Gleaned from the Sfas Emes

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Parshas Noach

Noach's "Curse"

Noach reacts to the contemptible act committed upon him...

"And he (Noach) said, ‘Cursed is Cana'an! A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’" (9:25)

Why did Noach take out his wrath on Cana'an? The abominable act was committed by Cana'an's father, Cham. Cana'an played only a minor role (and only according to some opinions - See Rashi verse 9:22) by reporting Noach's state. Besides, Noach was partly at fault, himself, for becoming intoxicated. Are we to understand that the righteous Noach refused to admit responsibility and stooped to blaming others for his own mistakes?

The Torah testifies that Noach was a righteous man, etc. (6:9), and was in G-d's favor (6:8). He would not have blamed others - and certainly not have cursed them - in an effort to cover up his own faults. He would have tried to correct, to teach proper behavior, and to advise his grandson Cana'an on ways to improve.

This, in fact, is what Noach did. From Cana'an's actions, Noach understood that there was a dangerous and cursed streak lurking within his grandson. "Cursed is Cana'an!" is not a curse, but a statement and warning. Not "May Cana'an be cursed!", but "Beware, my grandson! You are cursed with a bad streak within you!" Then Noach advised Cana'an: "A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers - Subjugate yourself, be a slave to your brothers. Only in this manner, can you hope to eradicate the evil within you."

The Midrash tells us, "Cana'an is Eliezer, and through faithful service to that tzaddik (Avrohom Avinu) he erased his curse and became blessed" (B'reishis Rabba, 60:7). This Midrash can be understood in light of the above. Cana'an accepted the advice given to him by his grandfather, Noach; he accepted his fate and became a faithful servant. In so doing, Cana'an liberated himself from the curse of his own character, and became blessed. (Sfas Emes, Chayei Sara 5649)

Sometimes it is not always easy to know where one's destiny lies. And sometimes it takes great courage to act on that knowledge.

The Yishuv in the Old City of Jerusalem suffered greatly, in 1948. Though capture of the Old City was imminent, there were many who felt it wrong to surrender, to give up the Jewish presence there and the Western Wall. Two prominent Rabbis of the Yishuv - Rav Velvel Mintzberg, zt"l, of the Ashkenazic community, and Rav Ben Zion Chazan, zt"l, of the Sephardic community - were convinced otherwise; saving the lives of the remaining people in the Old City took precedence over any other concern. Together, these Rabbis held the white flag of surrender and went to the camp of the Arab Legion, where the terms of surrender were finalized. Only the elderly, women, and children, were to be set free. The men were to be taken to Jordan as prisoners-of-war.

R’ Velvel was downcast. So many held captive, including his own grandchildren! His library of priceless manuscripts, his Halachic correspondence with the giants of the previous generation, his own hand-written responsa and novellae, left behind!

The holy Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon, zt"l, who miraculously had been saved from the Nazi slaughter in Europe which almost totally wiped out his Chassidim - came to greet Reb Velvel. "I'm jealous of your World to Come!" he exclaimed. "So many saved, because of your courageous decision!" (As heard from Rabbi Meir Lieberson, great-grandson to Reb Velvel Mintzberg.)


"Gleaned From the Sfas Emes"- excerpts adapted from a soon to published book, G-d Willing, by Simcha Leib Grossbard.Rabbi Grossbard is author of "The Sfas Emes Haggadah"(Targum Press) and "Kasheleg Yalbinu", a two volume (Hebrew) work based on Sfas Emes.


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