The dove
The dove screenshot

The Bible tells us that 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 year...in 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.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11b) records a dispute as to when exactly the Flood began. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, the year begins with the Hebrew month of Nissan, so the Flood began and ended in Iyar; according to Rabbi Eliezer, the year begins with the Hebrew month of Tishrei, so the Flood began and ended in Marcheshvan (which is invariably the month in which we read Shabbat Parashat Noach).

After almost a year on board the Ark, Noah opened the window of the Ark and sent forth a raven. This was on the 10th day of the eleventh month – the 10th of Adar according to Rabbi Yehoshua, or the 10th of Ellul according to Rabbi Eliezer [1].

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 (Genesis 8:7).

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.

It was the 24th of Adar according to Rabbi Yehoshua, or the 24th of Ellul according to Rabbi Eliezer.

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.

Noah removed the cover from the Ark on the 1st of Nissan according to Rabbi Yehoshua, or the 1st of Tishrei according to Rabbi Eliezer (8:13).

And fifty-seven days later (either 27th Iyyar or 27th Marcheshvan), 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”, 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 Bar Chanah came and offered him his hand [to help him out of the water]. [Reish Lakish] said to him: By G-d! 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 only a small portion of you Babylonian Jews 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.

The Jews of the USA currently face an uncertain future. A future which other Jewish communities might call “threatening”, but American Jews - like other Jews throughout history - of course aren’t all that good at foreseeing what is about to descend upon them.

The current President of the USA has consistently proven himself to be the most solid and reliable friend that Israel has ever had in the White House. His most famous and influential daughter, two of his sons-in-law, and all his grandchildren are Jewish. (A record which, alas, few American Jewish leaders share.)

Yet an overwhelming majority of American Jews spurn his friendship, preferring the open hostility (both to Jews and to Israel) of his opponents.

It is, of course, far too early to predict with confidence who will be President of the USA in another three months. But even in the best-case scenario, Donald Trump has but four more years to run.

After that, the future is uncertain – nay, threatening – for the Jews of America.

No one can dispute that the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is becoming palpably less welcoming to Jews. The current upheavals plaguing the country and indeed the entire world – COVID-19, widespread social unrest, galloping racial hatred, spiralling violence, economic uncertainty, the list goes on – do not bode well for Jews.

In all these conflicts, each side blames “the Jews” for its misfortunes and calamities. The hard Right, bitterly disappointed with a President who is far too Jew-friendly for their taste, blame the Jews for controlling “their” President.

And the hard Left makes identical charges.

The hard Right blames “the Jews” for inciting African-Americans against society, while the hard Left equally blames “the Jews” for all the perceived evils which white heterosexual privileged America has perpetrated through the centuries.

American society is becoming increasingly bitter and polarised, and one of the few ideas that all extremists of all colours and opinions agree on is that “it’s the Jews’ fault”.

Unfortunately, as thousands of years of history show all too clearly, when societies disintegrate, it is almost invariably the Jews who absorb the ire of all sides. Certainly of all the extremists…and moderates are rarely able to protect Jews.

The USA, one of the world’s great bastions of democracy and stability, and a haven for Jews for more than two centuries, is losing its stability. The storm-front is inexorably approaching this wonderful country, home to more Jews than anywhere outside of Israel.

If and when it hits, and if American Jews are still able to leave, then where will they flee to?

The main choice would likely be Israel.

It is a sad reflection that the American Jewish community needs the threat of violent 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.

Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d (who was murdered 30 years ago this month) arguably persuaded more American Jews to make Aliyah than any other single person in his generation. 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 halackhic 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 [2].

Not cowering, not sneaking in like thieves in the night evading hostile occupation forces as did Jews fleeing Europe during the Shoah when Britain controlled our shores, not as refugees fleeing pogroms, 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.

The Jewish exile is rapidly becoming increasingly unstable. In all countries it is tottering and collapsing.

Slowly maybe – but historical processes rarely move swiftly.

After all, humanity began to be corrupt and to regress into idolatry in the days of Enosh (Genesis 4:26 with Targum Yonatan and Rashi; compare Tanchuma, Noach 18, and Shemot Rabbah 23:4; see also the Rambam, Laws of Idolatry 1:1-2 and Rabbeinu Yonah, Sha’arei Teshuvah, Third Gate, 212, end). And from then until G-d’s decree of universal destruction was at the very least 400 years, maybe as long as 1,300 years (Enosh lived 905 years, and we do not know when during his lifetime idolatry began).

And from the time of G-d’s decree of the impending Flood until the rain actually began falling took a further 120 years (Targum Yonatan and Targum Yerushalmi to Genesis 6:3, Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12, Eliyahu Rabbah 16, s.v. פעם אחד, Sifrei Devarim, Eikev 43 et al.).

So one lesson which Parashat Noach teaches with absolute clarity is that disasters do not happen immediately. G-d always gives us years, sometimes generations, of warning before disaster strikes.

But strike it inevitably will.

Remaining Jewish, alive, and free in exile is becoming increasingly unlikely. The Flood is over, the Ark has landed, and the time has come for the dove to find resting-place for the sole of her foot in the Land of Israel.

Endnotes

[1] “In the tenth month, on the first of the month, the mountain-tops were seen” (Genesis 8:5), and Noah sent forth the raven forty days later (vs. 6-7). The “tenth month” means the tenth month of the Flood, not the tenth month of the year.

[2] Both in Grace after Meals and in the Blessings before the Shema in the Morning Service.

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