• S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program

  • Peirot Haaretz  


    Sam Cohen

    Yeshivat Har Etzion – The Gush


    The tragic end to Noah’s story, at first glance, is very difficult to understand.

    “Noah, the man of the earth, debased himself and planted a vineyard.  He drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within his tent.  Ham, the father or Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.  And Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon both their shoulders, and they walked backwards, and covered their father’s nakedness; their faces were turned away, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.  Noah awoke from his wine and realized what his small son had done to him.  And he said ‘Cursed is Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’ (Bereishit 9:19-25)”

    The first question that comes to mind is why Ham was even punished. Did he really do anything wrong? Even if he did deserve to be punished, why does Noah curse Canaan instead of cursing Ham outright?

    Rashi, along with most other parshanim, explains that when the Torah says Ham “saw his father’s nakedness,” it means he either raped or castrated him.  Through that understanding there is no question that a punishment is appropriate. The Radak, however, takes another approach. Perhaps all Ham did was see his father, originally a tzaddik bidoro, in a naked and drunken state, a state of shame. After seeing his father, the first thing Ham did was run to tell his brothers. Instead of covering Noach, he ridiculed him- what happened to kiduv av?

    Now that we understand what Ham did, perhaps we can shed some light on his punishment. Noah cursed Ham’s son and made his nation a nation of slaves. This ensured that Ham would be disgraced by his descendants like he disgraced his father.  Canaan was also forced to become the antithesis of his father, to respect everyone and do whatever they want, as opposed to Ham who didn’t respect the privacy of his father.

    The Radak teaches us that we don’t need to say that Ham’s actions were as severe as rape or castration. The acts of violating his father’s privacy and, upon seeing him in such a state, sharing this lashon hara with his brothers, was a repulsive action in and of itself and warranted the curse Noah placed on Canaan. 


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