Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
THEFT-1/Noah Drunkenness and Slavery
“Thou shall not steal” (Exodus )
1: Stumbling over THEFT
We move in our classes from Noah’s 3rd Commandment BLOODSHED, to his 4th, THEFT. It appears in the Ten Commandments of Sinai, saying:
Which means Do not ABDUCT people, nor STEAL their money or property.
In Eden, THEFT was given to Adam as part of the original Six Commandments. Out of the Six, only IDOLATRY and ADULTERY were applicable to their life. BLOODSHED, THEFT and BLASPHEMY could not be violated in Eden, and were given as potential laws, on the level of theoretical Wisdom (Chochma) in case they would live on Earth.
But they could and did violate IDOLATRY and ADULTRY, causing them to lose their right to live in Eden.
Then on Earth, where the Angel of Death rules, BLOODSHED became possible. So was THEFT possible, since private ownership was instituted and became a passion. So was INJUSTICE possible, as well as BLASPHEMY.
Having violated already IDOLATRY and ADULTERY in Eden, the first stumble block on Earth was BLOODSHED. Soon after coming down to live on Earth, Cain ‘stood up’; and killed Abel. From there on, humanity increasingly violate BLOODSHED, till the Flood.
Now after the Flood, the next stumble block was THEFT, in big time. Yes, there was THEFT in society before the FLOOD, but not at the scale that developed after the Flood. The Torah chapters after the Flood focus on the Children of Noah, how they changed from a peaceful society into powerful EMPIRES based on ABDUCTION, SLAVERY and STEALING on a huge scale, conducted by armies. From the individual THEFT that was prevalent before the Flood, society developed ORGENIZED THEFT done by countries and states.
For that, the Torah takes us from Noah to his great grandson, King Nimrod and his Babylonian Tower. From there she takes us to Abraham’s time and WAR.
Wow, a long and meaningful journey, whose moral messages are still applicable to our time.
First, the Torah explains how SLAVERY was instituted. She connects it to the sad story of Noah downfall and humiliation after the Flood.
2: The Nascent Humanity 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 Flood, their faith secured by the new Rainbow Covenant, Noah’s children began to settle the Earth and re-build civilization.
Their new passion was to grab land and own it. Like in the American Wild West, the new generations spread out and cultivate new territories, thereby establishing their ONWERSHIP. In addition, TRADING became the way to gain wealth and status. The name of Noah’s beloved Canaan means ‘merchant.’ Humanity could have progressed to form a peaceful society blessed by personal happiness. But alas! Man was born to withstand a never-ending chain of moral trials. Embedded in us are bad inclinations and desires that would forever drive us to sin, away from peace and tranquility. Very often our next moral challenges arise from our previous success.
Such is the story of Noah and his grandson Canaan.
2: How did Noah profane the Holy Name?
The verse hints that after the Flood, Noah lost his DIGNITY. His down fall is describes in seven 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)
”And Noah, the Man of the Ground…” (Line 1)
Let’s discuss those seven downfall steps:
1: Noah: the proud owner
The title “Man of the Ground’ may simply say that Noah was a ‘good farmer.’ He was the first to melt his weapons into metal ploughs, thereby fulfilling his parent’s hopes that he would ease the life of the farmers (Genesis 5: 29.)
But the title “Man of the Ground” also indicates that he was a PROUD OWNER of the ground, which he cultivated by planting vineyard (Rashi.) Here we see the passion of the day: own the ground by cultivating it.
But “Man of the ground” also hints to something else: that he became such an alcoholic drunk, that he lied unconsciously on the ground; that his face was buried in the ground.
2-3: He profaned G-d’s Name
”“And he began, and he planted a vineyard…” (lines 2-3).
The verse seems unfinished. He began…what? As if the verse hesitates to say something shameful about Noah. In fact, ‘began’ in Hebrew, hoo-khal, also means profaned! .
Hence by getting drunk, Noah profaned the holy name. Instead of offering a good example to his children, instead of the spiritual leader of Mankind, the true heir of Enosh, he indulged in excessive drinking.
The hint to ENosh lies in the very word hoo-khal, began. On Enosh too, the Torah says that in Enosh’s time “they began, hoo-kal calling in YHVH Name,” (Genesis 4: 26.) Enosh profaned YHVH name by calling or praying to Her alone, neglecting ELKM.
Hence both, Noah and his mentor Enosh, “profaned” YHVH’s name; but in a different way.
While Enosh profaned YHVH’s Name by his fiery preaching about the forthcoming of the Merciful YHVH,
Noah profaned YHVH’s Name by his excessive drinking, by running away from reality; by hiding from YHVH behind his drunkenness.
4-5-6-7: Noah deteriorated
“And he drank of the wine, and he was drunk
and he rolled over naked in HER tent…” (lines 2-6)
Noah (1) drank wine excessively (2) became a chronic alcoholic (3) rolled on the ground drunk (4) and naked (5) inside his wife’s tent, unable to fulfill his marital obligations (6) his face buried in the ground with shame, as the name “Noah, the man of the ground” suggests.
The Talmud describes Noah’s increasing degradation as he sank into drunkenness:
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 Sodomite Act of Canaan, the forefather of Sodom
“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father
The Torah does not say why Noah became so drunk. Was he haunted by harsh Flood memories? Did he carry his reservations about Man’s future? What exactly made him to run away from reality? Was he simply a genetically prone drunk?
