SALT - Friday, 3 Cheshvan 5777 - November 4, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg


The Torah in Parashat Noach tells the well-known story of the dove sent by Noach from the ark to determine whether or not the earth had again become inhabitable.  The first time the dove was sent, it quickly returned to Noach, as it did not find anywhere to land and rest.  A week later, Noach sent the dove a second time, and this time the dove managed to spend the entire day out of the ark, and returned in the evening time with an olive leaf in its mouth.  At that point, the Torah tells, "Noach knew that the waters had subsided on the earth" (8:11).

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 33:6) raises the question as to the origin of this olive leaf brought to the ark by the dove.  One view, startlingly, claimed that the dove brought the leaf from Gan Eden, the gates to which opened to allow the bird to enter and pluck a branch.

Already the Ramban noted the obvious difficulty with this Midrashic account of the events.  If the olive leaf originated from Gan Eden, then how did it show that the floodwaters had receded and the world was becoming again inhabitable?  We may reasonably assume that Gan Eden was not affected by the Deluge.  How, then, did Noach see the dove's olive leaf as proof that the conditions on Earth were improving?

The Ramban answers that according to this view in the Midrash, the "gate" from our world to Gan Eden was closed tightly during the Flood to prevent the waters from entering the garden.  The fact that the dove brought a leaf from Gan Eden showed that this gate had been opened, which in turn showed that the floodwaters had receded.

Regardless, we might suggest that this image, of the dove bringing a leaf from Gan Eden as evidence of the receding floodwaters, symbolically conveys an important message about finding hope in periods of hardship.  According to this view in the Midrash, apparently, the dove found no food available anywhere in this world, and was thus compelled to fly into Gan Eden.  The dove did not despair, and extended to the furthest limits – to Gan Eden – to find a glimmer of hope, to discover a cause for optimism about a brighter future.  Noach, too, found comfort in the discovery of this olive leaf, even though it did not come from the flooded earth.  The fact that Gan Eden was accessible was enough of an indication that conditions were improving and that life would soon become again viable here in this world.  When the world is dark and in turmoil, we can and must try to find hope and optimism wherever it is found, even if this means reaching as far as Gan Eden.

The Gemara (Berakhot 48b) tells that after the fall of the city of Beitar, the last stronghold of Bar-Kokhba's army during his revolt against the Romans, the Romans did not allow the Jews to bury the thousands of victims who were killed.  When the Romans finally granted permission for the burial, the people discovered that the bodies had not decomposed.  In commemoration of this miracle, the Sages of the time instituted the fourth blessing of birkat ha-mazon, in which we praise God for His unending beneficence.  Remarkably, despite the unspeakable tragedy the nation had suffered, even after the loss of a large percentage of the Jewish People, and with the dashed hopes of imminently regaining sovereignty over Eretz Yisrael and rebuilding the Temple, the Sages found something to celebrate and be thankful for.  They identified a glimmer of hope, a dim ray of light to grab onto as a source of encouragement.  And they thus teach us of the need to go as far as we can – even to Gan Eden – to find hope and solace during difficult times, confident that there is an "olive leaf" to provide us with comfort as long as we look for it.