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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

Bereishit: Noach

The Unlimited Expense Account

“And Noach awoke and knew what his youngest son (Cham) had done to him. And he said: ‘Cursed is Canaan, he will be a servant to his brothers’” (Bereishit 9:24-25).

Our Rabbis teach (in Gemara Sanhedrin 70a) that when Noach became intoxicated Cham actually castrated his father! So if Cham was the one who sinned, why did Noach curse Canaan, the son of Cham, and not Cham himself?

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 36:7) explains that wherever God personally expresses a blessing, no curse will be effective. God had already blessed Noach and his sons when they disembarked from the ark: “And God blessed Noach and his sons” (Bereishit 9:1). Since Cham had received that blessing, Noach could not curse him. He therefore cursed Canaan, the son of Cham.

The Vilna Gaon used this Midrash to explain another statement of our Rabbis. They teach (in Gemara Beitzah 16a) that a person’s income is fixed from one Rosh Hashanah to the next. Therefore, a person should be careful how he spends his money, because he will not be allocated more than his limit.

The Gemara continues that there is an exception to this rule, namely expenses for the honour of Shabbat. If he spends more, God will provide him with more resources, and if he spends less he will be granted with less. Why is Shabbat an exception?

The Vilna Gaon explains that the reason why a person has difficulty in earning a living and thus has to be careful how he spends his money is because we are living under a curse. Adam was cursed after his sin that he would have to live by the sweat of his brow, BeZeiat Apecha Tochal Lechem (Bereishit 3:19). This does not apply to the day of Shabbat because the Torah states clearly that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Bereishit 2:3).

Since Shabbat has God’s personal blessing, no curse can be effective on it. Hence there are no limits to what one spends genuinely for the honour of Shabbat.

On the same theme, the Vilna Gaon explains the Mishnah in BaMeh Madlikin (Shabbat 2:5) which states: “KeChas Al HaNer KeChas Al HaShemen”. Why does the Mishnah say “KeChas” meaning “as if he saves” as opposed to the more usual “Chas” meaning “he saves”? He answers that the saving is only imagined because he will recoup what he spends on the honour of Shabbat. Therefore, “KeChas” refers to the reality, not his frame of mind.

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