Reader: My reason for writing is to seek your insight into a matter that came to my attention last year, and for which I have been trying to find answers. The following passage was presented to me:
"Three copulated in the ark, and they were all punished - the dog, the raven, and Cham. The dog was doomed to be tied, the raven expectorates, and Cham was smitten in his skin." Rashi states that as a punishment to Cham’s skin, Cush came from him. (Talmud Sanhedrin, 108b)
My questions: Since the written Torah records (Gen. 9:25) C'naan was cursed, not Cham, why does the above passage reference Cush? What is the connection? I have asked several respected Orthodox Rabbis, and have searched the Internet for information, all without success. It is going on one year now and no Orthodox Rabbi will so much as acknowledge my inquiry after the initial invitation to provide the question. I finally went to a Reform Rabbi who was kind enough to respond and dialogue with me. She stated that the passage is not literal, but teaches "measure for measure." If this is just to make a point, it sure did manage to insult an entire race of people to make that point.
I am disheartened that no Orthodox authority will be up front with me, thus leaving me to draw my own less-than-flattering conclusions as to what Judaism really thinks of Black people. I am not asking to be told what I might want to hear, although it would be nice to hear that the cited passage is being misrepresented. I want to understand: Is the passage literal? If so, how do we stand against racism when our own tradition appears to impose inferior status upon a group? If not literal, is there any understanding of why such an "example" would be used to make a point?
Can you shed any light on this for me? It would be most appreciated.
Mesora: Let us first remove the misconceptions before approaching the authentic texts, in order to learn the Torah’s opinion: 1) Your lack of a response from any number of orthodox Rabbis plays no role in what are the true, orthodox tenets and virtues. It is an error to judge the authentic Torah by its adherents. Rather, one must be true to G-d’s Torah and judge it solely on G-d’s words. 2) Unless impossible to understand literally, we understand the texts of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings as literal. A Rabbi once said that if we give license to metaphorize any Torah content, what stops one from explaining Adam and Eve as metaphors, or even G-d as a metaphor? With such ‘approaches’, we cannot determine what is fact, and what is metaphor. You see, metaphorizing the Torah destroys the factual truths contained therein. Your Reformed “Rabbi” has ‘reformed’ so much, that she offers no analysis of G-d’s potent, Torah passages, and simply offers an ignorant usage of “measure for measure”. 3) I fail to see what racisim has to do with the passage quoted. If Cush was smitten in his skin, this is G-d’s punishment to Cush and his father Cham, and in no way sanctions racism. The Jews are to be a light unto all nations. This excludes no race except Amalek. We welcome the proselyte and treat him equal to ourselves. These are all G-d’s words. Let us adhere to G-d’s words, and not man’s.
However, your main error is in confusing two separate individuals, and their respective sins and punishments: Cham was one of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Cham, and Yaphes. Cham had four sons: Cush, Mitzrayim, Put, and Canaan. Both Canaan and Cush were punished due to actions of Cham. What you did was to confuse the Talmud’s account of Cush’s punishment, with the Torah’s account of Canaan’s punishment. Cush was smitten in his skin due to his father’s copulation in the ark, while Canaan was punished due to his involvement in Cham’s sodomization of Noah, after their exit from the ark. There were two events and two crimes, both involving Cham. But Cush’s sin was separate from Canaan’s. Let us examine both crimes in proper sequence.
The Talmud in Sanhedrin 108b cites the punishment of Cham’s Ark-based copulation, as his son Cush being smitten in his skin. What type of smite did Cush receive? What was the problem with copulating aboard the Ark, that Cham was punished? Why was Cham punished through his son, and not directly?
Rabbi Yochanan (ibid) says that based on the following verse, we learn that copulation was prohibited aboard the Ark: (Ben. 8:15,16) “And G-d spoke to Noah saying: Exit the Ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your son’s wives with you.” In this verse, men and women are mentioned separately. Thereby, Rabbi Yochanan derives the lesson that there was a separation in the sexual aboard the Ark. Why then was copulation prohibited? And how could the raven and the dog be punished? They have no free will! And what of the other animals? Why did they not copulate? They were all aboard the Ark for a year! Rashi states (Gen. 7:7) that copulation was prohibited, as the world, was steeped in the pain of extermination. Hence, it is immoral that one should indulge the self, i.e., copulation, while Earth’s population is being exterminated. Similarly, G-d reprimanded the angels for desiring to sing praises while the Egyptians were drowned in the Red Sea.
