9:1 “God blessed Noah and his sons..” – The world benefited from God’s blessing to Adam (1:28) until the Generation of the Flood. When Noah left the ark, God renewed the blessing by repeating it to Noah and his sons.
“‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land.” – This verse is considered a divine blessing. The command to procreate is given in verse 7. Whe Noah departed from the ark and saw the world in ruins he was dismayed because only four men were left in the world. God, therefore, put his fears to rest with the blessing that few thought they were, they would, indeed, repopulate the world. (Abarbanel; Malbim)
9:2 “The fear of you and the dread of you..” – So that Noah would not be afraid that the few surviving people would be in constant danger from the hordes of animals in the world, God gave this additional blessing that He had implanted in animals an instinctive fear of human beings (Abarbanel).
The Zohar explains that in man’s ideal state, the image of God in which he was created would be sufficient to frighten animals, which are an infinitely lower order of life. But when the generation of the Flood degraded itself and sank to the level of animals, it forfeited this aura. Now God restored that blessing. This concept means that as long as man is true to his Godly image, he need not fear beasts, but if he descends from his calling, after the fashion of the Generation of the Flood, he must indeed fear the beasts of the wild.
The Talmud continues that ‘a beast has no power over man unless it takes him for an animal’. This means that the man who was attacked by a beast must have been deserving of death for an unwitnessed transgression so that the death penalty could not be applied by the courts. God therefore sends one of His ‘agents’ – in any form it might take – to execute judgment. Having lost his human dignity, the sinner appears like an ‘animal’ and is prone to attack by brazen beasts. Had he maintained his human stamp, the animals would have fled in awe (Zohar; Akeidas Yitchak).
9:3 “…shall be food for you..” – God now gave Noah and his descendants a right that had never been given to Adam or his progeny: permission to eat meat. Noah was given the right to eat meat, just as God had given Adam the right to eat vegetation, because (a) Had it not been for the righteousness of Noah, no life would have survived the Flood; and, (b) he had toiled over the animals and attended to their needs in the Ark. Of him was it said, “You shall eat the toil of your hands” (Psalms 128:2). Thus, Noah had acquired rights over them (Or HaChaim).
Malbim explains that it is logical and desirable for a lower form of life to be eaten by those absorbed into a higher form. Therefore, animals eat plant life, thus elevating it, and humans eat animals elevating them to become part of intelligent man.
9:4 “But flesh, with its soul its blood you shall not eat.” – Now that God permitted all moving things as food, He included a limitation. God prohibited tearing a limb from a living animal and eating it, because it is one of the greatest barbarisms one can inflict upon animals, and if it were permitted, people would learn cruelty (Radak; Abarbanel).
Rashi explains that this verse prohibits a limb cut from a living animal while its soul is still in it, you may not eat its flesh. According to Rashi, the word ‘with its soul’, relates to both the beginning and the end of the verse: flesh while it is yet with its soul (life); and while the blood is yet with its soul. He accordingly interprets that there are two prohibitions implicit in the verse: both the flesh and the blood taken from a living animal are forbidden.
9:5 “..your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand..” – According to Hirsch – I permitted you to take the lives of animals, but your own lives you may not take. I will require an accounting from one who spills his own blood – thus, prohibiting suicide…
The Midrash continues that lest one think that this prohibition of suicide includes even one like Saul’s (who ordered that he be killed to avoid falling into the hands of the Philistines, see 1 Samuel 31:4) and like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (who were prepared to give up their lives for the sanctification of God’s Name, by choosing to be thrown into the fiery furnace rather than worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idols, see Daniel 3:17. Now one could think that this verse expressly prohibits even such selfless forms of suicide..) Therefore, the Torah writes ‘but‘ (which in Talmudic exegesis is a limiting particle inferring that some forms of suicide are not prohibited). Countless Jews have committed suicide to sanctify God’s Name rather than convert to another faith. These martyrs, respectfully called, holy ones, made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Judaism, reaching a spiritual zenith of devotion to God.
The intent, then is that the body, blood, and life of animals are yours and at your disposal, but your own blood which belongs to your soul is Mine (Hirsch).
“..of every beast I will demand it..” – Although an animal has no reason and is not subject to punishment, nevertheless, in its relationship with man, animals are accountable for their deeds (Radak). Every beast that kills a human being will itself be devoured, by Divine decree, (by another animal, or it will grow weak and become easy prey (Abarbanel).) Or, compare the case of an ox which is executed by the court for killing a human being (Exodus 21:28).
