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 Three Sons, Three Qualities

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Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg ztz”l. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications and is the author of the books, Fascinating Insights and Incredible Insights. His writings inspire people across the spectrum of Jewish observance to live with the vibrancy and beauty of Torah. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes, and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

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Three Sons, Three Qualities

The pasuk states ומאלה נפצה הארץ, from these—שםחם, and יפת—the world spread out.[1] This seems obvious, since who else was alive then?


The three sons of Noach represent three different qualities. שם represents essence, intellect, and the like. For this reason, we refer to our G-d as השםthe essence.[2]


This is also demonstrated in the episode in which he covered his father after he became intoxicated. Shem exerted effort to honor him, as he was the essential one who did it.[3] יפת also covered his father, but only because of שם. It was an external action. Indeed, יפת means beauty, which is external. חם is the lowest of the three, as חם is a term for mating, as in יחם הצאן.[4]


Based on what we said, we can understand that שם represents intellect, חם base instincts, and יפת beauty. שם symbolizes meaning, that which has significance. This is the eastern side of the world where people strive for meaning through meditation and so on. חם refers to Africa, as it is written that his children are כוש ומצרים…,[5] since people there accentuate their desires. יפת, external beauty, represents places such as יון, Germany,[6] and the western world, where emphasis is put on beauty.


These types of people stem from שםחם, and יפת because the world came from them. These three traits are also in each individual person, as we all possess intellect and meaning, base desires, and beauty. Now we can understand on a deeper level ומאלה נפצה הארץ—these three traits of שםחם, and יפת spread throughout the world.


Chava had these three qualities when she sinned. It says that ותרא…למאכל,[7] she perceived that the tree was good for eating—the trait of יפתוכי תאוה הוא לענים, a delight to the eyes is the quality of חם, appealing; and ונחמד העץ להשכיל, the tree was desirable as a means to wisdom, שם, intellect.


The reason Chava sinned is because these traits need to be applied in the correct order. That is to say, first one needs to apply the intellect and then see how it feels. The reverse order leads to sin. To illustrate: If one sees a cake that looks good, he will consume it. After that, he justifies it to himself and says it’s not really so unhealthy. Everyone eats it. However, the proper way is to first consider whether or not it makes sense for me to eat it: Is it good for my health? Will it help me in my relationship with Hashem? Is there a downside to eating it? We should merit to properly use the qualities we possess in our service to Hashem.





Beauty Base instincts Intellect
West Africa and the like East
ותרא…למאכל וכי תאוה הוא לענים ונחמד העץ להשכיל

[1] Breishis 9:19.

[2] We also see this in the word נשמה, soul, essence—as it is rooted in שם.

[3] Breishis 9:23, Rashi. Rashi tells us that שם received the mitzva of tzitzis for covering his father when he got drunk, since he initiated the mitzva. He therefore received this because it is the first mitzva a father educates his child with. Furthermore, it is the first mitzva done in the morning. This is in contrast to יפת, who waited, thus receiving the mitzva of burial—the last mitzva. We see from here how important it is to make every beginning strong, whether it is the beginning of the day, Seder, tefila, or any other beginning. This is just as we need kavana in the first bracha of Shmoneh Esrei.

[4] Breishis 30:39, 41. See Mishna Brura 619:14 that on the night of Yom Kippur, one shouldn’t wrap himself with pillows and cushions that warm him, and at least not to cover his legs.

[5] Breishis 10:6.

[6] As it says that his descendants were אשכנז, Germany (10:3). יון, who embodies beauty, also descends from יפת. In fact, יון consists of the same letters as נוי, beauty.

[7] Breishis 3:6.

Writer of the Fascinating Insights Torah sheet in Englishעברית ,אידיש and français

Author of Four Books including the recently released “Amazing Shabbos Insights”

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