The first parshah of Torah, בראשית (“Breishith;” “In the beginning”) opens with the creation of the world (today, we might say the “universe”) in 7 days, on the 6th of which Adam and Chavah were created and placed in גן עדן (“Gan Eiden;” the “Garden of Eden”). It then tells of the calamitous error that results in their expulsion from the Garden. This is the most well-known section of this parshah.

Afterwards, two sons are born to them. The older, קין, (“Ka-yin;” usually mispro-nounced “Cain”) eventually murders the younger, הבל (“Heh-vehl;” usually mispronounced “Abel”), in a jealous rage (according to Nachmanides), after fire descends from heaven to accept Hehvehl’s offering (according to Rashi), but not his own.

Yet, G-d allows Ka-yin to continue living; even to marry and have children.

From Ka-yin’s lineage is born “Lehmech” (the name also appears as “Lahmech”), who is the first to have more than a single wife. One of his wives, Ahdah, produces two sons: Yaval who is the first to live a wandering-shepherd way of life, and Yuval, who is the first to create music. Lehmech’s other wife, Tzillah, bears “Tuval-Ka-yin” (“Tubalcain”), who is the first to create sharp brass and iron tools. Lehmech uses one of these tools to kill a “young man” in what he reports to be an act of self-defense (or as a response to an act of physical disrespect), and exults in the power this gives him (4:23-24). Torah doesn’t depict them as an “evil” family, as much as a “worldly” one. They can accomplish constructive things – shepherding; music; metalworking – but their lives are fulfilled only by self-assertion over their natural – and social – environment. They aren’t said to “walk with G-d:” Their self-assertiveness, which can be the source of so much good, also has the potential to be the source of remorseless, self-justified violence.

The other lineage is through “Sheith” (“Seth”), in place of Hehvehl. “Sheith” becomes the father of “Einosh” (4:26 – …“then men began to call on the name of G-d”). “Einosh,” is the ancestor of “Chanoch” (“Enoch”), who is said (5:24) to have “walked with G-d” – much as Adam and Eve, his ancestors, had “walked with G-d” in Gan Eiden. Chanoch becomes the ancestor of “Noach” (“Noah”).

The NIV (“New International Version”) Bible commentary points out similarities in the names within each geneology:

AdamSheith –> Einosh
Ka’yin (4:17) Kenan (5:12)
Chanoch (4:17) / Chanoch (5:18)
Irad (4:18) / Yared (5:15)
M’che’ya-el (4:18) / Ma’h’lal’el (5:12)
M’tu’sha’el (4:18) / M’tu’sh’lach (5:25)
Lahmech/Lehmech (4:17) / Lahmech/Lehmech (5:25)

Lahmech, descendant of Sheith, is the father of Noach (5:28-9), about whom a subsequent verse (6:9) in parshah “Noach” says that he, too, “walked [התחלך] with G-d.”

What does “walked with G-d” mean?

The Zohar (I:59b) says:

דְּלָא אִתְפְּרַשׁ מִנֵּיהּ לְעָלְמִין

“He [Noach] never separated himself from Him [G-d].”

It’s noteworthy that both Torah and Zohar use the reflexive form of the verb: “walked [himself]/התחלך” and “separated himself/אִתְפְּרַשׁ.” In the “reflexive” form of a verb, the subject and object are the same: i.e. the thing that’s done is done to the one doing it. Therefore, the implication is that those who “walk with G-d” make an active choice to see themselves as walking united with G-d. By the same token, Noach never “separated” himself… — i.e. never saw himself as separate from G-d.

These two lineages represent the two directions in which human society can go, based on choices individuals make about how to live their own lives. Societies can progress in the way of greater gentility and humaneness, or – on the basis of what would seem to them to be “practicality” or “realism” – they can go from constructive self-assertion to increasing violence, confusion and inner peril. A later example of this, in Torah itself, is Pharoah and the Egyptians, who, despite mastery of art, knowledge and engineering, were ultimately blind to the reality of G-d, as expressed in a lack of humane concern; as a result, they were brought down. Later, the Romans, too, represent the same type of thinking and culture; powerful for 1,000 years, they ultimately disappeared. In the 20th century, the Nazis – who used the most scientifically and aesthetically advanced culture of their time to overwhelm reason and commit unparalleled mass murder – likewise began in arrogance and ended in rubble. Even our own society, despite its self-proclamation of being founded on “judeo-christian” values, becomes a “Ka-yin” rather than a “Sheith” society, to the extent that it uses science and/or art to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Torah says, “…the sons of G-d saw that the daughters of men were fair, and took them as wives (Ber. 6:2),”