“..but of man,..” The verse gives other examples of bloodshed that God will not condone: someone who contrives to kill without witnesses, so that he is beyond the reach of the courts; or someone who kills his brother, i.e. someone he loves so very much that the death had to have been accidental or unintentional. In such a case, too, the killer may well have a degree of responsibility due to his failure to exercise proper vigilance. Whenever a life is taken, God will inflect whatever punishment is merited according to the degree of the crime or the carelessness that led to the death.
9:6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man..” – I shall seek vengeance if there are no witnesses, but if there are witnesses the court must put him to death. Why? – “For in the image…” (Rashid; Radak).
“For in the image of God He made man.” – And therefore whoever sheds blood is regarded as if he had impaired the divine likeness (Midrash).
One might think that since the murderer, too, was made in the image of God, it would be wrong to put him to death. Hence the verse comes to inform us that – no, the murderer expunged God’s likeness from himself by his heinous act, and deserves himself to be killed (Ragbag).
Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God; but greater still was the love shown to him in that it was revealed to him that he was created in the image of God, as it is said: For in the image of God He made man – for when God informed to man this via Noah, the basis of the sanctity of human life in the recreated world was established (Avos 3:14).
9:7 “And you, be fruitful and multiply” – Having warned them concerning bloodshed, which destroys the world, he bade them to procreate abundantly and thereby build up the world (Radak), and increase mankind which was ‘created in the image of God’ (Malbim).
According to the plain meaning, the similar statements made earlier to Adam (1:28) and to Noah (verse 1) which are preceded by the phrase ‘and God blessed them’ constitute a blessing, like the one God gave the fish (1:22). Here, the verse is understood as a commandment. In fact, the Talmud, Sanhedrin 59b cites this verse as the source of the commandment to procreate…
Additionally, from the sequence of the verse, the Talmud (Yevamos 63b) derives that this command follows the prohibition of murder to liken one who refuses to procreate to one who sheds blood, and who diminishes the Divine Image (Rashi; Ramban).
9:8-17 The rainbow; sign of the covenant – God established a covenant with Noah and his descendants, and all living beings, until the end of time. This covenant would be signified forever by the rainbow. After a rainstorm, which could have been a harbinger of another deluge like that in Noah’s time, the appearance of the rainbow will be a reminder of God’s pledge never again to wash away all of mankind in a flood. According to Ibn Ezra, it was then that God created the atmospheric conditions that would cause a rainbow to be seen after a rainstorm. Most other commentators disagree, maintaining that the rainbow, which had existed since Creation, would henceforth be designated as a sign that a deluge like Noah’s would never recur. Hirsch states that it is the eternal sign that, no matter how bleak the future may seem, God will lead mankind to its ultimate goal.
That the rainbow is a phenomenon that is predictable and explainable in natural terms is no contradiction to its status as a Divinely ordained sign. The new moon, too, symbolizes the power of renewal that God assigned to the Jewish people, even though its appearance could be calculated to the split second for hundreds of years; indeed this predictability is the basis of the current Jewish calendar, which was made known in the 4th century CE. Nevertheless, God utilized the natural phenomena of His world as reminders of His covenant, for the very laws of nature should recall to thinking people that there is a God of nature.
9:8 “..and to his sons with him..” – Opinions differ as to whether this means that God’s words were transmitted to Noah’s sons by their father, the sons being unworthy of divine revelation (Ibn Ezra, Ramban); or whether they all received God’s word together so they should all be equally aware of God’s promise to them and the other creatures of the world (Ibn Ezra; Radak).
9:11 “..and never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters…” Part of the world’s population may be destroyed, but never again will the entire world be destroyed by a flood or any other catastrophe (Sforno; Or HaChaim), even if the people are sinful. The Egyptians erred in this regard. They thought that they could drown the Jewish babies without fear of God’s measure-for-measure retribution, because He had sworn never to bring another flood. But they did not realize that only the entire world would not be flooded; therefore, the Egyptian army could be drowned at the splitting of the sea.
9:12 “And God said,..” – Hirsch comments that the rainbow is one of many signs, such as Sabbath, circumcision, and tefillin, all the which are designed to keep alive and fresh the great teachings which God gave man. The rainbow is the eternal sign that, no matter how bleak the future looks, God is not oblivious but He will lead mankind to its ultimate goal.
