We read in Parashat Bereishit the tragic story of the murder of Adam’s second son, Hevel, at the hands of Adam’s eldest son – Kayin. After Kayin’s murderous act, God spoke to him and informed him of his punishment: “You shall work the land, [but] it will no longer grant you its strength; you shall wander about in the land” (4:12). Kayin received two punishments: 1) he would have to work especially hard when tilling the land, because the land would not cooperate and would not yield produce easily; 2) he would be forced to constantly wander, and would never enjoy stability.
At first glance, these appear as two separate, distinct curses which God pronounced upon Kayin in response to his criminal act. Some commentators, however, including the Radak, explain that these are actually very much related. The Radak writes that God announced He would make Kayin anxious about the agricultural potential of his current location, so he would then move elsewhere in the hope of achieving greater success in his new location. This would continue his entire life, such that he would never experience a sense of stability or satisfaction.
Unfortunately, this curse suffered by Kayin in one which many of us impose voluntarily upon ourselves. Rather than feel content with the blessings we enjoy under our current circumstances, we feel anxious and restless, wondering if perhaps we would achieve greater success and happiness somewhere else, in a different location, in a different profession, in a different home, or after some other lifestyle change. When we live with this kind of constant anxiety, we will find ourselves in an ongoing state of “na va-nad” – “wandering,” without ever experiencing stability and contentment. The punishment brought upon Kayin should remind us to avoid this curse by trying to find satisfaction and happiness in our current location. Certainly, we are entitled and encouraged to make changes to our lives that will truly bring us greater happiness. But at the same time, we must learn to accept and find contentment with what we have without constantly feeling that it is inadequate. Before we decide that the “land” is no longer granting us its “strength,” that our current conditions are unsatisfactory, we must carefully consider if perhaps this feeling of dissatisfaction is self-imposed, and if perhaps it would be preferable to make the most of what we have for the sake of enjoying stability rather than constantly seeking something better.