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   by Jacob Solomon

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Noah awoke… and realized what his younger son had done to him. He said: 'Cursed is Canaan. A slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers' (9:24-25).

The Parasha relates the story of the curse of Noah on Ham's progeny - Canaan. The narrative relates that Ham saw his father drunk and unclothed, and reported as such to his brothers Shem and Japheth. (The Talmudic and Midrashic traditions state that Ham was involved in acts causing severe personal damage to Noah, but they not explicitly mentioned in the text.) What evidence does the text itself show of Ham's misdeeds, and the reasons for Noah's curse?

It may be argued that Ham's actual offence was very subtle. On seeing his father drunk and in a compromising condition, he need not have told anyone. He could have just covered his father up, and the whole matter would have been kept as a secret - known only to G-d and Ham. But those who like malicious gossip often wrap up that noxious quality in 'pretending to do good': in this case something along the lines of: 'guess what I just saw… what should we do about that?' 'Lashon hara' - gossip - a love for spreading spicy tittle-tattle may easily be wrapped up in a request for unnecessary guidance… Unnecessary in that correct action lies in common sense, not slyly 'seeking advice'… Ham's behavior was in stark contrast to the Shem and Japheth, the two other sons, who 'covered up their father's nakedness, and they did not see it' (9:23)

Propensity to gossip and gloat over the weaknesses of others is a deeply negative personal quality - unworthy of future leadership - thus 'a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers' (9:24-25).

[In addition, a note on Canaan. The commentators debate on what was his precise involvement in Noah's being exposed, and Midrashic sources bring many traditions not directly alluded to in the text. However, the following suggestion may be derived from the text itself. Unlike the other descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Canaan (albeit only the fourth son - 10:6) became the father of a whole segment of humanity - indeed the genealogy of the descendants of Noah in Chapter 10 are expressed in terms of the sons of Japheth, Ham, Canaan, and Shem - in that order. This suggests that Canaan - though only of the third generation - was a dominant person in Noah's extended family.

And in life generally it often happens that a son's dominant personality is strong enough to eclipse the father's - to such a degree that the father looks up to and is guided by his son. This may be what the text alludes to when it says: 'Ham was the father of Canaan' (9:18). True, it was Ham who showed disrespect to his father. But the focus on Canaan shows that it was his influence on Ham that caused him to act shamefully.

Noah - the grandfather - knew what went on behind the scenes and thus directed the curse at the root cause - Canaan.]

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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