We read in Parashat Noach of Noach’s attempts after the flood to determine whether or not the waters had sufficiently receded to allow for human habitation on the earth. After sending out the raven which never returned to the ark, Noach sent the dove, which returned to him after finding nowhere to rest in the flooded earth. A week later, Noach sent the dove again, and this time the dove returned with an olive branch that it had plucked from tree, signifying the presence of vegetation in the world.
The Midrash Tanchuma (Tetzaveh 27:5), curiously, associates this event with the mitzva of kindling the menorah in the Beit Ha-mikdash: “The Almighty said: Just as the dove brought light to the world, you, too, who are compared to a dove – bring olive oil and light candles before Me.” We are commanded to kindle a light in the Mikdash just as the dove of Noach’s ark “brought light to the world.”
In what way did the dove “bring light to the world,” and how does this relate to the mitzva of kindling the menorah? While the Midrash appears to draw an association between the dove’s olive branch and the olive oil used for kindling the menorah, we must understand the deeper connection between these two seemingly unrelated contexts.
The dove “brought light into the world” in the sense that it announced the end of the dark period of the Flood. It informed all the world’s inhabitants of that time – Noach and his family – that the world was once again inhabitable, that it was no longer ravaged by floodwaters, and that they no longer needed to seek shelter in an ark. The dove was the harbinger of hope and optimism after a lengthy period of destruction and despair. The Midrash perhaps seeks to teach us that the Torah – which is symbolized by the light of the menorah in the Temple – serves a similar purpose on the spiritual plane. It is the harbinger of spiritual hope, so-to-speak, announcing that the world can become a brighter, happier and more inviting place. By creating a society on the foundations of the Torah’s strict ethical and religious code, we are to shine the light of hope upon what is so often a very dark world. The Torah’s message is that we do not have to, and must not, resign ourselves to the “darkness,” to the evil that characterizes much of human existence on earth; that human beings are capable of building a moral, noble and peaceful society. Just as the dove announced that the world had once again become physically hospitable, the Torah announces each day that the world can and one day will become morally hospitable, a place where people live together peacefully, securely, and meaningfully.