“..to generations forever:” Rashi notes that the sign is not required in perfectly righteous generations. For example, rainbows were not seen during the periods of Hezekiah, King of Judah, and of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (author of the Zohar) just after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
9:13 “I have set My bow in the cloud..” – The use of the first person, My bow, and the past tense, I have set, indicate that the bow was previously in existence. The verse is therefore to be interpreted: The bow which I have set in the clouds since the beginning of creation – as a natural phenomenon resulting from the sun’s rays refracting upon the moisture-laden air, similar to the rainbow visible in a container of water standing in the sun – shall henceforth service as a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ramban).
The rainbow was chosen as a sign because it is symbolic of the Glory of God as described in Ezekiel 1:28. God thus implied: ‘When it shall rain abundantly, I will present you with a symbol of My Glory, so you shall receive the Shechinah, for were it My intentions to destroy you, I would not have manifested to you My Glory because a king does not deign to appear to his disgraced enemies (B’chor Shor).
9:14 This verse introduces the next one which describes the significance of the rainbow. Thus, when the earth is beclouded and a rainbow is seen, God will remember…
9:15 “I will remember my covenant..” – Hoffmann notes that the implication of the verse is that without the reminder of the rainbow, God would not remember the covenant, an obviously impossible concept. The same difficulty exists in connection with the commandment to place the blood of the Paschal offering around the doorway in order to demonstrate that Jews lived in the house and thereby prevent the first-born from dying (Exodus 12:7,13); as if God had no other way of knowing where Jews lived. Hoffmann contends that the purpose of the signs was to make clear to man that a Merciful God was concerned with his fate and that the good deeds of man were valued by God and could influence the fate of mankind. Therefore, the signs of God’s mercy had to be such as were plainly apparent to people.
The Torah expresses ‘remembering’ in human terms, because there is no forgetfulness before His glorious throne (Radak).
9:16 “..between God and every living being..” – Noting that since God is the Speaker the verse should have said ‘between Me’. Rashid and Radak explain that Elohim represents His Attribute of Justice, and as the Midrash explains, the meaning of the verse is: when strict justice will demand that man be destroyed for his sins, I will see the sign and save you.
(Render, therefore… I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between My stick Attribute of Justice and every living being…)
9:17 ‘And God said to Noah..” – God, as Elohim, is used throughout the narrative of the rainbow, because this Name describes Him as the One Who possesses absolute power and accordingly that is the name used throughout the original narrative of Creation. He is referred to by this designation in the case in the Flood as if to proclaim: He Who created the world from nothing is the same One Who destroyed the world in a Deluge, and Who now has promised to heal the world (Abarbanel).
“This is the sign of the covenant..” – God actually showed Noah a rainbow and said to him: This is the sign of which I spoke (Rashi). This is why the verse is repeated from v.12. There, it is a general statement, here, the verse tells us that God actually showed Noah the sign (Mizrachi).
9:18-27 The intoxication and shame of Noah. The Torah records a shameful event through which Noah was humiliated and which resulted in the blessings and curse that influence the trend of history to this very day. It demonstrates that even the greatest people can become degraded if they lose control of themselves, and it shows, through the different reactions of his sons and grandson, that crisis brings out the true character of people. Thus, it is a powerful lesson in history and morality.
9:18 “..Shem, Ham, and Japheth..” – As the Midrash notes, Japheth was the eldest. Shem is mentioned first because he was worthy and perfect with his Creator (Tanchuma).
Hirsch notes that although the three sons of Noah represented totally different types of character and striving, all were worth of salvation. The three are named here to demonstrate that all families of man are equal as creatures of God and refugees from the Flood. All are responsible to become pure human beings.
“Ham being the father of Canaan.” He being the source of the degradation (Midrash).
The Torah makes this preliminary announcement of Ham’s genealogy in order that the reader will be able to understand how, in this episode which deals with Noah’s intoxication, Canaan comes to be cursed through Ham’s misdeed (Rashi).
Ibn Ezra comments that they are both mentioned because they were both evil. The episode was recorded to show that the descendants of the Canaanites, male and female, were already accursed since the days of Noah, and for this reason Abraham later cautioned against intermarriage with the Canaanites, as did Rebecca.
Malbim cites the Midrash that Ham was the only one of Noah’s sons to cohabit in the ark. He comments, accordingly, that this verse alludes to Ham’s transgression by saying that, upon leaving the ark, Ham was already the father of Canaan, because Canaan was born of this union in the ark.
9:19 Sforno explains that although a wicked one was among them, nevertheless, since they were the sons of Noah, God blessed them that they ‘be fruitful and multiply’. The Torah stresses in this phrase the phenomenon that one father so righteous and perfect produced three such radically different sons.
