If you are looking for melodrama, if you like soap operas and emotional turmoil, then one really need not look much further than the Book of Genesis. Adam finds his “soulmate” Eve, Cain murders Abel, and Noah and his family survive the first apocalypse. One would think that surviving the flood would be quite enough drama for one person’s life, but, once re-established on land, Noah and his family had to rebuild everything.

It was not an easy task, and the challenge was certainly compounded by the fact that Noah and his family were meant to build a more moral society than the one that had been destroyed. And yet, that was the only society they had ever known. These factors may very well have been what led to the incident of Ham and the cursing of Canaan.

After disembarking from the ark and thanking God appropriately, Noah began to farm the land. He planted a vineyard and, seemingly at the first opportunity, got drunk. The Torah then reveals that Noah’s son “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father (who had passed out from inebriation in his tent), and told his two brothers who were outside” (Genesis 9:22). Shem and Yaphet went to cover their father, making sure to treat him with respect and dignity.

The Torah is very vague about what actually occurred while Noah was passed out, saying only that he [Noah] “knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Noah’s response, as recorded in the bible was to declare: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers…” (Genesis 9:24-25).

Countless commentators have written about what crime was committed (ranging from simply embarrassing one’s father, to castration), by whom (Ham or Canaan) and why Canaan was cursed. Since, by Divine will, the details are not included in the text, an explanation can only be surmised. Whatever it was, however, it forever affected the history of the nations.

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