Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Did Canaan Do?

יח  וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-נֹחַ, הַיֹּצְאִים מִן-הַתֵּבָה--שֵׁם, וְחָם וָיָפֶת; וְחָם, הוּא אֲבִי כְנָעַן.
18 And the sons of Noah, that went forth from the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan.
יט  שְׁלֹשָׁה אֵלֶּה, בְּנֵי-נֹחַ; וּמֵאֵלֶּה, נָפְצָה כָל-הָאָרֶץ.
19 These three were the sons of Noah, and of these was the whole earth overspread.
כ  וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ, אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה; וַיִּטַּע, כָּרֶם.
20 And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard.
כא  וַיֵּשְׁתְּ מִן-הַיַּיִן, וַיִּשְׁכָּר; וַיִּתְגַּל, בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה.
21 And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
כב  וַיַּרְא, חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן, אֵת, עֶרְוַת אָבִיו; וַיַּגֵּד לִשְׁנֵי-אֶחָיו, בַּחוּץ.
22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
כג  וַיִּקַּח שֵׁם וָיֶפֶת אֶת-הַשִּׂמְלָה, וַיָּשִׂימוּ עַל-שְׁכֶם שְׁנֵיהֶם, וַיֵּלְכוּ אֲחֹרַנִּית, וַיְכַסּוּ אֵת עֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם; וּפְנֵיהֶם, אֲחֹרַנִּית, וְעֶרְוַת אֲבִיהֶם, לֹא רָאוּ.
23 And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness.
כד  וַיִּיקֶץ נֹחַ, מִיֵּינוֹ; וַיֵּדַע, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לוֹ בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן.
24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him.
כה  וַיֹּאמֶר, אָרוּר כְּנָעַן:  עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, יִהְיֶה לְאֶחָיו.
25 And he said: Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
כו  וַיֹּאמֶר, בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.
26 And he said: Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.
כז  יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת, וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי-שֵׁם; וִיהִי כְנַעַן, עֶבֶד לָמוֹ.
27 God enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be their servant.

There are a few major questions with these pesukim. The first – which may seem minor, but is of some importance, is why in pasuk 18 are we told that Ham (oink) was the father of Canaan. The second is what does seeing ערות אביו actually mean? Is it nakedness as the translation above would have it? Is that really so terrible a thing? The third question is why does Noah upon waking up choose to curse Canaan and not Ham? What did Canaan do?

A few years ago I heard a simple yet unexpected explanation to all of these questions. The phrase ערות אביו must be understood within the biblical context. In Leviticus chapter 20 we find the following Pasuk:

  וְאִישׁ, אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁכַּב אֶת-אֵשֶׁת אָבִיו--עֶרְוַת אָבִיו, גִּלָּה; מוֹת-יוּמְתוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, דְּמֵיהֶם בָּם.
11 And the man that lieth with his father's wife--he hath uncovered his father's nakedness--both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
Hence we see that sleeping with your father's wife can be ערות אביו.  If we accept that Ham's act was sleeping with his father's wife we can answer all three questions above. The Torah tells us that Canaan was Ham's wife – because he was born to his father's wife, and hence it needed to be stressed. Noah chooses to curse Canaan – because he is the son of the forbidden union.

The one problem I have with this explanation is pasuk 21 – it seems to suggest that Noah was doing something in his tent that his son was seeing. However I think it is possible to understand that Ham joined in with the act that was going on in the tent - or to go with Rashi and explain that Noah was frolicking.

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