Bereshit: Sin Couches at the Door

Copyright 2012 Neal Joseph Loevinger 

Torah Portion: Bereshit
“Surely, if you do right, there is uplift. But if you do not do right, sin couches at the door; its urge is toward you, but you can be its master. (Bereshit/ Genesis 4:7)
Good afternoon! 
Well, here we are again, starting over with another yearly round of Torah readings. We’re back at the beginning, starting with the story of the first humans, Adam, Chava, and their children Kayin and Hevel. [AKA Cain and Abel.] Without going too deeply into the conflict between the two brothers, it’s interesting to note that the Torah portrays God as warning Kayin that his negative emotions (because his brother’s offering was accepted and his was not) will get him into trouble, as we read in the verse above. 
There are many interpretation of “sin couches at the door,” but the image is that of an animal ready to pounce or a trap all set to be sprung. The basic idea is that nobody is free of the yetzer hara, or egocentric inclination, and if we’re not careful, we’ll be caught up in temptation and distraction before we know it. The image of “sin at the door” almost implies that our inner drives control us and seize us when we are not ready, as if they are something external, but the whole point of the warning is that consciousness of our urges is the first step towards mastering them. 
That is, once we know that we’re fallible, we can take steps to address our individual, particular moral challenges. Think of it this way: if I know I can’t resist chocolate, or alcohol, or gossip, the first thing I have to do is remove myself from contexts where the presence of such things will overcome my willpower. I heard once that the image of the door is to teach that just as each house has its own door, leading to a unique interior, each one of us, and each society and community,  has a unique “sin” or area of spiritual challenge which we must beware and seek to overcome. 
As I understand this verse, the Torah shows a positive and not pessimistic view of human nature. We are all capable of mistakes, but all capable of learning. We are liable to being led astray by interior forces which are hard to understand, but we are also made in the Divine Image, which is understood to mean the capacity for choice, compassion, and goodness. 
Sin may lie in wait at the door, but forewarned is forearmed. It’s up to each of us to open the doors of our hearts and souls, take inventory of our strengths and weaknesses,  our broken places and extraordinary gifts, in order to navigate a life in which we do, indeed, become the keeper of our brothers, sisters, and as much of the world as we can. 
Shabbat Shalom, 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: