Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Parshat Noach

The Raven and the Dove

The Torah is full of doublets – stories that are told more than once from different perspectives. The episode of the Flood in this week's paraha, is undoubtedly two accounts of the same story, interwoven into one story. Let's see an example of this.

"The Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. The Lord said, 'I will blot out man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them.' But Noach found favor in the eyes of the Lord" (Bereshit 6:5-8).

Essentially, humanity, save one man, Noach, had become corrupted so God decided to destroy it. Let's now read the next few pesukim.

"These are the generations of Noach, Noah was a righteous man he was perfect in his generations; Noach walked with God…Now the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth became full of corrupion. God saw the earth, and behold it had become corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way on the earth. So God said to Noach, "The end of all flesh has come before Me…and behold I am destroying them from the earth'" (ibid 9-13).

Essentially, humanity, save one man, Noach, had become corrupted so God decided to destroy it!!

Bible critics concluded that each account was written by a separate author, probably in the two separate ancient Israelite kingdoms. Each recorded different traditions of Israel's history. A redactor later, interwove the accounts. The critics call one account "J" as it uses the Hebrew "J" name of God, translated here as "The Lord". The second account they call "E" as it uses the Hebrew "E" name for God, translated here as "God". I will show why I am not convinced by their arguments.

The two accounts continue throughout the parsha, and conclude with Noach sending a bird to see if the waters had receded. In Account E, Noach "sent forth the raven. It went out, back and forth until the waters dried up off the earth" (Ibid 8:7).

While the raven circled the ark, Noach understood that the earth was still flooded, and once the raven flew off, he understood that the waters had receded. Let's see what he does in the next pesukim.

"He sent forth the dove from with him, to see whether the waters had abated from upon the surface of the earth. But the dove found no resting place for the sole of its foot; so it returned to him to the ark because there was water upon the entire surface of the earth; so he stretched forth his hand and took it, and he brought it to him to the ark. He waited again another seven days, and he again sent forth the dove from the ark. The dove returned to him at eventide, and behold it had plucked an olive leaf in its mouth; so Noah knew that the water had abated from upon the earth" (ibid 8-11).

When the dove returned, Noach understood that the earth was still flooded. When the dove returned with the olive branch, Noach understood that the land was now visible.

Note, however, how the two accounts differ. In "J", God is grieved by humanity's plight and by His own actions. He cares for Noach. Noach cares about the dove and the dove cares about him. The "E" account, however, is cold and factual, devoid of relationship.

Also note how opposite the raven and the dove are. The raven is a predator, while the dove is an herbivore. The Raven is a symbol of aggression while the dove is a symbol of peace. The raven is black, while the dove is white.

These two accounts could not have been written independently, they are two sides of the same coin.

So why then are two accounts recorded? The ancient rabbis have explained that God's "J" name represents His trait of mercy while His "E" name represents His trait of justice.

Ancient Israel had a problem: If God was merciful, how could He punish them and if He was just, how could He ever be merciful? This interwoven story attempts to solve this problem. God's mercy and His justice work side by side, complementing each other. While God was acting with justice when He flooded the world, He was also acting with compassion. As every parent knows, trying to juggle mercy and justice with our children is a difficult task. Perhaps we should try to imitate God and act in both manner, at the same time.

Last year's Sedra Short for Parshat Noach, entitled: "The Tower of Bavel" can be found at:

A further Sedra Short for Parshat Noach, entitled: "Why an Ark?" can be found at:

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