…וַיָּשֶׂם ה׳ לְקַיִן אוֹת… (בְּרֵאשִׁית ד:טו)
And G-d placed an “os” on Cain. (Bereishis 4:15)
The Medrash Tanchuma gives various possibilities for the meaning of the word “os” (emblem). One of them is that Hashem gave Cain the “os” of Shabbos.
This is difficult to understand because Hashem had just cursed Cain that he should be a wanderer in the land. How does Shabbos mitigate this curse?
We just went through an exhilarating month and a half, which started back on Rosh Chodesh Elul. During this time, we refocused on what is important in our lives and took inventory of our accomplishments and failures over the past year. We hope that this accounting helped us find favor in Hashem’s eyes, and that He bless us with a year of tranquility to serve Him to the best of our abilities, as we truly desire. Aside from that, this also cleansed us from the sins of the past year.
The Medrash tells us that Adam Harishon (who also sinned in this week’s parsha) met Cain and asked him how he fared with Hashem. Cain told him that Hashem accepted his teshuva. At that point, Adam Harishon said “Mizmor Shir Leyom Hashabbos.” We see again the “os” of Shabbos and its relevance to teshuva to forge forward into a new world and a new year. How does Shabbos related to teshuva?
The “Avodas Yisrael” explains the “os” of Shabbos as the ability to focus. Throughout the week we find ourselves “nod v’nod” (wandering) from topic to topic and problem to problem. Our work is interrupted by an email. Our email is interrupted by the doorbell ringing, which is in turn interrupted by a phone call, which is in turn interrupted by call waiting beeps and then more beeps to announce the arrival of a voice mail message. Because of this, we become unable to focus and sometimes we are unable to even to daven with kavana or remember what to daven for. Shabbos forces us to take a time out; it ends our wandering and allows us to focus. The “os” of Shabbos allows the ‘baal teshuva’ to stay on track and not have his commitment wander.
This Shabbos, the first of the season, let us redouble our effort to keep what we have achieved and fortify our commitment to make this year a year of “taasu” (תעשו): A year of staying in focus and doing what we know is important.