This week's Torah parsha reintroduces us to Noah's three sons, each of whom merited to survive the Flood (R. Hirsch) and to become the progenitors of mankind (Abarbanel, Sforno). This was ostensibly because of the qualities of righteousness that they were taught from their father (Radak).
From Noah and his three sons, we gain critical insights into the human psyche and its frailty. Noah's righteousness, the rabbis remind us, was limited and context-bound. For how else do we explain his bizarre behavior that led him first off, after the Flood, to plant a vineyard, get drunk, and expose his naked self to the world?
As for the three sons, their characters are clued in their names: Shem, the bearer of the Name, gave seed to the Jewish nation. He takes the initiative in covering up his sleeping father. The hotheaded Ham – "Father of Canaan" – is the archetype of the evil counter-culture. He stares mockingly at his drunken father. Yaphet the father of Greek aestheticism has to be led by his brother to overcome his father's shame.
Ham is cursed and Shem is blessed. Shem's blessing rested in Israel. Yaphet is also blessed but, "he will dwell in the tents of Shem" (Ber. 9:27). The implication, notes Rabbi Hirsch, is that beauty is significant, but only when at the service of the spiritual truths represented by Shem.