© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
THEFT-1/Noah drunkenness and Shem’s Prayer Shawl
We move in our classes from Noah’s 3rd Commandment BLOODSHED, to his 4th one, THEFT. For that, the Torah moves from Noah to his grandson, King Nimrod and his Babylonian Tower. We’ll learn about the birth of Empires whose power was based on ORGANIZED THEFT on a scale unknown before.
The Torah devotes a small section as a transition between the two eras: the story of Noah’s drunkenness. Let’s read it and analyze it.
1: The New Era After the Flood
“And the Sons of Noah that went out of the Ark were
Shem and Ham and Yeffet, and Ham was the father of Canaan.
These were the three sons of Noah
and of them was the whole Earth overspread…” (Genesis 9: 18-19.)
After the Rainbow Covenant revelation, Noah’s children began settling the Earth and re-building civilization.
Their faith was right. They would not violate IDOLATRY, ADULTERY and BLOODSHED as the generation of the Flood had done.
But their new opportunities stirred up in them the passion to POSESS land and OWN it by settling in it and cultivating it. Like the American Wild West, the first generations after the Flood spread out to the open territories, grabbed parcels of land it and cultivated it, thereby establishing their ONWERSHIP. The passion of the day was to grow food, trade and create wealth.
But the same passion prompted in them a new lust for THEFT. The lust for ownership stirs up a lust to steal. This would grow as the value of the loot increases. This development would be at the core of the following chapters of the Torah.
The Journey of Mankind in the Book of Genesis
Before discussing Noah’s drunkenness, let’s summarize our path so far:
In the Garden of Eden, the garden of sexual pleasure (which ‘Eden’ means in Hebrew) Adam and Eve received Six Commandments, but they stumbled over just two: (I) IDOLARTY (II) ADULTERY. The other ones did not applicable to their life in Eden.
Then on Earth, living under the Angel of Death, Cain committed (III) BLOODSHED by killing Abel. Form thereon humanity sled over BLOODSHED till the Flood. After the Food Noah received his Seventh Commandment which enhances our struggle against CRUELTY and BLOODSHED. He entered the Rainbow Covenant which elicits in details the Laws of BLOODSHED.
Now after the Flood, Noah’s sons would stumble over the next Commandment on Adam’s list: THEFT.
2: How did Noah profane the Holy Name?
After the Flood, it seems that Noah lost his DIGNITY. The verse describes his downfall in 7 steps:
1. “And Noah, the Man of the Ground,
2. “Began (what?)
3. “And he planted a vineyard
4. “And he drank of the wine
5. “And he was drunk
6. “And he rolled over, naked,
7. “Within HER tent…” (Genesis 9: 20-22)
Let’s discuss these 7 steps:
1: Noah: the proud owner
The title “Man of the Ground’ may simply mean that Noah was a ‘good farmer.’ After all, he was the first to melt his metal weapons into metal ploughs, making the life of the farmer easier. As we remember his parents named him Noah (“the comfortable one”) hoping he would do this (Genesis 5: 29.)
But “Man of the Ground” also infers that he was a proud “OWNER of the ground, which he cultivated by planting vineyard (Rashi.) Here we see an evidence of the passion of the day to own the ground by cultivating it.
But “Man of the ground” may hint to his future: as he got so drunk that he rolled naked on the ground.
2-3: He profaned G-d’s Name
The verse says that Noah ‘began.’ But it does not specify what exactly he began, as if it was something shameful.
But there is something deeper here, for the word for ‘began,’ hoo-chal, also means profaned . Hence Noah profaned the holy name by his panting vines and by his excessive drinking. Instead of becoming the spiritual leader of the new generations, he drank excessively.
What is more interesting is the fact that the Torah uses the same word for begun, ‘hoo-chal,’ profaned,’ to describe Enosh. The verse says that in Enosh’s time “they began calling in YHVH Name” (Genesis 4: 26) which means they prayed to the Merciful YHVH while neglecting ELoKiM. By this Ensoh became the FTEHR OF Idolatry, as we’ve learned (following Maimonides.)a
Hence both Noah and his mentor Enosh profaned YHVH’s name; but with a difference:
While Enosh profaned YHVH’s Name by his fiery preaching and logic,
Noah profaned YHVH’s Name by his excessive drinking.
4-5-6-7: Noah deteriorated
and he rolled over naked in HER tent…” (lines 2-6)
Noah (1) drank wine excessively (2) became chronic alcoholic (3) he rolled on the ground drunk (4) and naked (5) inside his wife’s tent, not able to fulfill his marital obligations (6) his face buried in the ground with shame, hence his name “Noah, the man of the ground.”
The Talmud describes his deterioration:
After the first cup he became pacified like a lamb
After the second cup he became bold like a lion
After the third cup he rolled in the mud like a pig
Instead of leading Mankind, he rolled on the ground naked like a pig.
3: The filthy act of Canaan
The Torah does not say why Noah became so drunk. Was he haunted by harsh memories of the Flood? Did he still have reservations about Man’s future? Did he run away from reality? The best answer: all the above.
And he told this to his two brothers outside…” (Genesis 9: 22)
It seems as if Noah’s son Ham was the first to see his father’s shame and nakedness. Why then does the verse mention Canaan? And why would Noah later curse Canaan and not Ham?
