Sunday, October 29, 2006

וּבְנֵי גֹּמֶר: אַשְׁכְּנַז וְרִיפַת וְתֹגַרְמָה

Commentary of R' Samson [ben] Raphael Hirsch on Bereshis 9:27
God will open [people's] emotions to Yefes,
but He will dwell in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be a servant to them.
We have here, then, three representatives of nations; they represent three main attributes of individuals and of nations. שם represents the intellect; he assigns everything a name and is able to conceptualize. In contrast to him is חם: the height of burning sensuality. The essence of שם is the intellect, which analyzes everything objectively. This requires tranquility, without המום — and certainly without חמום. In the case of חם, however, intellect is reduced to a minimum. יפת is in the middle. He represents the meeting point of intellect and sensuality — namely, emotion, sentiment.

These three forces predominate in man's inner life, and they also characerize nations. Obviously, there is no such thing as a one-sided nation that has only intellect or only emotion, etc. But in this respect nations are like individuals: All three of these atttributes are found in every individual, yet only one off them is dominant in him, and
that is the attribute that characterizes him. The same is true of nations.

Noach spoke his words at the dawn of history. We, however, can survey a past of four thousand years. For us it should be easy to trace, in retrospect, the influence of these divergent forces on the course of history.

The nations that have created the greatest stir in world history are those dominated by חם, by sensuality that harnesses minds and emotions to its chariot and permits the spirit to function only as a vehicle for the physical. These are nations that conquer and destroy, and relish what they have taken. Nations rise and fall, and their whole essence is brute force, sensuality, and bestiality.


[Noach] saw: ארור כנען! Man will not blossom and flower by means of coarseness and burning sensuality. Nations that are absorbed in passion and controlled by base desire will lose their freedom and independence and ultimately become עבדים, slaves. Indeed, days are coming in which all awareness of man's freedom will be lost; Canaan will be an עבד עבדים, but the others, too will be עבדים.
Only nations that are themselves enslaved set out to enslave others. He who wants to conquer the world and to subjugate other nations must first subjugate his own people, which must serve as a blind instrument of his lust for power. Cham's descendents produced tyrants, "hunters of men," who ruled according to the dictates of their own hearts. Lust leads to slavery, not to freedom...

Then comes Shem בשם השם, calling out to the peoples in the Name of ה׳, the one God, before Whom the enslaving gods disappear. The one God of Shem liberates man. He endows every person with equal dignity and exalts him above the forces of nature. The breath of God's spirit lives within
every man, investing him with inalienable dignity. God, n His mercy and compassion, is close to every man; He calls every man to His service, which liberates, uplifts, and fills one with rapture...

Noach expresses the
wish... that Canaan should be an עבד of Shem. This shall be Cham's salvation — that his antithesis should be the master. Although it is ordained that Canaan will be an עבד, let him be Shem's עבד. Only thus will כנען, too — the height of decadent sensuality — come to serve God through the mediation of Shem...

But this goal cannot be achieved at once. Yefes mediates between Cham and Shem. Cham is not ready to receive immediately the Teaching of the God of Shem. The
uncivilized person must first become a cultured man... The savage who paints his skin and changes his outer appearance has thus begun to fashion his image and already stands on the threshold of culture... The culture of gracefulness, the subordination of the savage to the principle of the "beautiful and good," the kalokgathos ["the goodness of man"] of Yefes culture, is the vestibule that leads to the teachings of Shem; it prepares man to subordinate his whole heart to a higher principle of a higher beauty, so that ultimately he makes a harmony of all the aspects of his life and learns to subordinate his heart to the Will of the one God.

Whatever Rabbiner Hirsch may have thought about the interactions of nature and nurture, heredity and culture, we saw last century that any nation — no matter how much they seem dedicated to Shem-like intellect or Yefetic high culture — can fall into the depths of self-enslavement and depravity that R' Hirsch sources in an overabundance of Chamitic sensuality. When RShR"H wrote the line indeed, days are coming in which all awareness of man's freedom will be lost, could he possibly have imagined the tragic irony we feel today when we read his later comment on Bereshis 10:5?
...Let us also note that these factors of separation and unification are mentioned also in connection with Cham's and Shem's descendants... but the descendants of Yefes went further, in that they separated into איי הגוים. Among the descendants of Yefes the fragmentation was great, a kaleidoscope of different characteristics. This is known about בני יון, the Greek tribes. And if — as seems very probable — there is truth to the popular tradition that אשכנז is Germany and the Germanic tribes, then אשכנז is the second example of national fragmentation and decentralization. This fragmentation was a great boon, however, to the spiritual mission of Yefes. Small states are always careful to foster cultural values.


Blogger David Guttmann said...

See my post on objective morality. If you take RSRH historical explanation out of the context Yefes ends up being similar to man after Eden where Tov and Ra (sensuality) is striving to integrate Emet and Sheker (intellect - shem). it seems that Breishit is introducing the basic concept of Judaism of bringing intellect (Godliness) into sensuality( Physicality).

