From The Depths

by Rabbi Nussbaum
October 23, 2020
CHESHVAN 5, 5781
Candlelighting Time 5:50 PM

         Noach was a great tzaddik and in his merit the world was able to survive the great flood and continue after the majority of humanity was destroyed. However, he erred and planted a vine after he left the ark and became intoxicated. Even though two of his sons were extremely careful to treat him with extreme dignity despite his tremendous error, nonetheless his third son Canaan did not do so. Noach cursed him that he should remain subservient to his brothers forever. However, Ibn Ezra mentions an interesting point. In as much as he was subordinate to them, additionally he was still dedicated to serve Hashem. He explains that the brothers had the right to coerce him to serve Hashem. This explanation is echoed as well by Sforno and Chizkuni. However, Nachmonides takes exception to this interpretation. He questions that according to their interpretation, Noach did not actually curse Canaan, rather he truly blessed him because he granted him the opportunity to serve Hashem despite his servitude to his elder brothers?

            Perhaps we may suggest the following resolution. Truly Canaan was offered the ability to serve Hashem, however, we must define the parameters of his capacity to do so. Better stated, his servitude to Hashem was to be achieved by serving as a slave to his brothers. In that status, he was to serve Hashem, but not as an independent person. And there is a tremendous disparity between these two options. When a person serves Hashem on his own recognition, it is potentially a more wholesome and pure approach since it is generated from within the individual and not externally promoted. Whereas in the case of Canaan, he did not serve Hashem from his own vantage point, rather compulsion was the deciding factor in his serving Hashem. And that is the curse that Noach leveled against his son. When we lack to opportunity to be in the cadre of those who serve Hashem sincerely, we are not just simply at a different level of servitude, rather that manner of serving Hashem is viewed as compulsory and not an accepted way to approach Hashem.

            If in the final analysis Canaan was permitted to serve Hashem albeit in a compromised fashion, why, indeed, was he relegated to such a position. Was Canaan’s sin of disrespect for his father so grave as to bar him from serving Hashem like his brothers? Then answer is a resounding yes! At a point in our relationship with our forebears if we begin to negate their prominence in our lives and simply view them as a way that we entered in to this world, that degree of impudence displays such gall that borders and suggests a tier of conceit that is diametrically opposed to serving Hashem. The Talmud states that a conceited individual can’t reside together with Hashem. Therefore, Canaan in his extremely deficient revelation of disregard for his father’s honor essentially proscribed himself eternally from a meaningful relationship with Hashem other than through the protocol as a slave to his brothers. Certainly, his horrible conduct created an untenable situation that was lacking of resolution. A sad reminder that our actions can be so damaging and vindictive, that the ability of reparation is not forthcoming.

            However, on the positive side, we do see the eternal reward that Shem and Yefes were accorded for their outstanding behavior in dealing with their father although he had made the terrible mistake of drinking too much which clearly inspires us to always pursue the correct approach even though others may select a path in life which is not admirable.


Rashi cites the Midrash that the primary achievement of the righteous is their good deeds. However, the mitzvos that we all perform are not necessarily viewed as accomplishments unless we perform them with the same gusto and intense concentration as those of tzadikkim.              S’FAS EMES