“..and from these the whole world was spread out.” – This implies that they dispersed and divided the world among themselves. It is well known that the ancients divided three continents: Asia was taken by Shem; Africa by Ham; and Europe by Japheth (Abarbanel).
9:20 “..the man of the earth..” – The word implies mastery; Noah was the master because the earth had been saved thanks to him (Rashi). Alternatively, Noah is associated with the earth because he was skilled at working it (Ibn Ezra), or because he devoted himself to cultivating the earth, rather than to building cities (Ramban).
“..debased himself..” – The translation of ‘debased’ follows Rashi who relates the verb to profaned or desecrated: ‘he profaned himself because he should have started his planting with something other than a vineyard’ (Midrash). Ibn Ezra, Ramban, and most commentators interpret the verb from the word ‘beginning’ and render that Noah, the man of the earth, was the first to plant a vineyard. His predecessors planted single vines, but he was the first to plant many rows of vines in an orderly fashion, comprising a vineyard.
Targum Yonasan writes: ‘..and he found a vine which the river had brought from the Garden of Eden and he planted it in a vineyard, and it flourished in a day, its grapes ripened and he pressed them out.’
9:21 “”He drank of the wine..” – Rav Chiyah said: He planted it, drank thereof, and was humiliated all in one and the same day.
“..and he uncovered himself..” – He was uncovered, not by himself, but by someone else whom the Torah does not identify. From the curse uttered later, it would seem that Canaan did it (B’chor Shor; Ragbag).
According to Tur, however, Noah was uncovered by Ham who told his brothers.
Hirsch perceives that Noah had not drunk the wine in the innermost part of his tent, but when he felt that the wine was going to his head, he took refuge in the innermost part of the tent where he hoped nobody would see him.
9:22 “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw..” – In the plain meaning of the verse, Noah’s intoxication caused him to become uncovered, and Ham gazed at him disrespectfully. According to Hirsch, the term may mean not nakedness but shame; Ham enjoyed the sight of his father’s dishevelment and drunkenness.
Canaan is associated with the event because he had a part in disgracing Noah. Some of the Sages say that he was the one who saw Noah and ran to tell his father (Rashi). According to Sforno, Ham gazed at – but did not protest – the indignity that Canaan had perpetrated upon Noah. Whatever Canaan did to precipitate or aggravate the situation, Ham’s conduct was disgraceful, for he entered the tent and leered at Noah’s debasement, and then, instead of averting his gaze and covering him, as his brothers did, he went to tell his brothers in a manner of ridicule.
Shem and Japheth waited outside respectfully, but Ham who, as a father, should have best appreciated the dignity due a parent, went in to see the shame of his father and then went to his brothers gleefully telling what he had seen (Hirsch).
“..his father’s nakedness..” Hirsch suggests that the term nakedness sometimes means not literal nakedness, but the degraded condition of drunkenness as in Habakuk 2:15. Thus it is possible that Noah was not naked but that Ham enjoyed his father’s compromised condition.
“..he told his two brothers outside.” – Ramban explains that Ham’s sin was that he should have modestly covered his father’s nakedness and concealed his shame by telling no one. Instead, he broadcast the matter to his two brothers in public in order to ridicule Noah.
9:23 “And Shem and Japheth took a garment,” – The verb ‘took’ is in singular because Shem alone took the initiative in performing this meritorious deed, then Japheth came and joined him. Therefore, the descendants of Shem (the Jews) were rewarded with the precept of fringed garments (Numbers 15:38); those of Japheth were rewarded with burial in Eretz Yisrael as it is written (Ezekiel 39:11): And it shall come to pass in that day that I will give unto Gog (a descendant of Japheth) a place fit for burial in Israel; and those of Ham, who degraded his father, were eventually ‘led away by the King of Assyria .. naked and barefoot’ (Isaiah 20:4) (Midrash; Rashi).
“..laid it upon both their shoulders,” – They laid it on their shoulders to make it easy, when walking backward and approaching close to their father, to let the garment slip off their shoulders and cover their father without having to gaze upon him at all.
“..their faces were turned away,..” – For not only did their eyes not glance at their father’s shame, even their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness (Alschich).
9:24 “Noah awoke from his wine..” – Not only did he wake up from his sleep but even ”from his wine” – his mind was completely lucid and therefore the prophetic spirit for which he was worthy returned to him and through it he knew what had transpired (Ha’amek Davar).
“..his small son..” – Rashi – following the Midrash which apparently agrees with Sanhedrin
69b that Japheth was the eldest, Ham was the second, and Shem was the youngest – explains that ‘small’ in this verse refers to Ham, who although not the youngest, is called ‘small’ in the sense of ‘the unfit and the despised’, as the word is used in Jeremiah 49:15.
