We read in Parashat Noach of Noach’s decision after the flood ended to send a raven from the ark to see whether the waters had subsided to the point where the earth was again inhabitable. The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 33:5) tells that the raven protested its designation for this assignment. While the Midrash here does not specify the raven’s arguments, it likely refers to the Gemara’s account in Masekhet Sanhedrin (108b), where the raven is said to have argued that Noach should have chosen for this dangerous mission one of the kosher birds which he had brought with him onto the ark. After all, Noach brought seven of each species of kosher birds, but just two – a male and a female – of the other species. The raven thus argued that it might be killed by the harsh elements, in which case its species would be extinct. It would have been far more reasonable for Noach to send one of the kosher species, which would not become extinct if the designated bird does not return alive.
The Midrash continues that Noach retorted, “What does the world need you for – neither for eating nor for a sacrifice!” In other words, Noach sent the raven because he figured the loss of this species would have no impact upon the earth. The raven offers no benefit for mankind, and thus this species could just as well become extinct.
In response to Noach’s expression of disregard for the raven, the Gemara proceeds to relate, God told Noach that there would come a time when the world would desperately need the raven’s help. Many centuries later, the prophet Eliyahu pronounced that a severe drought would strike the Land of Israel, and no rain fell for several years. As we read in Sefer Melakhim I (17:6), Eliyahu was fed during this period by a group of ravens which miraculously supplied him with food. Noach was irresponsible and short-sighted in dismissing the raven as a superfluous species, for in truth, in the future it would fill the vital role of sustaining the prophet who opposed the widespread idol-worship in the Kingdom of Israel.
Chazal here convey the message stated succinctly in Pirkei Avot (4:3), “Do not belittle any person…for there is no person who does not have a moment.” We are to firmly believe that every human being has talents, potential and a role for which he or she came into this world. It is wrong to say or think about any person, “What does the world need your for?” Even if we currently cannot identify any positive attributes or potential contributions which a person is capable of making, we must trust that “there is no person who does not have a moment,” that the time will come, perhaps only many years in the future, when he or she will fill a significant role. Chazal here challenge us to see the goodness, beauty and wealth of potential within each and every person, and firmly believe in the “moment,” or perhaps many “moments,” that every individual will have to make his or her meaningful contribution to mankind.