Judaism: The Dove's Directive: Parshat Noach
Shira SmilesShira Smiles is a sought-after international lecturer, popular seminary teacher and experienced curriculum developer. A well-respected former Los Angeles teacher, she now lives in Israel, where she teaches at Darchei Bina Seminary and leads a number of women's study groups. Shira also trains Torah teachers in special workshops all over the world.
Shiur Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein
The dove brings an olive branch to Noah in the ark resting atop Mount Ararat as the rains of the flood have stopped, and the dove becomes forever an iconic symbol of peace in many cultures. But the messages our Sages find in the dove’s actions are much more profound than peace itself for, while “peace may be the answer”, the road to achieving both inner and outer peace is seldom easy.
If we read the text carefully, we will note that Noah first sends a raven. But the raven just goes back and forth around the ark, never really flying away to check out the land. Noah then sends the dove three times, at seven day intervals, to seek out dry land.
On the first attempt, Noah sends the dove from himself, and the dove immediately sets out upon its mission, but finding no dry land upon which to alight, returns to the ark.
On the second attempt, Noah sends the dove out of the ark. The dove flies around all day, finally coming back towards evening with a torn olive leaf in its mouth. The Oznaim LaTorah points out that the dove did not return for food, but returned only because she needed a place to rest, as the earth was still covered with water.
Finally, on her third attempt, the dove did not return, indicating that she had found dry land.
Rabbi Dovid Hofstater in Drash Dovid points to the progression Noah uses as he sends out the dove. This is a lesson for parents and teachers as they try to train their charges toward independence, Reb Dovid says. When we first send them out, we should send them out from ourselves, not too far, reassuring them of our love and that they are always welcome back home. Then we send them out further away from home, from their comfortable environment. They start “testing the waters.” Only after that can they feel comfortable fully pursuing their own independence.
Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the Saba of Slabodka, offers a very instructive insight based on a Medrash. There were two birds in the ark who did good for Noah. The first, called a Chol, didn’t ask Noah for food because it saw how busy Noah was. Noah blessed him that his species would never die. The dove is the second bird. It brought back information that the floodwaters were subsiding.
Why did it not get an equal blessing? The Saba offers a profound insight.The Chol was blessed for its sensitivity to others, even though it was Noah’s responsibility to feed it. The dove, on the other hand, completed its mission only at the expense of the tree. That torn leaf in its mouth, if left alone, could have grown into a full branch or even a new tree had the dove not torn it away. The dove, in fulfilling what it felt was its mission, completed it with insensitivity to its surroundings.
In a similar way, teaches the Saba, we must also be sensitive to the needs and even the comfort of others as we go about performing mitzvoth. We should not so rush to get to shul early that we wake up the entire household, or be so eager to raise tzedaka for a cause that we deny others the opportunity to contribute their ideas and efforts. A mitzvah performed insensitively loses much of its merit.
However, the most famous medrash concerning the dove is cited in Masechet Eruvin. As the dove approaches the ark with the bitter olive leaf in its beak, it seems to be saying, “Better is bitter food like the olive directly from Your hand, Hashem, than food sweet as honey from the hand of man.”
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch interprets these words with psycological insight to mean that for us the olive branch is not a symbol of peace, but a symbol of independence and freedom, and the exercise of moderation in the midst of freedom.
But the questions that beg to be asked, according to the ModzitcherRav, are how can food from Hashem be bitter when everything that Hashem gives is always with a benevolent eye, and isn’t all food, from wherever derived, actually from the hand of Hakodosh Boruch Hu? Perhaps there was a lack of hakorat hatov, a lack of gratitude, to Noah who had provided his sustenance for a full year. Even if a bird has no concept of gratitude, these words should teach us human beings who do understand the concept to be grateful to all who help us and especially to Hashem Who provides us with all our needs.
Here the Siach Yaakov brings an added perspective to this discussion. He explains the fundamental difference between the raven and the dove. The raven, says the Siach Yaakov, was very happy to be catered to by man in the luxury and ease of the ark hotel. How sweet it was not to have to work for his sustenance. The dove, by contrast, wanted to always be dependent directly on Hashem and not on an intermediary. She could only do this by being constantly involved in the bitter struggle for food herself and not depending on Noah.
As Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai explains, this is also why the manna fell daily in the desert with only enough food for that day, so that the eyes of Bnei Yisroel would constantly turn upward to their Father in heaven, so that they would develop a relationship with Him and speak to Him constantly. The challenge with parnasah, with livelihood, is to recognize that it all comes from Hashem, no matter how much work we personally expend in the process and how many networks we create toward that end.
