- Torah Portion and Tanach
1. The Exclusivity of Man
2. Destruction of the Entire World Except for Noah’s Ark
3. Noah Plants a Vineyard - the Importance of Joy
4. Noah's Disgrace
5. Noah's Attitude Toward His Three Son's
6. The Absolute Difference Between the Sons
7. Abraham the Patriarch: Heir to Shem and Foundation of a "Great Nation"
The Exclusivity of Man
The unique status of the Jews does not begin with the appearance of the Jewish people. It begins even before this. In the words of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi in his classic work "The Kuzari," from the first man, Adam, we already find differences. Not everybody is the same. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mehallelel.... This finds clearest expression in the Torah portions of Noah and Lekh-Lekha.
Destruction of the Entire World Except for Noah’s Ark
In the time of the flood, Noah’s Ark serves to assure the continuation of creation. The world is crumbling outside. A complete destruction of humankind. Everything is being annihilated. "An end to all flesh has come before me, I am destroying them." Noah’s Ark is the only exception. Who remained in the ark? Noah, his three sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives. Of all of humankind, only eight people remain. "And Noah went into the ark because of the rains. They did not enter the ark very quickly. Only, as the sages explain, when they saw the flood getting stronger.
Such an event does not transpire in an instant. It was an event which lasted a year. Everybody in the ark sees and knows what is going on outside. What can we expect after a situation like this?
Noah Plants a Vineyard - the Importance of Joy
The Torah tells us, "And Noah, began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard." Rashi explains that he profaned himself, for he should have began by planting other fruits. Why did he start with a vineyard? Why did he start with wine?
The sages point out that wine is important. It depends, though, how and how much one drinks. Joy. Without joy, there is no life. A person who is not happy is not alive. It is imperative to be happy. Some people say, "Well, it's just my nature - I’m not a happy sort of person. I’m serious, slightly melancholy. Its just my nature, there’s really nothing I can do about it..." - nonsense. It is written, "Worship God with joy," and this applies to everybody. What’s more, another verse explains that punishment befell the People of Israel, "because you do not worship God joyfully and with a glad heart." All of the hardships and curses which we find in Deuteronomy 27 come when we "do not worship God joyfully and with a glad heart." Joy is a must. Joy is one of the foundations of the human soul, and a foundation of divine worship. A person must be happy. How? Accustom yourself to it - to smiling and being happy. Accustom yourself and it will not be merely external, mechanical - for joy resides in the soul of man.
Consider your situation and thank God! Thank Him that you wake up in the morning. Thank Him for being able to study in a Yeshiva. This alone is enough to cause one to be one of the most joyful people in the world.
Joy, yes. "And wine gladdens the heart of man." The sages say that one should drink wine in order to be happy on the holidays. However, Noah became drunk. Intoxication is another story. The Talmud says that a drunk person is called "to'evah," which means an abomination. One who discards his intellect, his reason, his understanding, has committed a serious offense. One does not necessarily need wine in order to get drunk. Today there are other things. Drugs, for example. Drugs are also an extremely forbidden form of intoxication. Yet, we see from the very outset of mankind, from Noah - he departs from the ark plants a vineyard, and then...
"And he drank from the wine and became intoxicated, 'vayitgal' in the midst of his tent." What does "vayitgal" mean? According to the Targum he "revealed himself" - uncovered himself. It was too hot for him with his clothes on. Maybe the wine heated him up. Other commentators say that "vayitgal" means that he rolled - he rolled on the floor in his drunken state.
The Differences Between Noah's Three Sons
"And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and he told his two brothers who were outside." Ham saw his father's nakedness, and he went and told his brothers.
What do his brothers do? "And Shem and Yafet took an outer garment and put it upon both their shoulders, and went backwards and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned backward, and they did not see the nakedness of their father." Unlike Ham, who saw, they did not see.
A point is being made here. Ham, who was in the house, inside the tent, saw the nakedness of his father. What does he do? Nothing. What does he care that his father is naked? He goes and tells his brothers. Why? Why does he have to go telling them? If you’re there in the house, do something yourself. Apparently, Ham felt this was good material for gossip.
Unlike Ham, Shem and Yafet immediately take a garment, and, walking backward, throw it upon their father. What consideration. First of all, to hide the disgrace of their father, and second, to not even permit themselves to see him. What moral sensitivity.
"And Noah woke from his wine, and he knew what his younger son had done to him." Outside, Ham had told his brothers that he had seen their father naked, but here it is written, "and he knew what his younger son had done to him." What did he do to him?
The Talmud brings two opinions: one, that he castrated him; and another, that he committed sodomy with him.
Appalling! Three sons to one father, the entire remnant of humankind - what a world! The difference between Ham, on the one hand, and Shem and Yafet on the other, is like the difference between heaven and earth. It would appear as if there is no connection between them at all. Ham epitomized moral degradation, while Shem and Yafet represent the opposite.
