We read in Parashat Noach (8:7) that after the flood, as the waters subsided, Noach sent a raven from the ark to determine whether or not the earth had dried and become once again habitable. The Torah relates, “Va-yeitzei yatzo va-shov” – that the raven flew “back and forth,” constantly returning to the ark, indicating that it had no place to land outside the ark, because water still covered the earth.
Rashi, however, offers a creative interpretation, explaining that the raven actually suspected Noach of desiring an intimate relationship with its mate. This startling explanation is based – as Rashi references – on the Gemara’s account in Masekhet Sanhedrin (108b) of the dialogue that ensured when Noach chose the raven as the first creature to venture out of the ark. The raven protested, the Gemara tells, alleging that Noach deliberately set out to endanger the male raven so he would be able to use the female raven for his own pleasure. Rashi adds that when the Torah writes, “Va-yeitzei yatzo va-shov,” it means that the raven never actually left the ark, but rather flew in circles around the ark to keep a watchful eye on Noach, whom he outrageously suspected of desiring its mate.
How might we understand Rashi’s bizarre depiction of the raven’s conduct? What might we learn from the image of a bird neurotically remaining by its mate because of a baseless suspicion?
The clue, perhaps, can be found in Rashi’s remark, “Lo halakh bi-shlichuto” – the raven “did not go on its mission” because of its outlandish fears of Noach violating its mate. This depiction is perhaps intended to warn us not to forsake our own “missions” because of unwarranted fears. We are all presented at different times with various kinds of noble and important “missions” to fulfill, opportunities to achieve, to help, or to contribute. Sometimes, though, we are afraid to accept these missions, to seize these opportunities, because of fear – fear of failure, fear of taking away time from other endeavors, or just fear of the unknown. Just as the raven declined its mission because of an imaginary fear, we, too, are sometimes led to decline opportunities for achievement because of baseless fear and anxiety. Rashi’s comments perhaps teach us to think carefully whether our reluctance to undertake new challenges stems from a genuine assessment of our limited time and abilities, or if perhaps our fears unnecessarily and unjustifiably keep us tethered to the “ark” and prevent us from advancing and maximizing our potential to its very fullest.