Actually, the Siach Yaakov continues the ideas of rabbi Yochanan, providing sustenance is more difficult than providing salvation. He cites the verses from Yaakov’s blessing of Yosef’s son as proof that salvation and redemption is achieved through messengers – hamalach hagoel – while daily sustenance comes directly from God – HaElokhim haroeh oti meiodi ad hayom hazeh. We should never take our parnasah for granted; our eyes should always turn to Hashem Who provides the food of all flesh at its appropriate time.
In fact, says Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, this is the challenge and test Hashem presents us with daily. It is so easy to attribute our livelihood and sustenance to nature or to our own power. Through our daily struggles and reliance on Hashem, we must come to realize that nature and matter are really an illusion and only God’s providence is real. Then we can return our hearts and minds to the spiritual realm from which we were banished as a result of Adam’s eating from the tree of knowledge of good and bad.
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon relates how someone observed a successful businessman praying very fervently in shul, yet but an hour later he became a ruthless businessman. What were his prayers all about? He attributed his success to his business acumen and was asking God not to interfere with his “natural” talents. He was unwilling to acknowledge that it was Hashem’s providence and “intervention” in his business dealings that was the actual source of his success. It may be sweeter to believe that we are in control, but the “bitter” truth is that everything is in Hashem’s hands.
The Ohr Doniel makes an interesting point along these lines. When it comes to making business choices, sometimes we have to swallow a bitter pill, perhaps forego a major deal because it doesn’t conform to halakha.
We are nevertheless still faced with a question: If everything ultimately comes from Hashem, what difference does it make whether I get my sustenance directly from Hasehm or indirectly through gifts or loans from man’s flesh and blood, even one’s relatives?
Rav Weiss in Power Bentching develops this idea beautifully. Is it possible, he asks, that we would never need the help of another human being? But when that time comes, we pray that the help not be given grudgingly, from the physical aspect of man’s flesh and blood, but from his spiritual aspect from the soul that desires to emulate Hashem’s benevolence.
We can now perhaps shift our focus and understand how those who support kollel learners are not giving material sustenance without gaining anything in return, as Rav Dessler indicates. Man is composed of physical and spiritual elements. When one supports Torah study, he is investing his physical assets to gain the spiritual dividends of the learner’s Torah study. This is the paradigm of the Issachar/Zevulun relationship.
In fact, a true kollel man is said to toil in Torah, and that is not easy. His toil earns his supporter many merits; he is not merely accepting charity. Accepting charity without giving something in return, says Rabbi Druck should be shameful. Today, unfortunately, some people are so brazen as to demand a check if you have no cash to give them, or even to tell you that what you are offering is not enough.
The yonah, the dove, also wants to struggle in his realm and buld a relationship with Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Bnei Yisroel is often compared to a dove. Our work in building this relationship is in doing mitzvoth. But, our ChaZa”L say, we can be as full (of mitzvoth) as a pomegranate and still be empty.
How is that possible, asks Rav Wolbe? He answers by saying that if we busy ourselves only with those mitzvoth that are easy for us we are not working on the relationship. True growth comes from the inner struggle we wage to obey Hashem’s will even when a particular mitzvah is difficult or not as pleasant from our point of view. Growth comes only by stretching and pushing out our boundaries, as difficult as it may be, from self sacrifice, rather than from complacency.
In Sichot Ba’avodath Hashem, Rabbi Meisels offers a beautiful, homilectic interpretation of the dove’s preference for the bitterness of the olive over the sweetness of man’s hand. While we celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the day on which we are judged, there is a tradition that the final judgment actually takes place on Chanukah, the day of Hashem’s total reconciliation with Bnei Yisroel after the sin of the golden calf. The symbol of Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur when Hashem pronounces that He has forgiven us is the sweet honey, while the symbol for Chanukah is the olive oil used in the menorah.
What we are asking Hashem, through the symbolism of the dove, is to judge us not as on Rosh Hashanah when we are judged based on our own merit, a merit which is always inadequate in balance to Hashem’s benevolence, but rather judge us with the love and compassion of total reconciliation that Chanukah represents. Even when You judge us on Rosh Hashanah, continues Rabbi Meisels, keep in mind the compassion of Chanukah.
So the dove teaches us that is better to struggle for our livelihood and live a less luxurious life than to accept charity that may have all the trimmings. Within this process, we are constantly reminded that our sustenance always comes from Hashem, even as we think the laws of nature or business are at play, and our eyes are turned upward toward Him.
The “bitterness” we encounter, whether in our struggle for parnasah, livelihood, or in the performance of mitzvoth, is beloved to Hashem and will help us grow both in our character and our relationship with Hashem, the ultimate mission in our lives as HIs children.