Rabbi J.H. Hertz, on the authority of earlier commentators (Ibn Ezra, Moses Mendelssohn, S.R. Hirsch), understands “the sons of G-d” to mean the children of the line of Sheith, and “the daughters of men” to mean the children of the line of Ka-yin. In such a marriage, the more-assertive character must always overpower the less-assertive one. Rabbi Hertz therefore writes in his commentary to the chumash: “[Ber. 6:1-4] would then point out the calamitous consequences to mankind when the pious sons of Seth merged with those who had developed a godless civilization and who, with all their progress in arts and inventions, had ended in depravity and despair.” Directly after this in the narrative, as the end of the parshah approaches, G-d foresees the necessity of bringing the Flood.

This insight of this parshah into human nature and the need for the absolute primacy of humaneness – so utterly unique at first; now spread throughout the world in the teachings of Christianity and Islam – still stands as a profound truth, and always will. As it says in Pirkei Avot: “The world stands on 3 things: on Torah, on worship, and on kind acts.”

But there’s a caveat.

We really aren’t free to choose to be either one or the other; to be either a “Ka-yin” or a “Sheith.”

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (known as “the Rov”), in his essay, “The Lonely Man of Faith,” draws a very similar dichotomy, based on the differing versions of the Adam and Chavah narrative in the first two chapters of sefer “Breishith.” What Torah and its commentaries understand as being a “Ka-yin”-like person, Rav Soloveitchik calls an “Adam I”-like person. What Torah and its commentaries understand as being a “Sheith”-like person, the Rav calls being an “Adam II”-like person.

But in speaking about individuals, rather than about societies or cultures (although the latter are certainly implied), he confronts us with this truth: Each of us carries within ourselves both potentials. We are all both Adam I & II. We are all both Ka-yin and Sheith.

Our lives require that we make a continuous effort to find the balance between them – a balance that is always shifting, under the influence of inner and outer conditions and circumstances. One can only protect him/herself from the conflict between these polar opposites, at the cost of being a less than fully mature human being – like Adam and Chavah, who, innocently and naively, lacking life-experience in recognizing the inner and outer influences on them, were unable to make wise choices. Even religious observance itself should not be used as a tool to hide from ourselves. We should not use habit to avoid honest self-scrutiny.

Torah tells us that in the union of “the sons of G-d” with the “daughters of men,” the gentler aspect is almost certain to be obscured and suppressed by the more assertive one. If the “Ka-yin”-aspect of ourselves overwhelms us with the vision of the world itself, how can the “Sheith”-aspect counterbalance that? What must our “Sheith”-aspect do?

The Zohar gives us an answer.

The Hebrew for “G-d created” – “bara El-him” – in the verse, “In the beginning, G-d created the heavens and the earth,” contains the same letters as the verse “Mi bara eileh” – “Who created these?”

But where in the original context, “Mi” (“who”) asks a question, the Zohar understands it as an affirmative statement in which “mi” is almost an actual proper name, and tells us that we must not think of this world as created by a “mah” or “what” – by an impersonal force, like nature or accident, that is separate from the thing created. Rather, we must know that this world – this universe – is being continually created by a “mi” or “Who” – a living personality “who” is continually in all created things. Our thought about this must be prolonged and profound. It must be more than intellectual understanding; it must be contemplation. As the Rambam wrote: There is a Primary Being from which all other things derive their very existence.

To paraphrase Martin Buber, for “Sheith” to counter-balance “Ka-yin,” we must change the “primal word” in our consciousness — our deepest, most fundamental view of our own experience of being alive in the world – from “I-it” to the primal word “I-You.” We must know ourselves to ever be interacting with a living Being, not an impersonal force.

Doing so, we “walk [ourselves] with G-d.”

Ka-yin sees only the world; perhaps even sees G-d in the world.

Sheith sees the world-in-G-d.

Noach is the descendant of Sheith. He “walked with G-d” by never separating himself from G-d — i.e. by never seeing his existence as anything but G-d’s.

We are all descendants of Noach.

Our potential, then, is to overcome (not destroy) the “Ka-yin” in ourselves and to be of those who “walk with G-d” — as did Adam and Chavah in Gan Eiden.