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 rather than 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 his wife Naama’s tent (Rashi.) How could Canaan enter her tent to see Noah nakedness?
The answer is hinted by the verses: The Torah later refers to Canaan as “Noah’s youngest son” (9: 24.) But Canaan was Ham’s son, meaning Noh’s grandson!
The story goes like this: During the Flood, Noah longed for a grandchild whom he would raise and train the way his own great grandfather Enosh had raised and trained him. Naama too longed for a grandchild whom she would teach her ‘magic dancing’ and art. Ham then pledged that if he would have a son of his own after the Flood, he would bring the child to Naama and Noah to be raised by them.
Then after the Flood, when Ham begot Canaan, he let his parents raise the child as their own son. This is why the verse relates to Canaan sometimes as Ham’s son, and sometimes as Noah’s son. To their delight, Canaan proved to be a gifted child, sensual and a poet. Some says that he was the best Hebrew poet ever. Noah taught him his faith, and Naama trained him with her dancing and music. They hoped that Canaan would take over the spiritual leadership after them.
This explains how Canaan had a free entrance to Naama’s tent. She had raised him as her son!
A filthy sodomite act
Entering Naama’s tent, Canaan encountered his grandfather Noah rolling on the ground naked and drunk. Noah’s face was buried in the ground, as if licking the dry land. The Flood seemed so much way, buried in the past!
But the sensual poet Canaan was sexually aroused by the sight. Does homosexuality prevail more among poets? Anyhow, Canaan did not hesitate and he performed a ‘sodomite act’ on his naked grandfather. (The person named ‘Sodom’ was actually one of Canaan’s descendant.) Some hold that he castrated his grandfather. Others say that both explanations are true: by performing a Sodomite Act on his grandfather, he also casted him. He killed any sexual appetite in Noah, forever.
Canaan then ran out of the tent laughing. He called everyone around to come and see Noah lying naked on the ground!
4: Honor Your Parents
Canaan’s father, Ham, then ran himself into Naama’s tent, in horror. Seeing his father’s shame, he exited readily and called his own two brothers, Shem and Yeffet, for help.
Shem, Noah’s firstborn according to the text, summoned his brother Yeffet and both took an action. They covered themselves with a blanked, then walked backwards into Naama’s tent, avoiding the sight of their naked father. They threw the blanket over Noah’ his body, covering him from head to toe.
By this, Shem and Yefet honored their father and restored his DIGNITY. Moses would list this as a separate, Fifth Commandment of the Ten.
Although Honoring Your Father and Mother is not listed as one of the formal Six of Adam, it is a universal COMMANDMENT. It does NOT come naturally.
Rabbi Akiva, one of the greatest Talmudic sage, himself a son of a proselyte to Judaism, says that in his youth he was an illiterate shepherd. One day, when he was about 40, he witnessed an idolatrous gentile tying his own father before a vicious dog, then releasing the god to attack the father. Seeing that, he said, convinced him to study Torah.
5: A slave to slaves you will be!
“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)
When Noah woke up and new what had happened, he reacted in rage. People tell me that such a reaction is typical for a chronic alcoholic. He paid Canaan measure for measure: since Canaan denigrated him, he made Canaan a “slave of slaves” to his bothers. In a society that cherishes OWNERSHIP and DIGNITY, Canaan would be at the bottom.
But by this curse, Noah sanctioned, if not instituted SLAVERY. This does not mean he sanctioned FORCED SLAVERY and ABDUCTION. According to the Torah, a poor person can ‘sell himself’ to pay his monetary obligations. A court can sell a person to pay his loans. The court actually sells the person’s WORK rather than his body. Yet in time, Noah’s curse could develop into a real slavery.
The first step of humanity journey towards ORGRNIZED THEFT and FORCED SLAVERY and ABDUCTION has been taking place.
6: Blessed is Shem!
“Blessed be YHVH the ELoKiM of 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, he blesses “YHVH, the G-d of Shem.” Why?
Noah knew that Adam and is wife became aware and ashamed of their nakedness in Eden, soon after eating the Forbidden Fruit. Once they became aware of YHVH, the shame of nakedness filed their hearts. The Serpent, a beast of the field, may have been smart, yet never aware of the Merciful YHVH, and therefore never ashamed of its nakedness.
Here Noah recognized that his sons reacted to cover his nakedness only because they had YHVH perception in their heart. He therefore blessed “YHVH, the God of Shem.”
Shem and Yeffet cooperated in covering their father, yet it was Shem who initiated it. Henceforth Shem would become the priest of the family, and of Mankind. Shem would wear a four corners blanket like prayer shawl when standing before YHVH.
Moses later added a Command to Israel to wear the four corners prayer shawl supplemented by fringes, that commemorate the 613 Commandments of Sinai.
The beauty of Yeffet
Noah also blessed Yeffet, saying:
“Let ELoKiM beautify Yeffet, and let Him dwell in Shem’s tents.” (Genesis 9: 27)
In Hebrew, this rimes well: Yeffet means ‘beautiful,’ so Yeffet would become the father of beautiful nations: like the Greek (Midrash.)
Or: Yeffet would be blessed by beauty, and would cherish beauty, yet this inclination woulf become a real blessing only when he joins the Tents of Shem, referring to the Holy Temples and the Torah.
Nothing is more beautiful than the sight of Yeffet studying Torah!
Now that the notion of slavery has been introduced, we are ready to embark on the journey of THEFT, from King Nimrod to Abraham!
END OF TORAH CLASS THEFT 1