah came, He permitted them to eat flesh, as it is said (below 9:3): "Every creeping thing that is alive, etc." Like the green herbs, which I permitted to the first man, I have given you everything. - [from Sanh. 59b]

So, if humans and animals lived in peace and shared a common diet, what are we to make of the following event that happened prior to the granting of permission to Noach and his descendents? What did Abel offer to HaShem that was more pleasing than Cain's vegetable based offering? Here's the text:

Genesis 4:1 And the man knew Eve his wife; and she conceived and bore Cain, and said: 'I have gotten a man with the help of HaShem.'
2 And again she bore his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto HaShem.
4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And HaShem had respect unto Abel and to his offering;
5 but unto Cain and to his offering He had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
6 And HaShem said unto Cain: 'Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
7 If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up? and if thou doest not well, sin coucheth at the door; and unto thee is its desire, but thou mayest rule over it.'
8 And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother. And it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
9 And HaShem said unto Cain: 'Where is Abel thy brother?' And he said: 'I know not; am I my brother's keeper?'
10 And He said: 'What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto Me from the ground.
11 And now cursed art thou from the ground, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.

First, note that the text says Cain was a farmer, he grew food. Abel tended the sheep.

It has been assumed by many that Abel raised and slaughtered the sheep for food, however that would contradict the command to be vegetarian. The text merely says that he tended sheep. Sheep have many important uses, including the making of warm clothes when shorn. We have another possible reason in Hilchos Beis HaBechinrah 2:2, that cites the ancient tradition that Adam, Cain, and Abel all brought animal offerings to the site of the future Holy Temple. Although they had a vegetarian diet, Adam and Abel brought animal sacrifices to HaShem.

At this early period three necessities predominated life: food, shelter and clothing. For the brothers to both be involved in food production would be redundant. The clear teaching here, especially considering the dietary command then in effect, is that Cain grew food for the family while Abel tended sheep for their coats and not for their meat.

The most common disagreement with this view is verse four: And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof..... The argument being that Cain produced the dietary fat (and hence presumably meat). Is this what is being taught here?

A better translation of this verse is: 4. And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering. This simply means he brought the fattest, the healthiest of his flock for HaShem. The Hebrew clarifies this misunderstanding: min cheleb ("the fattest") refers to the richest or most choice part a thing, not to the literal fat (depending on the context). We still use this expression in that same way: "the fat of land" means the best.

Rashi adds the insight that:

"and... turned" -- Fire descended and consumed his offering. - [from Song Zuta 6:2, Sefer Hayashar]

So that HaShem "turned" and accepted the offering directly precludes the idea that any sacrifice was prepared. The animals were brought forth and taken directly, miraculously, by HaShem.

There was a critical difference between the offerings of Cain and of Abel that we can learn from. Let's re-read the material and find it in the Judaica Press version:

4:2. And she continued to bear his brother Abel, and Abel was a shepherd of flocks, and Cain was a tiller of the soil.
3. Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.
4. And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.
See this? While Abel offered the best he had (his min cheleb) Cain, it appears, did not and so his sacrifice was not pleasing to Elohiym. Cain did not give his best with kavana (intention) and emunah.


Emunah is vital! Emunah is an innate conviction, a perception of truth that transcends, rather than evades, reason. Quite the contrary, wisdom, understanding and knowledge can further enhance true emunah. Emunah is often translated as "faith" however it is much more. As Rebbe Nachman teaches us:

There are various kinds of faith. There is faith that is only in the heart. But a person must have so much emunah that it spreads to all his limbs. Thus the Kabalistic writings mention that when washing one's hands to eat bread, one should raise them towards the head in order to receive holiness. Your emunah must extend into your hands in order to believe that by raising them towards your head you receive holiness. Without emunah, it is a meaningless gesture, for "All your commandments are faith" (Psalms 119:86).

The only way to know God is through complete emunah. Only emunah can bring you to true knowledge and perception of God's greatness: "And I will betroth you to Me with faith, and you shall know God!" (Hosea 2:22).
This understanding of the offerings is affirmed as Elohim says:
4:7 If thou doest well, shall it not be lifted up?...
Cain did not offer his best and so HaShem did not accept his offering. To serve HaShem we must do so from the heart, offering the very best we have:
Isaiah 29:13 And HaShem said: Forasmuch as this people draw near, and with their mouth and with their lips do honour Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear of Me is a commandment of men learned by rote;
HaShem wants our best with kavana (intention) and emunah.

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