9:25-27 Hirsch calls these verses the most far-reaching prophecy ever uttered. In it God allowed Noah to encapsulate all of human history.
9:25 “Cursed is Canaan;..” – Ham sinned and Canaan is cursed! Rav Yehudah explains that God had already blessed Noah and his sons, and there cannot be a curse where a blessing had been given. Therefore Noah cursed his grandson, who, as noted above, was deeply involved in the humiliating incident. According to Rav Nechemiah, the curse is attached to Canaan because he originally saw Noah and informed the others (Midrash).
Radak explains that Noah cursed Canaan because he prophetically foresaw that Canaan’s descendants would be perpetually wicked. The curse was indeed fulfilled for we see that the patriarchs avoided intermarrying with the accursed Canaanites.
Noteworthy, also, is that it does not say ‘cursed shall be Canaan’, but ‘cursed is Canaan’ which signifies he was already accursed from before this time.
“..a slave of slaves..” – The phrase is meant literally, that Canaanites would be enslaved even by people who themselves are dominated by others; or it is a figure of speech, meaning that they would be “the lowliest of slaves” (Ralbag).
Indisputably, many descendants of Shem and Japheth, too, have been sold into slavery, while not every Canaanite is or was a slave. The curse is that from birth the Canaanites will be steeped in the culture of slavery and not seriously desire freedom. The descendants of Shem and Japheth, however, will have a nobler spirit; they will always crave freedom, even if they are enslaved (Ha’ Davar).
The curse was that the raw, uncontrolled sensuality displayed by Canaan could never be permitted to rule. The person with self-control, on the other hand, will not allow himself to be enslaved (Hirsch).
“..shall he be to his brothers.” – According to Ramban, ‘his brothers’ might also refer to his father’s brothers, Japheth and Shem, for one’s father’s brothers are called brothers’ as in Genesis 14:14 where Lot (a nephew) is referred to as Abraham’s brother. It may also be that to his brothers means that he will be enslaved to the whole world; whoever will find him will enslave him.
9:26 “Blessed is Hashem, the God of Shem..” – Noah did not bless Shem directly, but his blessing indicated the nature and striving of Shem. The standard-bearers of Shem would be Israel, for whom the primary goal of life is to serve God and increase His glory in the world. Consequently, when God is blessed, they, too, are exalted.
Though Israel is Hashem’s most devoted servant, He is the universal God; not only Shem’s. He is called the God of Shem in the sense that He is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in that He is especially revealed in their history and because they are the ones who recognized and proclaimed His greatness (Hirsch).
Noah first blessed the God of Shem, thereby letting it be known that Shem will be a servant of Hashem while Canaan will be subject to the descendants of Shem who were many.
9:27 This verse charts the relationship between the two critical factors of human intellect and spirituality. Japheth was blessed with beauty and sensitivity; Shem was blessed with holiness and the Divine Presence. Of the many nations descending from both, the blessing of Japheth took root in ancient Greece and the culture it spawned, while the blessing of Shem rested on Israel and its immersion in Torah and mitzvos (the 613 commandments). Noah’s blessing states that Japheth’s gift is important and beautiful, but only if it is placed at the service of the spiritual truths represented by Shem; otherwise it can be not only dissipated but harmful.
“..but he will dwell in the tents of Shem;” – As the Talmud (Yoma 10a) explains: Although God extended Japheth, inasmuch as his descendant Cyrus built the Second Temple, yet the Shechinah did not dwell in it – he rests only in the tents of Shem, for the Shechinah dwelt only in the First Temple which was built by Solomon, a descendant of Shem (Rashi; Midrash).
Ramban explains it this way: ‘Noah then blessed Japheth with an extension of his territories. He blessed Shem that God cause His Shechinah to dwell in his tents, and finally said that Canaan be a servant to them – the two of them.
9:28-29 Noah was born in the year 1056 from Creation, the Flood occurred in 1656, and he died in 2006, ten years after the Dispersion (Chapter 11). Abraham was born in 1948; thus he knew Noah and was 58 years old when Noah died. It is fascinating that from Adam to Abraham, there was a word-of-mouth tradition spanning only four people: Adam, Lamech, Noah, and Abraham. Similarly, Moses, through whom the Torah was given, saw Kehath who saw Jacob, who saw Abraham. Accordingly, there were not more than seven people who carried the tradition firsthand from Adam to the generation that received the Torah (Abarbanel).