Thursday, October 26, 2006

The favorite son

Parshat Noah

In 9:18-27 we read about the incident in which Noah's middle son, Ham, defiled his father's honor. His father awoke from his drunken stupor, realized what had happened and proceeded to curse Ham.
When the incident takes place, the Torah says, "Ham the father of C'naan". Rashi tells us the reason why it brings C'naan into the picture despite his not having been involved in the incident was because Noah cursed C'naan in order to punish Ham so it relates Ham to C'naan to let us know in advance (until now we had not yet been told C'naan is Ham's son, so now it is letting us know). Why punish C'naan? Because by Ham defiling Noah he prevented him from having a fourth child, so he punished/cursed the fourth child of Ham.

But why not punish Ham directly? At least in addition to punishing C'naan - C'naan did not do anything, so Ham should at least get part of the punishment if not the bulk of it?

Also, throughout this section of the parsha it vever mentions Ham on his own - it is always Ham the father of C'naan. It would have been enough for Rashi's lesson just to say it once, but it says it a couple of times and then Noah curses only C'naan and even when it happens it does not say Ham's name but says Noah realized what his youngest son had done - why is Ham absolved of the responsibility of his actions?

I do not have a good answer for this. It seems that maybe the connection between Ham and C'naan was so strong that punishing C'naan was like punishing Ham. Maybe Cnaan was his favorite son and they had a strong bond so by punishing Cnaan it was destroying Ham as well. Not a very good answer.

If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to put them in the comments.


joshwaxman said...

Great, incisive questions! I had some thoughts on this, and posted a video response on my blog here.

Kol Tuv,

Rafi G said...

shkoyach. I tried to post on your site but got an error...

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i can't avoid the assumption that Kena‘an must have done something unspeakably and indescribably bad in between his father's seeing Granpa naked and his uncles' covering him, that we just aren't told about.

Rafi G said...

it must be so. Josh said so as well in his response... it would answer some of it..

joshwaxman said...

yeah, unfortunately blogger non-beta has been having a number of issues over the past day.

In terms of Canaan, it would seem so from an Ibn Ezra perspective. From a Rashi perspective (which combines different midrashim), it is unclear. After all, Rashi understands "his youngest son" to be Cham, and while he does mention sodomy or castration (which he cites from a midrash, and which works as a derasha but can also be a good translation in certain contexts of "vayar et ervat aviv") this is what Cham did according to Rashi. And while Rashi (citing Beresihit Rabba) reads in a sin for Canaan as well, this sin merely seems to be seeing and relating. (unless one want to midrashically expand this vayar vayaged as well).

Its an interesting assumption that Canaan's act was in between. Certainly it is quite possible within Ibn Ezra. Rashi would have the sin before any act by Cham, though.

I omitted this by accident at the end of the video-post -- I really should make myself rudimentary outlines of what I want to cover. However, I think one can avoid the assumption that Canaan did anything here, and I think this might very well be peshat:

Consider the awkwardness of "his youngest son" if his is not == Noach. We are binding the pronoun "his" to an R-expression which is not present in the verse. It is possible, but somewhat awkward. *Local to this particular verse*, the best reading is that "his youngest son" is Noach's youngest son.

However, that local optimum might be superseded by a more global optimum. And that is where more semantic information from other verses might kick in.

If one goes for theories of the Documentary Hypothesis ilk, then one can simply say there are competing traditions of who did the bad deed. Indeed, this is what Speiser attempts to advance in Anchor Bible Genesis.

However, beginning to incorporate other pesukim:

1) Well, if this is Cham who did it, Cham is NOT thr youngest son. It is Shem, Cham, and Yefet, so Yefet is youngest!

We can respond by abandoning Cham as "his youngest son" and instead assume it is Canaan, who is Cham's youngest son. And use the fact that Canaan was mentioned with the action above, as Rashi notes, or just assume that the action was so heinous it was omitted, as Ibn seems to do.

Alternatively, we can maintain that this is actually still *Noach's* youngest son, and now that we know that this is Yefet, we say that Noach knew what *Yefet* his youngest son had done -- that is, he covered Noach while not looking at him, thus respecting his father's honor. This is awkward since why isn't Shem mentioned, but perhaps we can say that Yefet took the lead. Then, Noach knowing what his son had done would be positive.

Alternatively, we can say that genealogical listing are not necessarily in age order. They can be listed in order of prominence, or some other factor (e.g. meter, prominence of the various concubines) which is unknown to us. Take the Benot Tzelofchad as a case in point. They are listed in different order in different places, and this need not reflect "different traditions" about their birth order. If so, Cham may indeed be the youngest. And then it was Cham who acted, disgracing his father either by not taking care of it himself but telling others, by looking (vayar) where his brothers did not, or one of Rashi's two suggestions.

(Alternatively, Cham may be called the "youngest" as a result of his actions.)

Why would Canaan be cursed at this point if Cham did it? Again, if we discard order in the pasuk as an indication of birth order, we can ignore the fact that Canaan is listed as the last of a set of four brothers. Indeed, if we understand that "Cham was the father of Canaan" after leaving the ark is an indication that Canaan was born on the ark, and/or Cannan was Cham's first and only son at this point, (whereas Shem and Yefet did not yet have children,) then a curse directed specifically at Canaan makes more sense.

It's all a question of what to optimize as the expense of what else.

socialworker/frustrated mom said...

Interesting thoughts.