Lessons Of The Flood

The story of the Flood provides us with numerous insights into human nature and human relationships.

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Noah's response to the flood is not dissimilar to the reactions of some Holocaust survivors in our own generation. Some survivors were just not capable of facing the fact that they were singled out to live, while their beloved friends and relatives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters had been murdered.

What is the reaction of those who behold Noah in this desperate state? The Torah tells us that Noah had three sons: Sheim, Cham, and Yefes.

Noah's Sons

Cham "saw [Noah’s] nakedness" and told his two brothers outside. Our Sages note that this expression has sexual connotations, and, in fact, Cham did not just mock is father; he sodomized or castrated him.

Sheim and Yefes respond to Cham’s claim by taking a cloak and walking backwards into Noah’s tent, so that they would not see their father's nakedness. They took the cloak and covered him.

When Noah awoke from his stupor, he knew what his youngest son, Cham, had done to him. Noah cries out, "May Canaan be cursed." Oddly enough, Noah doesn't curse his own son, Cham, but Cham's son, Canaan. "He will always be a slave to his brothers."

Very intriguing. Why does Noah curse his grandson and not his son?

Perhaps it is because, of all the children, Cham was the only one who was himself a father. Cham should have been aware of how difficult it is to be a parent. Of all the children, Cham should have been most sensitive to Noah's plight. Yet he was the least sensitive!

Noah says, if that's the way you behave, if that's the model you intend to provide for your children, if you respond to a person in need by acting insensitively, the end result will inevitably be that your own child, Canaan, will be a slave. Just like you, he will be unable to control himself. He will be a slave to his own passions and needs.

The story of the flood is not at all a myth. It is a narrative replete with endless fascinating insights, as is the entire Torah. All we need do is study and review it, and in it we shall find the secrets of all human life and human relations.

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Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, is the Director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, New York City.