Parshas Noach: The Timeless Message of the Raven

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Noach, we learn of the famous deluge that flooded the world, and destroyed all of its inhabitants, save for Noach, his wife, Naama, their three sons, Shem, Cham and Yafes, and their wives, along with the animals that entered the Ark.

In a world filled with robbery, immorality, and idolatry (Rashi to Bereishis 6:11), Noach was a good man. 

He spent one hundred and twenty years building the Ark, all by G-d’s command, and finally, when he was six hundred years old, the waters of the deep and the waters of heaven began to flood the earth.  And the waters increased, and covered the earth, and all life forms perished, save for those in the ark (see Bereishis Chapter 7). 

And finally, after much water and almost a year in the Ark, as the waters receded, and the mountaintops became visible once again, Noach sent forth the first life form from the Ark.

וַיִּפְתַּח נֹחַ, אֶת-חַלּוֹן הַתֵּבָה אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, And Noach opened the window of the Ark, which he had made,  וַיְשַׁלַּח, אֶת-הָעֹרֵב; וַיֵּצֵא יָצוֹא וָשׁוֹב, עַד-יְבֹשֶׁת הַמַּיִם מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ, and he sent forth the עֹרֵב (translated as the raven), and it went out, going and coming, until the waters were dried up from the earth (Bereishis 8:6-7). 

We are not told very much about this bird, the עֹרֵב, only that it was the first life form sent out, that it flew to and fro waiting for the waters to dry up, and that it was soon followed by the יּוֹנָה, the dove, who was sent to see if the waters had dried up (see Bereishis 8:8-12).  It was the יּוֹנָה who did not return to the Ark, and it was through the יּוֹנָה that Noach knew the waters had receded enough for the bird to find its rest.

What, then, was the purpose of the עֹרֵב?  It gets mention in all of one verse, it seems to have no real purpose (could Noach not have just started with the יּוֹנָה, the dove, in the first place?), and we know nothing of it, other than it spends some time flying around. 

Upon closer examination of the word for raven, עֹרֵב, a profound lesson emerges.   

On the one hand, ערב means “guarantor”, as in כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה, all of Israel are guarantors for one another (Shavuos 39a).   We are all responsible for one another, the historic fate and destiny of one Jew is the historic fate and destiny of every Jew. 

אַל-תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ, לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית-הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים, Do not think, Queen Esther, that you will escape with your life in the palace of the king, more than any other Jew (Esther 4:13).  As Mordechai succinctly reminded Queen Esther: the Jewish queen in the palace of the king and the Jewish milkmaid in province 45 share the same future. 

We are all guarantors, and we are all responsible for, one another.

And on the other hand, ערב means “pleasant” or “nice”.  As in: וְעָרְבָה לַה’ מִנְחַת יְהוּדָה, וִירוּשָׁלִָם כִּימֵי עוֹלָם, וּכְשָׁנִים קַדְמֹנִיֹּת – and the offerings of Yehuda and Yerushalayim will be pleasant to Hashem, as in days of old and ancient years (Malachi 3:4). 

With this understanding, let us revisit the first bird that Noach sent out of the Ark.  And Noach opened the window, וַיְשַׁלַּח, אֶת-הָעֹרֵב; וַיֵּצֵא יָצוֹא וָשׁוֹב, עַד-יְבֹשֶׁת הַמַּיִם מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ, and he sent forth the עֹרֵב.

What is the message of this ambiguous bird, the first one to leave the Ark, to fly around what was to become a new world?

The bird had a dual message for the new world, and for us. 

The generation of the flood was destroyed because they were immoral, they lacked respect for one another, and they mistreated each other.  Their ultimate fate and destruction was brought upon them for the sin of theft (Rashi to 6:13).  If man cannot respect fellow man, then he does not deserve to inhabit the world of G-d.  And so, they were all washed away…

Along comes the עֹרֵב, flying to and fro, proclaiming its message at the dawn of a new day, a new era, and a new world.

On the one hand, in this new world we must remember that we are all guarantors for one another.  We are responsible for each other, and the fate of one is the fate of many.

And on the other hand, the עֹרֵב carries a second banner.  If this new world is to exist and survive, flourish and grow, then man must be pleasant, must be nice, to one another.

And if we shall forget either message of the עֹרֵב, woe unto us…For it is compelling to note that ערב also means עֶרֶב, night. 

If we forget the dual message of the עֹרֵב as it flew around the new world, if we ignore its message of communal responsibility and pleasantness to one another… Perhaps, then, the world will be thrust into the third meaning of ערב, which is עֶרֶב, the long dark night of suffering (may G-d save us).

Let us be wise enough, astute enough, compassionate and caring enough, humble and courageous enough, to heed the message of the עֹרֵב.  We are responsible for one another, and we have to be pleasant, kind and nice to each other.

It may not always be easy to hear the call of the עֹרֵב, but her message is essential to our survival.

,בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום


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