Curses!By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Noach’s three sons were named Shem, Cham (Ham) and Yefes (Japheth). Cham’s son was named Canaan. (Clearly, this was some time later, as Canaan was not yet born while they were on the boat.)
Noach planted a vineyard and made wine. On one occasion, he became drunk and undressed in his tent. His son Cham saw Noach making a spectacle of himself and told his brothers. Shem and Yefes took a blanket on their shoulders and backed in, respectfully covering Noach without looking at him. When Noach awoke, he was aware of what Cham had done to him, so he cursed Cham that the descendants of his son Canaan would be slaves to the descendants of Shem and Yefes.(The Talmud in Sanhedrin 70a says that the nebulous thing that Cham did to Noach was to castrate him. He did this to prevent Noach from having more sons, so Noach cursed Cham’s son, measure for measure. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the “curse of Ham” was used to justify slavery. This logic is, of course, fallacious. A curse that a group of people would someday be slaves is not a mandate for others to perpetuate that status quo.)
Noach lived for 350 years after the flood, passing away at the ripe old age of 950.
The entirety of chapter 10 is dedicated to listing the descendants of Noach’s sons, who founded the traditional 70 nations. Among the most familiar names are Ashkenaz, Cush, Mitzrayim and Canaan. (The latter three are Ethiopia, Egypt and, of course, Canaan. Ashkenaz is a name later used for Germany, but that is not the same as the Biblical people identified by that name.) Cush was the father of Nimrod, who was the world’s first monarch; his empire became Babylonia. Ashur founded what would be Assyria and built the capital city of Nineveh. Shem, of course, is the ancestor of what we call the Semitic races. The descendants of Noach spread across the face of the Earth.