Mark of Cain

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

At the end of this week’s Parshah, Emor, the Torah relates a fascinating — albeit tragic — story.

The son of an Israelite woman — who was the son of an Egyptian man — went out among the Children of Israel, and they quarreled in the camp, this son of the Israelite woman, and an Israelite man.

And the son of the Israelite woman pronounced the [Divine] Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. His mother’s name was Shlomit the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan.

They placed him in the guardhouse, [until his sentence would] be specified to them by the word of the Lord. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take the blasphemer outside the camp, and all who heard [his blasphemy] shall lean their hands on his head. And the entire community shall stone him.” . . . And Moses told [all this] to the children of Israel. So they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him, and the children of Israel did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.[1]

Who was this blasphemer, this son of scandal, this child of an Israelite woman and an Egyptian man?

And who was the Israelite man with whom he quarreled?

And what was the subject of their dispute?

And why did this unfortunate child curse G-d?

And why does the Torah specify the name of his mother?

As previously discussed, this story is the tail-end of a story that began in Egypt about 60 years earlier.

In those pre-Exodus days, the Israelites were still subjected to the harsh and rigorous servitude imposed by their Egyptian taskmasters. Often, the beleaguered Israelite men would be made to work tirelessly all day, and then be pulled again from their beds at night to work even more.

One particular Egyptian taskmaster set his eyes upon one particular Israelite woman, a woman married to one of the slaves in his responsibility. In addition to her beauty, this woman stood out as being unusually outgoing and talkative for a Hebrew wife.

One night, the taskmaster approached the couple’s home in the middle of the night. After quietly rousing the husband from his bed to work, the taskmaster then took hiss place in the marital bed next to the Hebrew’s wife. Apparently thinking that she was still lying next to her husband, she submitted to his amorous advances, and they had sex.

The next morning, the taskmaster could tell that her husband sensed something of what had occurred, and so he beat him mercilessly.

This is the beating that Moses witnessed during his first foray into the kingdom as a young man and heir-apparent to the Egyptian throne. Moses discerned that this beating was far more brutal than the abuse to which the Hebrew slaves were ordinary accustomed; that there were a vindictiveness to it.

So Moses smote the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.[2]

The Midrash tells us that Moses did not smite the Egyptian with his hands, or with a weapon. The next day, two Hebrews were fighting with each other, and when Moses tried to break it up, one retorted: “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you say to slay me as you have slain the Egyptian?[3] Now why did he ask, “do you say to slay me,” as opposed to “do you plan to slay me”? Based upon this and other sources, the Midrash explains that Moses slew the Egyptian by reciting — by saying — G-d’s ineffable name.

In the meantime, the Hebrew wife of the battered Israelite slave became pregnant from her nocturnal encounter with her husband’s erstwhile Egyptian taskmaster.

Her name was Shlomit bat Divri, of the tribe of Dan. Midrash states that her father’s name was not actually Divri; rather, she is called “bat Divri” to allude to the fact that it was her talkativeness that drew the Egyptian’s attention in the first place, the source of the word “Divri” meaning speech.

Adam Arotti does an excellent job framing this tale in his short erotic story, Night with the Taskmaster, as well as in the biblical exegesis that follows. However, although he valiantly attempts to find a happy ending for Shlomit and her cuckolded husband — one that concludes the tale on a note of mutual love, understanding and reconciliation — some sources say that Shlomit and her husband actually separated as a result of the scandal, and he took a new wife, who bore him new children.

Fast forward 60 years.

The blasphemer in this week’s Parshah is the child that Shlomit bore. His father, whom he never met, was the Egyptian taskmaster killed by Moses by pronouncing G-d’s ineffable name.

The Israelite man with whom he is fighting was the son of Shlomit’s former husband from his second marriage.

Perhaps the paternal lineage of Shlomit’s son was kept hush-hush; it wasn’t broadcasted, and many who did not know the full story may have assumed that he was the son of Shlomit’s former husband. Perhaps Shlomit’s son even believed that himself.

