What a thrill it was to feel the rapt attention and field the thoughtful questions of the group I taught about Cain and Abel in Flensburg last night at the Maria Schmerzhafte Mutter (Mater Dolores) Catholic Church.
American author John Steinbeck, who won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature, considered Cain and Abel, “The symbol story of the human soul because it is every person’s story.” Steinbeck himself considered his most important work to be East Of Eden, an 800-page exegesis of the sixteen-sentence biblical story of Cain and Abel.
Like Cain we have all felt the sting of rejection, and like Cain we have all felt angry and jealous at another’s success especially when others judge us as falling short.
But God insists to Cain and to us that we can rule over those feelings of anger and jealousy, and God hopes we do. The final word of Steinbeck’s novel quotes God’s hope for Cain and for us in the word: תמשל, “You can rule” as in you can overcome the anger and jealousy that you feel.
Yes, we can, but God does not make us.
We have free will and, as painful as the consequences of that free will sometimes are, to take that capacity from humanity would rob our lives of the very meaning and purpose they are supposed to have. We are not marionettes, and God is not a puppeteer.
One of the questions people have asked me most frequently. “How could a good God allow the Holocaust?” The answer is in Cain and Abel, the third story of the very first book of the Torah.
Just as God did not stop Cain, we should not have expected God to stop Hitler. It was up to humanity to do so. Humans, not God, are responsible for the Holocaust.
It was a privilege to teach these ideas on the eve of Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938, a night that left no doubt as to Hitler’s aim, the annihilation of the Jewish people and our religion.
Teaching Torah in Germany proves that he failed!
Kristallnacht is, of course, an occasion of great sadness. I will participate in two commemorative Kristallnacht events in Flensburg tomorrow. To me, though, teaching these vital truths to a Roman Catholic audience is the best Kristallnacht commemoration I can think of.
We cannot undo the past! But teaching and learning about one another in an atmosphere of mutual affirmation and respect is the best way I know to help shape a better future for our children, grandchildren and generations to follow.