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Parashat Noach (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

“Then the Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, with all your household, for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation.” (Genesis 7:1)

Parashat Noach tells the story of the destruction of the world and its re-creation. It introduces the concept of brit, or covenant, a binding commitment God makes to all of humanity, and designates the rainbow as its symbol (Gen. 9:12-16). Noach also makes a powerful statement about freedom that gives rise to another universally recognized symbol.

When the rains stop and the ark comes to rest on land, Noah sends out first a raven and then a dove to see if it is safe to come out. (The seven-day intervals between the dove’s three flights are meant to evoke the original timetable of creation.) The first time, the dove simply returns. The second time, the dove returns, and, “V’hinei aleh zayit taraf b’fiha…Lo! She had an olive leaf as food in her mouth…” (Gen. 8:11) The word taraf refers to food an animal seizes for itself. Taraf is the clue the Torah provides about the value of freedom.

The dove has spent close to a full year in the ark eating the food Noah had stored (Gen. 6:21). It should not have been hungry when it left the ark. Yet, it chooses to eat an olive leaf—something bitter and unappealing and not at all the dove’s usual source of nourishment. This is both a theological statement of trust in God to provide (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 108b) as well as a statement of the importance of freedom. Food freely and independently chosen always tastes sweeter and is more satisfying than a forced diet. The olive branch and the dove represent freedom in the Torah. Real freedom, of course, requires peace.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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