And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
What were the fruits of the ground? The Hebrew Bible reads mipperi ha’adamah. When God cursed Adam, he told him that the earth (adamah) would have produced for him only thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18). How frustrating! Cain cultivates a land that is no longer in solidarity with man and therefore does not produce what it could. Thorns and thistles are wild plants that grow almost without human intervention and are the most eloquent image of a barren land. To cultivating a fruitful land you need an authentic relationship with both God and with others. But after the transgression of Adam this is not guaranteed. After Adam, Cain is the one who will experience the dramatic separation between the creature and the Creator. How is it possible to offer to the Lord the fruits of a land cursed by God?
But what was the Cain’s fault? Perhaps it was impossible for him to do a job different from that of his father. He could do as Abel, choosing a different path, but he did not. He followed his father’s footsteps, even if it meant to cultivate a land cursed by God. However, Abel is proof that no curse passes from father to son, if you choose without imposition your job. Only when you choose freely and with a certain amount of courage to be yourself, you will do something that is acceptable to God. Perhaps God doesn’t accept Cain’s offering because he doesn’t offer something of his own, but what the earth spontaneously produces. In fact, also if the land was cursed it can produces fruits at the cost of the sweat of the face. But Cain didn’t want to do that.
Abel offered the best firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof as required by the priestly law (cfr. Ex 29:13; Lev 27:26). He was not only very hardworking but also he wanted to give God the best of his commitment. In fact, the text doesn’t say that Abel’s work was less ungrateful than that of Cain. Abel recognized that the product along with the energy to do his job came from God. This is what God asks Cain to do as an antidote to his irritation and indignation. In Hebrew we have two verbs very evocative. The first – harah – indicates the wrath that can explode at any moment. The second verb – naphal – means that is countenance fell , i.e. he was very sad. These two verbs describe the devastating emotion of envy.