Saturday, 21 October 2017


תִּמְשָׁל (Timshal) is a Hebrew word which means “you shall control or rule.” It is mentioned in Beresheet chapter 4 in the story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s two sons.

G-d requests that they each sacrifice a gift to Him. He accepts Abel’s offering and rejects that of Cain. Naturally, Cain is upset, even jealous. G-d must have known that Cain would be tempted to punish his brother for that and was about to commit a sin, a crime and suggests to Cain to resist and triumph over it: “ לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ.” (“sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be its desire, and thou shalt rule over it”). To me, the word “Timshal” encapsulates responsibility and our human capability to choose between good and evil.

Cain ignores G-d’s words and kills his brother Abel. G-d then punishes Cain by banishing him.

Why did I decide to write about this, you might ask?

The reasons are twofold. The first is because it was part of Parashat Hashavua, the Torah portion, last week. The second bears just as much importance to me on personal and professional levels.

Recently, I have been teaching my English class a story by Langston Hughes. It is called “Thank you Ma’am.” The story tells about a young boy, Roger, who, one night, attempts to rob an older woman by the name of Ms. Jones. It is an excellent story with a great lesson and I highly recommend that you all read it.

The boy, as he later shares with his victim, tries to rob her because he wants to buy a new pair of shoes and needs the money. Temptation and greed drive him to break the law and commit a crime. Ms. Jones could easily turn him to the police and forget about him. Instead, she takes him into her home, offers him to wash his face, comb his hair and shares her meager meal with him. Most importantly, she teaches him a very valuable lesson. I call it the lesson of Timshal.  Evidently, she, too, had, at one time, difficulty in choosing between good evil, right over wrong.  “I were young once and I wanted things I could not get,” she proceeds to tell him. “I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son.”

I would venture to say that most of us have done “things” in our lives, some worse than others. Temptation which in turn may lead us to break laws or some moral code, lurks at the doorstep for almost all of us. Many of us want bigger homes, better clothes, more expensive cars or other luxuries which we cannot afford. These temptations may lead us to doing “things” that are not always right. How many of us have asked themselves and maybe more than once, “was my deed good or bad? Have I done right or wrong?” It is an individual struggle. Some can control the urge to cross that threshold more than others. Some are just too weak to resist it.

Before she bids him farewell, Ms. Jones gives Roger a ten-dollar bill so that he can buy the shoes he so desires. As he leaves her home, she tells him, “But I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.” The readers are left with the feeling of hope, a sensation that he will have learned that precious lesson and the importance of choosing good over evil.

Another book that one of my beloved students has recently chosen to do a book report on, “East of Eden,” by Steinbeck, is another example of a literary creation that employs the Beresheet concept of Timshal as one of its main themes, if not the most important one. There, the association is even more explicit than in Hughes’ story.
Firstly, is Steinbeck’s choice of title: it is to the lands which are East of Eden that G-d banishes Cain. Secondly, the selection of the name Adam, the name of the father of the two feuding twin brothers, Aron and Cal. (resembling the story in Beresheet, Cal causes the death of his brother Aron, albeit indirectly).

Thirdly, and most importantly in my view, the association to the Torah story is condensed by the repeated use of the Hebrew word “Timshal” (Timshel).

It is Lee, Adam’s dedicated and educated housekeeper who has researched the meaning of this Hebrew word and who is eventually instrumental in helping the family become a cohesive unit. As Lee attempts and succeeds in convincing Adam and Cal of the cogency of the concept of “Timshal,” father and son make peace and Cal realizes the power that rests in him to overcome evil.

As a teacher, I hope that we all internalize this important lesson and learn that overcoming evil is not only part of making this world a better place but also that it is up to us, through our power of free will, the most precious of human capabilities, to make it happen.


  1. Wouldn't "timshal" mean to govern more than to control?
    Have a great day...

    1. Thank you Dan.
      Yes, Timshal also means to "govern". However, since it is a "sin", a "crime," the temptation of which rests at our doorsteps, I would believe that control is what one would need in order to overcome it.