A Shem By Any Other Name …: Noah 2017

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How difficult is it for a parent to treat multiple children equally? Is it realistic to make different rules for different kids? Or are there some standards that we should expect of all our children?

After Noah’s son Ham embarrasses his father (by seeing his father in an indecent state, then telling his brothers instead of covering his father up), Noah declares that the difference between his sons should be pronounced and eternal:

The Pitch: “[Noah] said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; The lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.’ And he said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; let Canaan be a slave to them. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be a slave to them.’” – Genesis 9:25-27

Swing #1: “Noah curses Ham, proclaiming that Ham’s descendants (the Canaanites) will be slaves to his brothers’ descendants. This is just the first of many Bible stories about children disappointing their parents and parents embarrassing their children.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “[It is] a rabbinic commonplace to project back to the time of the patriarchs the practice of the Torah’s commandments in general and the commandment to study Torah in particular. … [one such verse] that specifically used the term ‘tent’ in such a way as to imply ‘study-house’ [is] Genesis 9:27.” – James L. Kugel, In Potiphar’s House: The Interpretive Life of Biblical Texts

Swing #3: “[This story] explains the negative attitude of ancient Israel toward the Canaanites: while it was Ham who violated his father, the narrative condemns his son Canaan for Ham’s act.” – Joan E. Cook, Genesis

Late-Inning Questions: Is Noah’s reaction against Ham over the top? Or can we be sympathetic to Noah for feeling violated? As our society rightfully becomes more aware of those who suffer emotional and physical abuse, how can we advocate for these victims with sensitivity rather than salaciousness?

The Big Inning at the End: I guess I can’t expect my team to win it all every year. Congratulations to the Los Angeles Dodgers for winning the National League pennant. But the Cubs will be ready to take back the title in 2018.

Shabbat Shalom!