10/30/2006 5:01 AM  
Blogger heccy said...

This reminds me very much of the 3-fold division of the mind/soul used by plato in the Republic (and to a lesser extent in Phaedrus). the 3 parts are the appetitive: focused on bodily pleasures; the spirited: rather hazy description but seems focused on higher pleasures such as honor; and the rational: focused on the greatest pleasure of them all- philosophy and intellectual thought. In the republic he uses them as allegory for his perfect state, with the rational part using the spirited to keep the appetitive in line and do the rational's bidding. In Phaedrus, both the appetitive and spirited are portrayed as horses guiding a chariot who must be controlled and steered by the rational as the driver.

10/30/2006 5:30 PM  
Blogger thanbo said...

Any thoughts on my Noah problem?

10/30/2006 10:39 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Steg-- I've got a great piyyut by Yannai for you, about how the descendants of Sheim, Hham, and Yefet each praise God in their own way, according to their own skills.

You can blog it assoon as I have it inputted.

10/31/2006 7:28 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Here it is:

...ודור לדור ישבח / ודור ודור יְתַנֶּה / וזה לזה יְלַמֵּדוּ / כי לריק לא ניבראו / ובעבור זאת נבראו / לברך שמך / להלל זכרך / ולהודות לך / ולהאמין בך / ולהקדישך ולהאדירך / כאדירי מעלה באדרת קדוּשּׁה נאדר בקודש אדיר וקדוש

ככתוב (על יד נביאך) וקרא זה אל זה ואמר קדוש קדוש קדוש יי צ-באות מלא כל הארץ כבודו

יוצאי ממסגר אשר הוצאתה לרוחה יְצוּאֵיהֶם יאמרו
קדוש קדוש קדוש יי צ-באות מלא כל הארץ כבודו

קדוש מבעלי שֵׁם ומעשה / קדוש מבעלי לשון מובחר / קדוש מבעלי שכר טוב
קדוש קדוש קדוש יי צ-באות מלא כל הארץ כבודו

קדוש משֵׁם העמגד עוטה ציצית בשם ומעשה
קדוש מיפת העמיד ממליצי דת בלשון מובחר
קדוש מחם העמיד משכילים דביקים בברוכים
קדוש קדוש קדוש יי צ-באות מלא כל הארץ כבודו

ממקומו בחר בשֵם כי דרש אש דת
ממקומו בחר ביפת הוגי נופת צוּפים
ממקומו קירב מחם גֵירים וחושבי שמו...

10/31/2006 7:58 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

David Guttmann:

very interesting!
the direction of the shift seems to be different, though; the way R' Hirsch's comment looks to me, he's saying that Yefet is the means by which Hham is brought to Sheim; Sheim is the ideal, but because some people and cultures are too far away from it, they need to be brought to Yefet (=high culture) before they can appreciate the religious intellect of Sheim.


interesting horse-chariot metaphor... i think what i just said to David Guttmann applies here also; R' Hirsch seems to be describing a progression:
Hham »» Yefet »» Sheim
Where the purpose of Yefet is to get Hham to Sheim.


i responded there, but it seems to be broken. what i said was:
I don't think the Tower needs to fit into your problem. If you read the story without the lenses of midrashim, the people aren't accused of doing anything illegal, and God doesn't punish them!

The problem was that God's original plan for humanity was "have babies, lots of babies, and fill the earth". and for whatever reason (fear of the unknown? posttraumatic stress disorder from the Dissolving?) people wanted instead to stay in one floodplain, in one city with one big tower that would unify the whole area visually.

But that wasn't according to God's plan, so God "nudged" them a bit, to get them to break up into diverse societies.

Mar Gavriel:

thanks! that's an amazing piyut... but i can't tell if the Yefet and Hham references are refering to anyone/anything specific.
קדוש משֵׁם העמגד עוטה ציצית בשם ומעשה
is supposed to be
קדוש משֵׁם העמיד עוטה ציצית בשם ומעשה

10/31/2006 10:46 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

(1) Yes, העמיד, not *העמגד.

(2) Specific references? Lemme check Rabbinowitz's commentary on the pyyt, and get back to you later.

10/31/2006 11:12 AM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...


I don't see references to specific individuals. Rabbinowitz (ad locum) mentions that the בעלי שכר טוב from Hham are the geirim, and he connects this to Bo`az's line to Rut: ותהי משכרתך שלמה מעם יי א-להי ישראל.

Bronsnick (sp? ברונזניק), in his commentary on piyutei Yanai (p. 14), points out the verbal connection with the berakha in the Tefila: על הצדיקים... ועל גרי הצדק... תן שכר טוב.

10/31/2006 3:40 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

And, of course, the בעלי לשון from Yefet are the translators of the Bible into beautiful Septuagintal Greek.

10/31/2006 3:41 PM  
Blogger Ha-historion said...

Check out my Jewish history blog at

11/08/2006 2:26 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

not cool, steven.
not cool.

you can advertize your blog, sure, but only if you leave some kind of substantive comment! and on two different posts, too?

11/08/2006 11:38 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home