We now understand why copulation was not proper during the Flood. But why punish animals? It would appear that G-d must have made some change in animal behavior so they did not copulate during this time. Certainly, it was not for the animals, but for Noah and his family. How so? Perhaps seeing animals copulate would have some negative effect on the state of mind of Noah and his family during this sensitive time. (A Rabbi once taught that Noah’s subsequent imbibing of wine displays how depressed Noah was, due to all society being destroyed. He drank to escape.) But if G-d did make some change in the animals, which affected their sexual drives, how could the raven and the dog copulate? How could they deviate from G-d’s decree?
We must say that although G-d did make a change in the sexual drives of animals, it was of a general nature, in which certain species’ natures were immune. The raven and dog evidenced an extreme quantity of the sexual urge, unaffected by G-d’s general change. This was now apparent during the Ark’s journey, although always present from the creation of these two animals. Prior to the Flood, their extreme sexual urges were of no consequence. However, post Flood, G-d’s wisdom decreed that there be some lesson derived from the raven’s and the dog’s deviation and their subsequent correction. When we learn that they were ultimately smitten for this deviation, we are taught that if a species has a deviation, then G-d corrects this deviation. Why was their deviation corrected only after the Flood? Perhaps in order to insure no deviations exist to deter man in the new, post-Flood era, G-d constrained these two species in some way.
What about Cham‘s sin of copulation? Why was it met with an affliction of skin, and why in his son Cush’s skin? We may suggest, that as his sin was one of flesh, the flesh was appropriately smitten for this lesson. But why not smite Cham’s own skin? Additionally, we may ask, if a son was the proper vehicle for the punishment, why this son? A possibility occurred to me: Perhaps G-d afflicted Cham by punishing his son, to teach that Cham’s own sin of sexual deviation was carried through his descendants; corruption in this matter does not end with the perpetrator. (G-d does not punish one who does not sin - Cush must have continued in his father’s path.) We said earlier that Canaan sinned with his father in sodomizing Noah. Canaan shared his father’s deviation. To teach that this deviation did not end with Cham, and not with his son Canaan, but was equally passed to Cush, Cush is afflicted. His skin is marked to teach that Cham’s original sin of copulation aboard the Ark was transmitted to two of his sons, Cham and Cush. The immorality was never corrected, and Cush was rightfully afflicted.
This also explains why Cham is always referred to in the Torah as “Avi Canaan”, the “father of Canaan.” With such an appellation, we learn two ideas: 1) that Canaan shared his father’s sin, but more primary, 2) that Cham was the source of this inherited immorality, and that this specific crime is one which is inherited. Here, I must reiterate what I feel is the main point: The very fact that G-d punished Cush - instead of Cham - indicates that the scope of this sin - in specific – is not limited to the perpetrator. Here, there is a basic difference in the very nature of the sin; descendants are affected. This idea is made clear by a second, latter case of Canaan, where he too was affected by his father’s sin. Two incidents corroborate this theory.
I would suggest a reason why in this area - sexual deviations - do we find a phenomenon of “inheritance”. Perhaps, regarding sexual energies, which are quite strong, one’s disposition always leans towards relenting to one’s own sexual drives. It is only due to accepted norms that one restrains oneself in this area. But one’s natural disposition is to seek sexual gratification, as it is most pleasurable. And if one sees an authority figure deviating, that is all one needs to justify his own sexual deviations. In a sense, one “inherits” his parent’s behaviors. It is not necessarily genetic, but behavioral. But in other areas, where there is not such a strong urge, although one sees a parent deviating, he may not follow suit. He has no strong pull towards other acts, even upon seeing others violate Torah law. But the sexual carries with it a continuous urge that at any instant may act itself out.