The answer is that it was Canaan who saw Noah’s nakedness first. The verse says that Noah was rolling on the ground in HER tent, meaning in Naama’s tent (Rashi.) How could Canaan enter her tent?
The answer is hinted in the verses. The Torah would later refer to Canaan as “Noah’s youngest son” (9: 24.) But Canaan was Ham’s son!
The story goes like this: During the Flood, Noah longed for a grandchild whom he would raise and train the way his own grandfather Enosh had raised and trained him. Naama too longed for a grandchild whom she would teach her ‘magic dancing’ and art. So Ham pledged to them that when he would have a son after the Flood, he would let his parents raise the child as their own.
And indeed, when Ham begot Canaan after the Flood, he gave him to his parents to be raised by them. They named the child Canaan which means ‘merchant.’ In the new society, the merchant who spread wealth is the most revered profession. To their delight, Canaan proved to be a gifted child, very sensual and a poet. They thought he would be the next leader of society.
A filthy sodomite act
Canaan entered Naama’s tent and saw his grandfather rolling naked on the ground, completely drunk. Noah’s face was buried in the ground, as if enjoying the touch of dry land. Canaan was sexually raised and he performed a ‘sodomite act’ on his grandfather (the person ‘Sodom’ was Canaan’s descendant).) Some even say that he castrated his grandfather. Others hold that this is only a metaphor: his filthy act on his grandfather destroyed Noah’s appetite for normal sex forever.
Canaan not only desecrated his grandfather, he then ran out of the tent laughing and calling everyone to come and watch Noah.
4: Honor Your Parents
Hearing Canaan, his father Ham ran into Naama’s tent. Seeing his father’s shame scared him and he ran out calling his two brothers, Shem and Yeffet, for help.
Shem took the initiative. He and Yeffet picked up a blanked, placed it over their back, and walked backwards into Naama’s tent, so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. Then they threw the blanket over Noah’ his body, covering his nakedness from head to toe.
By this, Shem and Yefet honored their father and restored his DIGNITY. Moses would later mention it as a separate Commandment on the Tablets, the Fifth of Sinai.
5: A slave to slaves!
“And Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him
And he said: cursed be Canaan, a slave to slaves shall he be for his brothers!” (Genesis 9: 25)
Noah acted in anger. People tell me that this reaction is typical for a chronic alcoholic. The first thing on his mind was to denigrate Canaan: instead of becoming the wealthier leader of his generation, the arch trader and poet, Canaan would become a “slave to a slave,” at the lowest rank of dignity.
In a society that cherishes OWNERSHIP and DIGNITY determined by WEALTH, Canaan would be at the bottom.
Some say that Noah sanctioned slavery. But the truth is that in the eyes of the Torah, a person becomes a (Hebrew) salve only by SEELING HIMSLEF tp pay his dues. He or she does not sell his body but rather his WORK.
Canaan is reduced here to be the poorer amongst the poor in the new society.
6: Blessed is Shem!
After cursing Canaan, Noah turned to bless Shem and Yeffet, by saying:
and let Canaan be his slave!”
But Noah does not bless Shem directly. Instead, Noah bless “YHVH the G-d of Shem.” Why?
The message is profound: Noah remembered the story of Eden. There Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness when their eyes opened and they perceived YHVH the first time. As long they perceived only ELoKiM, they saw no shame in nakedness, exactly like the Serpent was. It too walked naked and was unashamed, since as a beast it could not and would never perceive the Merciful YHVH.
So here Noah recognized Shem’s awareness of nakedness to his believe in YHVH.
Shem would henceforth be the ‘priest’ of the family. He would teach all Mankind the perception of YHVH.
As a reminder of his deed, Shem would wear a prayer shawl covering his own nakedness from head to toe. This blanket would later become Israel’s prayer shawl, decorated by four fringes ont eh four corners as a reminder of Moses’ 613 Commandments of Sinai.
The beauty to Yeffet
Noah then blessed Yeffet saying:
“Let ELoKiM beautify Yeffet, and let Him dwell in Shem’s tents.” (Genesis 9: 27)
In Hebrew it rimes well: Yeffet means ‘beautiful,’ so Yeffet would become the father of nations whose culture is beautiful, like the Greek.
And he added:
This has become a metaphor: What can be more beautiful than the combination of Yeffet’s philosophy, science and art with Shem’s tent of faith?
Honor your parents
In a stroke of a pen, the Torah introduces here the merit of HONORING YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.
Noah was saying to Shem and Yeffet: by honoring your father, you have honored YHVH.
Moses would follow the same logic. At the bottom of the first Tablet he paced:
“Honor your father and mother.”
At the top of the First Tablets he placed: “I Am YHVH your ELoKiM…”
Hence one CLIMBS of the first Tablet from the bottom upwards: he first honor his parents, then recognizes G-d.
Or you can see that the other way around: One starts at the top by recognizing YHVH, then goes down the First Tablet to honor one’s parents.
Indeed, this is what Noah told his sons: Since you recognize YHVH, you’ve honored me. This is why he said: “Blessed is YHVH the G-d of Shem!”