Noah’s Curse of Canaan

When Noah became drunk and uncovered, wasn’t it his son Ham who saw him (Genesis 9:22)? Why was his son Canaan cursed? Why not Ham himself?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thank you for the very good question. Several answers are offered by the Midrash and commentators.

(1) Since God had already blessed Noah and his three sons (9:1), Noah couldn't undo it, but instead cursed one of Ham's sons (which indirectly is a severe punishment to Ham, as the father) (Bereishit Rabbah 36:11).

(2) Canaan was the one to first see Noah and rather than dealing with it properly, told his father, who sinned further. Thus, Ham was cursed in particular through his son Canaan (Bereishit Rabbah 36:11, Rashi 9:22).

(3) It was actually Canaan who sinned against Noah (by castrating and possibly also sodomizing him, as the Talmud (Sanhedrin 70a) explains). Ham only "saw" (v. 22) and mockingly spread the word (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 23, Sforno (9:22), Ibn Ezra, Chizkuni alternate, Da’at Zekainim, Abarbanel alternate).

(4) In the ark, Noah suffered greatly under the workload and wished he had a fourth son to serve him. He hoped to have one after the Flood, but now this opportunity was denied him. He thus cursed Canaan, in effect saying that just as Ham denied him a fourth son to serve him, so too his fourth son (see Genesis 10:6) would not serve his father but would be forced to serve the other brothers (Bereishit Rabbah 36:11, Rashi (v. 25)).

(5) Noah saw prophetically that the Canaanites would be the most accursed of Ham’s descendants – just as our forefathers saw their lowliness and eschewed them. Thus, the status of slavery was most appropriate for them (Radak, Abarbanel).

(6) Canaan was the only son of Ham who had already been born (as implied by 9:18). Noah cursed the son because had he decreed servitude on Ham it would not have affected a child who had already been born. And had he had no more children, the curse would have affected no one other than Ham himself. Thus, Noah cursed Ham’s firstborn, his main progeny, to ensure that the curse would take effect (Ramban 9:18, Rabbeinu Bechaye 9:24).

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