So, as the Israelites now organize their encampment by tribe, which follows the father, Shlomit’s son tries to pitch his tent amongst the members of the tribe of Dan. However, the Israelite man would not hear of it, and suddenly the details of Shlomit’s impregnation are brought to light. Shlomit’s son does not belong with the tribe of Dan, he explains, because his father is not a Dannite — rather, his father was an Egyptian who was killed by the pronunciation of G-d’s Name.

Upon hearing this, Shlomit’s son cursed G-d, uttering the very same Name that had killed his father.

And he was brought before Moses, who surely appreciated the tragic consequences of his first act in defense of the Hebrews so many years before.

It’s a troubling story.

Even in an age of proud tribalism, one finds oneself wishing that somehow an exception would have been made for this poor child who, through no fault of his own, finds himself on the outside of the only family he has ever known. Whilst the rest of the Israelites are slowly recovering from their centuries of slavery, Shlomit’s son’s very existence remains a casualty of Egyptian cruelty — and he finds no sympathy among his maternal, Israelite brethren. Fortunately, Shlomit’s son appears to have the single case of mixed breeding; unfortunately for him, his unique standing meant intense isolation. One wonders whether, had his fellow Israelites been more sensitive, more welcoming, more accommodating, he would have been quite so angry. Perhaps G-d would not have been cursed, and he would have survived.

Unfortunate circumstances and hardship do not excuse reprehensible behavior, however, and we don’t actually know whether Shlomit’s sons unique status and the relevant legal considerations were delivered gently and apologetically, or rudely and insensitively.

According to Kabbalah, however, Shlomit’s son was playing out an even older story than the one that began with his conception — an ancient story going back to the very beginning of time.

The Midrash relates that both Cain and Abel were born with twin sisters, whom they married, and from whom all of humanity was meant to descend. Abel, however, was born with two twin sisters, where as Cain was only born with one. These twin sisters are alluded to by the word “Et” in the verse discussing the births of Cain and Abel. Cain’s birth is described with the words “Et Cain” — referring to Cain and his twin sister. With Abel’s birth, however, the verse says “Et Achiv Et Abel” — “his brother, Abel” — with the word “Et” appearing twice, alluding to a second twin sister — the one that Cain did not have.[4]

Cain was overcome with jealousy, and he coveted Abel’s extra twin. “And it came to pass when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.”[5]

Cain, Abel, and Abel’s extra twin sister, all died with unfinished business, and their souls returned to this world for rectification. Abel’s soul was reincarnated in the body of Moses. Cain’s soul was reincarnated in the body of the Egyptian taskmaster, and soul of Abel’s second twin sister returned as Shlomit. In his reincarnated persona, Cain ultimately did claim the second sister for himself, when he slept with and impregnated Shlomit. And Abel settled his score with Cain when Moses killed the Egyptian.


Shlomit’s son was the product of both Cain and Abel’s twin sister, which meant that he had some of Abel in him as well. Thus, he was perfectly poised and intended to rectify and finally resolve Cain and Abel’s tortured relationship. It is due to this lineage also that he had special abilities to perceive and to manipulate G-d’s Name — much like Moses had 60 years prior.

Sadly, however, Shlomit’s son proved to be more Cain than Abel, and he abused this spiritual power, cursing G-d’s Name, rather than restoring harmony to the universe. Thus, it was upon Moses to again remove this latest manifestation of Cain, which, tragically, resulted in the death of Shlomit’s son.

And finally, the Cain and Abel circle was closed.

On that high note: Shabbat Shalom!


[1] Leviticus, 24:10-23.

[2] Exodus, 2:11-12

[3] Exodus, 2:14; Midrash Tanchuma, Exodus 10.

[4] See Genesis, 4:1-2.

[5] Genesis, 4:8.