Of all the middos we stress loyalty – ne’emanus in Hebrew – rarely merits a mention. Perhaps that is because loyalty is so vital and the need for it so self-understood that a discussion of this middah would seem unnecessary. Yet we live at a time when the concept of loyalty is ebbing. Loyalty to a spouse to parents to children to siblings to an employer – even to one’s country – is becoming increasingly rare.

The Torah places the middah of neemanus on the highest pedestal in describing Hashem as “HaKel hane’eman.” The highest accolade Hashem confers on Moshe Rabbeinu is “Bechol beisi ne’eman hu.” Regarding Avraham Avinu we say in davening “umatzasa es levavo ne’eman lefanecha.”

Loyalty is apparently so vital a middah that a midrash points out how the Torah includes a vital lesson on this trait in the very first parshah in the Torah.

Kayin and Hevel each brought offerings to Hashem. Hevel’s was accepted and Kayin’s was rejected and in a fit of jealous rage Kayin murdered Hevel. This is the simple narrative of the episode that we are all familiar with.

Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 22:8) teach however that this episode actually involved the epitome of perfidy. When Kayin attacked Hevel managed to defend himself and was on the verge of killing Kayin in self-defense. Kayin looked up at Hevel who was on top of him and asked “Hevel what will you tell our father if you kill me?” Hevel’s heart flooded with mercy and he allowed Kayin to go free. But as soon as he lifted himself off his brother Kayin rose and killed him.

This Midrash magnifies Kayin’s crime exponentially. It is awful enough to commit fratricide but to do so after begging for mercy from the very brother he went on to murder is traitorous.

Chazal also teach (Bereishis Rabbah 22:12) that after Kayin killed Hevel Hashem instructed Kayin to keep Hevel’s shepherd dog with him at all times to protect him from predatory animals. According to one Tanna this dog was the “os” the sign that Kayin received from Hashem to protect him from predators.

The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe) explains that Hashem wanted to impart a message to Kayin: A dog appreciates its master and becomes loyal to him. You don’t even have the loyalty of a dog because you didn’t appreciate your brother’s taking mercy on you.

It’s fascinating that in the very first parshah in the Torah we have an answer to what should be an enigma: the human fascination with dogs. Dogs are by a healthy margin the animal found in the most households in theUnited States. Why are people so enamored with dogs?

The answer is apparent in the Chasam Sofer’s explanation of this midrash. People will sometimes rebuff their spouses. Children may turn against their parents. In rare instances parents will even abandon their children. But a dog always remains loyal. He will never turn on his owner. A person can come home from work to an overwhelmed wife and kvetchy kids but the dog will always be happy to see him.  A dog provides unconditional loyalty.

Hashem was expressing to Kayin that what he did was treacherous a complete breach of the loyalty he should have felt toward the brother who had just spared his life.  As part of his penance he would now spend the rest of his life with a canine escort in the hopes that he would learn to emulate the loyalty of the dog.

What does loyalty look like? Not killing your brother when he begs for mercy is a good first step – but there are ways to destroy a person or a relationship without actually spilling blood.

When you tease or badmouth your spouse in front of other people – is that loyal? Even if you think it’s all in good humor is it not on some level a betrayal of the absolute loyalty that should exist between husband and wife? So he leaves his socks on the floor. So she burns the food occasionally. Would a dog go and forsake his owner?

Often if you look into your child’s eyes you will see that look of begging for mercy. Please Ta don’t punish me in front of everyone in shul. Or Please Ma don’t talk about me to your friends.

We often talk about shmiras halashon in the sense of avoiding the prohibition of lashon hara but what about basic loyalty? Does a neeman besmirch someone who has been providing them with a job for years? Does one unfortunate negative interaction with your boss entitle you to turn on him and spew harmful information about him to anyone who will listen?

Bob Woodruff the longtime CEO of Coca-Cola inAtlantaGeorgia did not have any children but he had a dog. When the dog died Mr. Woodruff erected a tombstone for his dog with the epitaph “Loyal to the end.”

We see from HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s instructions to Kayin that loyalty is such a crucial middah that he had to spend the rest of his life in the company of a dog to remind him of his disloyalty. And so we have to wonder: When we die would it be accurate to write on our tombstones “Loyal to the end”?

Rabbi Yissocher Frand a rosh yeshivah in Yeshivah Ner Israel in Baltimore Maryland is a renowned international speaker whose shiurim inspire thousands around the globe each year. His fourth book of insights on the parshah “The Power of a Vort ” (Artscroll/Mesorah) has recently been released.