Noah, a raven, a dove, and the Democrats

Have Jews really found resting-places for the soles of their feet?

Daniel Pinner ,

Making Aliyah
Making Aliyah
Flash 90

Noach spent exactly one solar year on board the Ark with all the animals:

The Flood began “in the six-hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth of the month” (Genesis 7:11); and the ground was finally dry, and Noah and his entourage left the Ark, “in the six-hundred-and-first the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month” (8:13-14).

Since the standard year in the Jewish calendar is 354 days, and since the Flood lasted for one [Biblical] year and 11 days, Noah spent 365 days, or one complete solar year, on board.

When the flood-waters began to recede and Noah wanted to find out whether the earth was once again ready for habitation, he sent forth the raven (Genesis 8:7). However, the world was not yet ready to sustain the raven, there was no carrion for it to eat (Radak), and it did not want to abandon its mate aboard the Ark (Rashi), so it flew around the Ark, not venturing very far.

And so Noah “sent forth the dove from him, to see if the waters had abated from the face of the earth; and the dove did not find any resting-place for the sole of her foot, so she returned to him, to the Ark” (8:8-9).

Another seven days passed, and Noah again sent forth the dove, and she returned towards evening with a freshly-plucked olive-leaf in her beak (8:11-12), indicating that the trees at least were once again blossoming.

And seven days later, Noah sent forth the dove for what he did not yet know would be the last time. The dove did not return to the Ark, so Noah knew that the earth had dried enough for the dove to find her resting-place. The Flood was over, and Noah removed the cover from the Ark (8:13).

And fifty-seven days later, the earth had sufficiently dried for it to be humanly inhabitable again, and Noah and his family finally left the Ark (8:14-19).

The Midrash sees the Flood as an allusion to Israel’s exile; and the end of the Flood, and Noah’s release from the Ark, as an allusion to the end of exile and Israel’s return to its Land.

The phrase וְלֹא מָצְאָה הַיּוֹנָה מָנוֹחַ לְכַף רַגְלָהּ, “the dove did not find any resting-place for the sole of her foot” (Genesis 8:9), has a direct parallel in the Tochachah (the Castigation, G-d’s warning of the dire consequences of violating the Torah). The ultimate punishment is exile – but never think that you will have respite in the exile:

Among those nations you will not relax, וְלֹא יִהְיֶה מָנוֹחַ לְכַף רַגְלֶךָ and there will be no resting-place for the sole of your foot” (Deuteronomy 28:65).

And indeed, a millennium after G-d gave us the Torah, we were exiled from our Land, and Jeremiah – the Prophet of destruction – bewailed that that “Judea is exiled because of poverty and great servitude; she dwells among the nations, לֹא מָצְאָה מָנוֹחַ, and finds no resting-place” (Lamentations 1:3).

The third-generation Israeli Amora Rabbi Yudan ben Rabbi Nehemiah cited his mentor Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish (Reish Lakish) as expounding:

“‘She dwells among the nations, and finds no resting-place’ – had she found any resting-place she would not have returned [to the Land of Israel]; in just the same way that ‘the dove did not find any resting-place for the sole of her foot’ [which was the reason that she returned to the Ark], so too ‘Among those nations...there will be no resting-place for the sole of your foot’ [which is the reason that you will return to the Land of Israel]” (Eichah Rabbah 1:29).

That is to say: if the Jews find a resting-place for the soles of their feet among the nations, then far too many will opt to remain in exile, whether in Babylon or in Spain, whether in Yemen or in Morocco, whether in Hungary or in Germany, whether in Poland or in Iran, whether in Britain or in the USA.

Reish Lakish took the issue of the Land of Israel very seriously, even very personally. As the Talmud recounts [Rashi’s comments in square brackets]:

“Reish Lakish was swimming in the River Jordan, and Rabbah bar Chanah came and offered him his hand [to help him out of the water]. [Reish Lakish] said to him: By God! I hate you [the Babylonian Jews as a whole, who did not come back in the days of Ezra, and thereby prevented the Shechinah (the Divine presence) from returning and once again infusing the rebuilt Holy Temple]. For it is written: ‘If she be a wall, we will build upon her a turret of silver; if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar’ (Song of Songs 8:9) Had you made yourselves like a wall and all come up in the days of Ezra, you would have been compared to silver, which no rottenness can ever overcome. Now that you have come up like doors [a double door in a gate, where one door can be open while the other one remains closed; thus you Babylonian Jews only partially came back to Israel] you are like cedar-wood, which rottenness overcomes” (Yoma 9b).

So grievous was the sin of the generation of the Jews of Babylon in not returning to Israel when they had the opportunity, that Reish Lakish still held Rabbah bar Bar Chanah personally responsible centuries later.

We live today in an interesting era: it is maybe the first time in history that the overwhelming majority of Jews live in free countries. The only countries whose governments are openly and officially hostile to Jews and Judaism, and which still have sizeable Jewish communities, are Iran (150,000 Jews in 1948, down to 8,000 today) and Turkey (23,000 Jews in 1983, down to 14,800 today).

Other than these, virtually all Jews today are living securely in free countries.

And yet…

…and yet even in the freest of countries, Jews begin to sense approaching storm-fronts. Life is no longer as secure in Britain, France, the USA, Switzerland, Canada, or anywhere else as it was a generation ago. Jews in increasing numbers, the world over, feel increasingly uncertain n an uncertain world. The uneasy question once again arises: Have Jews really found resting-places for the soles of their feet?

If bad comes to worse, and worse comes to worst, then there would those Jews emigrate to?

– The main choice would have to be Israel.

It is a sad reflection that so many Jews need anti-Semitism to convince them to make Aliyah. Would it not be far, far healthier, infinitely happier, to make Aliyah for positive reasons? To make Aliyah to be part of Jewish future, rather than simply to run away from persecution?

But Rabbi Yudan ben Rabbi Nehemiah’s observation is, sadly, only too perceptive. As in his generation, so too today 1,800 years later.

A generation or two ago, Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d arguably persuaded more Jews to make Aliyah than any other single person in his time. And he almost invariably hammered to his audiences the ever-growing threat of anti-Semitism.

He was frequently challenged by Establishment Jewish leaders: Why do you use threats? – they asked. Why frighten Jews into making Aliyah, instead of accentuating the positive? Give them something to run to, rather something to run away from?

And Rabbi Kahane’s standard response was: If you think that you can convince Jews to make Aliyah by showing them the benefits of living in Israel, or by teaching them the halakhic obligation to live in Israel – then by all means go ahead. You try your way, I’ll try mine, and we’ll see who convinces more Jews to leave the USA for Israel!

As with Noah’s dove, as with the Jews of Babylon, as with too many Jews throughout the world today: those who find resting-place for the soles of their feet prefer to remain where they are.

But as the Flood came to its end and the Ark became irrelevant, so too the exile draws to its end. Eventually the Jews will inevitably leave exile: ideally in comfort and dignity, in accordance with our prayers that הוּא יוֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ, that He lead us upright to our Land.

Not cowering, not sneaking in like thieves in the night evading hostile occupation forces, not as refugees fleeing pogroms, not pleading on bended knee that the Turkish or British Armies occupying our Land have compassion on us and allow us into our own homeland – but upright.

And those who refuse to come קוֹמְמִיּוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ, upright to our Land, have few alternatives. To be lost in exile, or to flee to Israel as refugees.