We now come to Canaan’s sin in his union with Cham, in sodomizing Noah. (Rashi states that Canaan saw his grandfather Noah revealed, and told his father, and due to Cham’s sin, Canaan was deranged. Ibn Ezra states that Cham and his son Canaan were both evil.) Upon Noah’s sobering from his drunkenness, and realizing what Cham did, he curses Canaan, (Gen. 9:25) “And (Noah) said, “cursed is Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” Why is this specific curse appropriate? The Rabbis say that Cham desired no other siblings be born to dilute his Earthly inheritance, and therefore caused his father Noah to have no fourth child. In turn, Noah cursed Cham’s fourth son, Canaan, that he be subjugated to his own brothers. A just punishment fits the crime of Cham.
From two incidents of immoral behavior seen in Cham, we appreciate how this unchecked sexual energy not only corrupted him, but also his sons. Cham’s sons witnessed Cham’s sexual deviations, and thereby, their sense of morality was compromised, justifying their own corruptions. That which one sees his parents perform, becomes one’s barometer of accepted behavior. This would appear to be the significant lesson that both Cush and Canaan became deviant; that the sexual energies, when gone awry, will affect others.
Unfortunately, this crime did not end with Cham and his sons. Today, there are many accounts of individuals, who as children, who were instructed and even forced by a parent to perform sexual acts. These children accept this as normal behavior, and consent for years, throughout adult life. Tragedy meets with these children as they become aware at some point that they were immoral, and deviant. Reflecting on their acts as a child, they experience a disgust at themselves. They feel unworthy of love, as they cannot love themselves, and become suicidal. Living with such “disgust” for oneself is the most unbearable existence, as you cannot escape your own self. Of course, the children are not to blame, and with help, can extricate themselves from their self-imposed doom, and become healthy individuals. What is most disturbing is the vicious nature of such parents who have no regard for how their immorality will affect another human being – their own child at that. On this point, I will veer from my response, and for good cause: I urge any person who partakes of such immorality to recognize their crime and how it affects others, and immediately seek help. If anyone knows of such acts - and they exist in many communities - you must do what you can to bring this to an end. One cannot be silent because you feel discussing sexual deviations is an embarrassing topic, or because it disgusts you. Concern for any person’s well being must be at the forefront of our community activities. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a Torah injunction, which sees no boundaries, and must start with the care for children - those who are most defenseless. Each Rabbi, teacher, parent, community, school, and yeshiva, must not cower for fear of shame, but rather, must take this matter more seriously than any other concern. It must be addressed publicly. If you do not seek to address this issue, you become a partner in the crime.
In summary, if you seek answers on issues contained in the Torah, follow this advice: 1) Do not seek answers from those who ‘reform’ G-d’s words. G-d knows better than those who mangle our precious, perfect Torah. Seek answers from those trained for decades in the authentic study of Talmud, and the Written Law. Only those who have been trained in the correct and exclusive methodology of Torah thought are fit to offer explanations. All others, by definition, must fail gravely at this task. 2) Don’t decry the system because you are dissatisfied with the response, or lack thereof, from orthodox Jews. Be mindful that G-d wrote the Torah through Moses, and therefore it contains very deep, profound and absolutely true ideas, only arrived at through diligent study, and toil. You are correct to pursue your investigation, and for so long. For this, I give you credit, as you appear to seek logical answers to all of your questions. And the Torah is built only on logic. G-d provides vehicles of knowledge for those who honestly desire answers. You said you are disappointed at orthodox Rabbis who do not reply to your questions, after they invited your question. You are justified, and they have wronged you. One who accepts the position of a Torah teacher must assist those seeking answers, such as you. If they have no answer, they should at least reply stating they do not know.
Regarding your issue on racism, I hope it is now clear that G-d’s punishment of changing Cush’s skin has nothing to do with wrongful racism, which the Torah does not suggest anywhere. Nor does Cush’s skin affliction have anything to do with G-d’s new slavery role for Canaanites. Cush was afflicted in his skin, while his brother Canaan was afflicted in servitude. It is clear, that skin affliction is unrelated to slavery, unlike the sentiment you mentioned at the outset. We must also not jump to emancipate Canaan’s seed out of “equal rights” emotions, but conversely, we must study G-d’s justice of such a penalty.
To arrive at the knowledge of reality, we must abandon our subjective morality and false notions, only adhering to, and supporting G-d’s absolute reality.