Which is better – to do a mitzvah with zerizus, or to do it in a more mehudar fashion? If you have a choice of doing netilas lulav with a kosher esrog first thing in the morning or doing it later in the day with a more mehudar esrog, which is better?
Kayin brought his korban first, but Hevel brought the nicer offering, and we know which one G-d favored, right?
“Va’tosef la’ledes ES ACHIV es Hevel…” (4:2) Considering that we were just told that Adam and Chavah, the only people in the world, gave birth to a son named Kayin, isn’t it obvious that Hevel, born next, was his brother? Why does the Torah spell out “ES ACHIV?”
I would guess the Torah is doing a little foreshadowing. The emphasis on “ACHIV” sets us up for the famous question, “Ha’shomer ACHI anochi?” - “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Netziv, however, has a little deeper pshat, but before we get to what he says about Hevel, we first need to revisit the birth of Kayin.
There is a marked difference between the description of Kayin’s birth, “Va’tahar va’teiled es Kayin,” (4:1) and the description of Sheis’ birth, “Va’teiled ben va’tikra es shmo Sheis.” In the latter case, the Torah tells us that there was a baby born, and then tells us that the baby was given a name. We find the same thing by Noach’s birth. Not so when it comes to Kayin. Here, the Torah tells us that Kayin – not a baby -- was born, period. It is as if from the moment of birth, this was Kayin. No other name was possible; that’s who he was.
The name Kayin comes from the same root as “kinyan,” something acquired. A kinyan has a purpose, a use and benefit for its owner. Adam had been given the punishment of having to work and toil in the field, and at first there was no one else in the world for him to share that burden with. When Adam and Chavah had a child, they saw it as a gift from Hashem to help them in their toil. Kayin was their kinyan.
When the next child was born, he too might have been destined for the field, but mankind came up with a fantastic idea. Kayin would devote himself to taking care of the crops, and the extra set of hands of Hevel would be free to accomplish other things. After all, who is satisfied with just having food on his plate? Where would we be without iphones and everything else? “Hevel havolim… hakol hevel” -- the words are probably still ringing in our ears from Sukkos. You have to be free from spending all day toiling in a field to have time to think about luxuries.
We call that division of labor – you grow the crops, I’ll take care of something else. Together we will split the results and the world will be a better place. The Torah calls it “achva.” When Hevel was born, the concept of brotherhood, of shared responsibility, was born as well: "ES ACHIV es Hevel."
The Midrash (B"R 22) writes that what triggered Hevel's murder was that Kayin and he decided to divide the world between them, with Kayin taking all the land and Hevel all portable goods. Of course, you can't raise sheep or put up a house unless you do it on land. And by the same token, you can't tend to land without clothes that come from sheep to keep you warm. Kayin and Hevel lost sight of the fact that without cooperation, both were doomed to fail.