Yet, if we look closely at the words of the Torah, we will notice that there is also a difference between Shem and Yafet. It says, "And he told his two brothers who were outside. And Shem and Yafet took an outer garment and put it upon both their shoulders..." The Scriptures mention Shem first, as if to say "And Shem took." True, Yafet also helped, but it was not really his "thing." He was not the initiator. We see that though the three of them were all sons to the same father - they were quite different in nature. Shem was especially morally sensitive, noble. Yafet - Shem's helper. Ham - the exact opposite of Shem.
Noah's Attitude Toward His Three Son's
Next, the Torah tells us: "And Noah woke from his wine, and he knew what his younger son had done to him. And he said, cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants will he be to his brothers." Rashi explains that Noah said to Yafet: Because of you, I cannot beget a fourth son to serve me. Cursed, therefore, be your fourth son to serve under the descendants of these elder ones upon whom the duty of serving me will devolve from now on.
"And he said, 'Blessed be the eternal God of Shem, and may Canaan be servant to them. May God enlarge Yafet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be their servant." In other words, what we are dealing with here is divine inspiration, prophecy, a statement that possesses unequivocal eternal significance. The Almighty records these words in the Torah for the sake of all generations to come - they have God's "stamp" of eternal importance. There is a huge difference between the sons. Canaan represents the essence of Ham. The "true" essence if you will - in the future. Even Ham's sons are represented by Canaan. They revolve around Canaan. We see this in a number of places. Perhaps the fact that Canaan merited receiving parts of the land of Israel, and that the name of Israel is "the land of Canaan," serves to express that Canaan holds a central place among Ham's offspring. The curse, then, is upon Canaan, or upon the entirety of Ham. "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants will he be to his brothers."
The Absolute Difference Between the Sons
"And he said, 'Blessed be the eternal God of Shem.'" What is the meaning of "Blessed be the eternal God of Shem."? Are we to believe that the Almighty is the "God of Shem"?! Is He not the God of the entire world? The God of all creatures? Answer: True, God created the world and all of its contents, yet, all the same, He is the "God of Shem." He is more so Shem's. He has dedicated His name and Divine Presence to Shem.
"May God enlarge Yafet, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be their servant." "May God enlarge Yafet..." Enlarge. Widen. Widen the horizons of the life through technological advancement. The nations of Yafet are well known to us. They are the nations of Europe, and America derives from them as well. They are very advanced technologically. They enjoy a life of abundance.
Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook used to explain the name Yafet as deriving from the word "Yofi," which means beauty. God gave them a special appreciation for beauty. A unique taste for exterior aesthetics, and for life in general. In other words, Yafet represents life's beautiful and grand exterior.
"May God enlarge Yafet." God is the subject here. God enlarges and bestows beauty. To whom? To Yafet. "...and may He dwell." Whom? God. This is the simple understanding of the verse. God dwells in the tents of Shem. Yafet possesses beauty, aesthetics, grand exterior expansion, widened horizons of life. However, Shem receives the Divine Presence. The Almighty dwells in the tents of Shem.
We find here a division of humanity into three distinctly differing streams. One - Ham - cursed, loathsome, the very lowest element in humanity. On a level of "servant of servants." Yafet - outwardly perfect. Shem - inwardly perfect, worthy of the Divine Presence, dedication to God, the "God of Shem."
Abraham the Patriarch: Heir to Shem and Foundation of a "Great Nation"
We find, then, that from the very foundation, after the flood, humanity is divided into three camps.
Furthermore, in the Torah portion, Lekh-Lekha, we learn that, "God spoke with Avram (Abraham)." We discover special emphasis being placed upon the genealogy of Shem. After summarizing all seventy nations of the world, the Torah - God Himself - records the offspring of Shem a second time: "These are the generations of Shem. Shem was a hundred years old and begot Arpachshad... Shelach... Peleg... Avram..." (Genesis 11:10-26).
With the appearance of Abraham... "Now God said to Avram (Abraham): Leave your country and tour kindred, and your father's house, unto the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great" (Ibid. 12:1,2). The Almighty tells Abraham to leave his family, his homeland - everything. Go to the land that I will show you. And why? Because I will make of you a great nation. This is a new concept. There are nations in the world, and there is a "great nation." A unique phenomenon of life.
We can see that humanity is divided from the very outset. It is impossible to claim that humankind is one. It contains various shades. Various opposing forces. Opposing and completely deviant. Hence, after some generations, Abraham the Patriarch appears, and he is commanded to leave his home. Why? "And I will make of you a great nation." God will make of us a great nation. We do not make ourselves great. This is the way of creation. The way of the revelation of divine life within creation is such, such that a great nation is formed.