Sponsored by Mr. Efry & Mrs. Lore Steinmetz, Le’iluy Nishmas their parents.  Rav Chananiah Yov Tov Lipa ben HaRav Shlomo Baruch and Leah bas Reb Yakov Asher Zelig (Steinmetz) and Reb Yakov Avraham ben Reb Yitzchok and Hannah bas Yoetz (Ettlinger)   May their Neshamos have an Aliyah.

Parshah Halacha – Parshat Noach

Finding the Hidden Sparks of Goodness

For a print version of this article click here
Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen.
The Torah portion of Noach tells the story of the flood and how Noach survived it along with his family and the animals in the ark. The Torah recounts that as the floodwaters were receding, “Noach opened the window of the ark that he had made. And he sent forth the raven, and it went out, back and forth, until the waters dried up off the earth.”[1] Since the raven would not venture far from the ark, Noach instead sent the dove which fulfilled its mission faithfully.
Why the Raven?
The commentaries offer various reasons as to why Noach chose the raven first:
·        Since ravens eat carrion, if the floodwaters had receded sufficiently, it would be able to feed on the corpses of those drowned by the flood.[2]
·        Having lived in the ark for over six months with all the animals, Noach had come to understand their speech. As such he knew the raven was a very smart bird. He felt he could interpret its actions to figure out the state of the world.[3]
·        According to the Talmud,[4] ravens behave cruelly towards their babies when they are young and don’t feed them until they are (a little) older.[5]During that time, G-d provides for the baby ravens by sending small insects to their mouths for them to eat. By choosing the raven, Noach was symbolically saying to G-d, “The way You behaved towards the world by bringing the flood is similar to the way the raven behaves towards its offspring when they are very young.[6]
·        The Talmud says[7] that although procreation was forbidden in the ark,[8]there were three who disobeyed this rule and mated. These were Cham, the son of Noach;[9] the dog; and the raven. As such, the Ohr HaChaim writes that Noach did not send the raven on a mission at all. Rather, he banished him[10]from the ark as punishment for his misdeeds.[11] Accordingly, the reason the raven “went back and forth” until the waters dried up (this took more than two months[12]) is that, Noach never allowed it to reenter the ark.
Why Didn’t the Raven Leave the Area?
There are many explanations as to why the raven stayed near the ark and didn’t venture far, unlike the dove which did fly far away:
·        Some say that the humidity was too intense at that time for the raven to travel far.[13]
·        According to the Ohr HaChaim that the raven was banished from the ark, there was no reason for it to leave. In addition, it wanted to remain near the ark so it could receive food from Noach. Otherwise, how would it survive until the land dried up?
·        The Talmud says[14] that the raven gave Noach a convincing argument. (This doesn’t mean that the raven spoke. Rather, based on its actions we understand that it had the following thoughts.[15]) “Your master (G-d) hates me and you hate me. Your master commanded that seven pairs of every kosher species be brought into the ark but only one pair of non-kosher species[16](thus favoring the kosher species). And you (evidently) hate me since you are sending me, the only male of my species, instead of sending a kosher bird of which there are seven pairs. Also, you are sending me on a dangerous mission. I might overheat or freeze and die.[17] The world will then be missing my species.”
o  In point of fact, Noach wasn’t concerned that the raven would die as he believed G-d would not allow that to happen.[18]
o  Alternately, since the raven had sinned, Noach didn’t care that it might become extinct.
o  Also, as mentioned above, the raven had mated in the ark. Thus, presumably, his mate would bear babies which would be the continuation of the species.[19]
·        Another reason given by the Talmud for the raven refusing to leave the area is that it suspected that Noach would attempt to copulate with its mate. The reason that the raven harbored this bizarre suspicion[20] is that he, being guilty of the sin of promiscuity, suspected Noach of the same. As the Talmud says,[21] one who finds blemishes in others has the same blemish in himself.
What Happened to the Raven?
The simple reading of the text indicates that the raven flew in proximity to the ark until the land dried up. The Midrash,[22] however, says otherwise. According to the Midrash, G-d told Noach, “Accept the raven back into the ark, for the world will need him in the future.” When Noach asked when that time would be, G-d said, “When the water will dry from the land.” (This is the Midrashic interpretation of the words in verse 7, “עד יבשת המים מעל הארץ].23″]) This is a reference to the time when there would be a famine in Israel as a result of Eliyahu HaNavi’s (Elijah, the prophet) decree. The purpose of this harsh decree was that he wanted the Jewish people to repent and stop serving idols. Eliyahu had to flee lest he be killed by King Achav and his evil wife Izevel who were furious at him for causing the famine. He was instructed by G-d to run to the brook of Kerit (near the Jordan river) where G-d would send ravens to bring Eliyahu food. This is exactly what happened, as the verse says, “And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening.”[24]
The reason that G-d wanted the raven specifically to bring Eliyahu food was to teach the prophet a lesson. As mentioned above, ravens act cruelly towards their young.[25] G-d was intimating to Eliyahu that just as the ravens which are usually cruel went out of their way to bring you food, you too should have compassion on the Jewish people and decree that the famine be over.[26]
The Lesson
Rabbi Yitzchak Reitbort of Yanove (a town near Pinsk, Belarus) explains[27]that there are two types of tzadikim (righteous men) in the world. One type is full of righteous indignation at sinners and wishes they would be immediately uprooted from this world. The other type of tzadik is more deliberate in his judgment. He always tries to bring the sinner close rather than reject him completely. In this way he hopes to eventually win him over to ultimately repent and serve G-d. Eliyahu belonged to the first group of tzaddikim[28] and his righteous indignation at the sinners had led him to decree a famine in the holy land. G-d specifically sent the ravens to bring him food so that he realize that just as the generally cruel raven can sometimes be nice, so too, people who are generally sinful, have good qualities that might not be apparent to everyone. He should consider this, retract his decree and allow the rain to fall.
Noach too belonged to the first group of tzaddikim. This is why he never prayed to G-d to avert the decree of the flood.[29] He saw that the people of his generation were wicked and agreed with G-d’s decision to destroy them. He had a similar attitude towards the raven. After it sinned in the ark Noach banished it (as explained above) even though that would cause the species to become extinct as he saw no positive quality in it. G-d therefore told Noach that he must consider that many centuries in the future, the ravens would save a righteous man. This indicates that there was a spark of goodness “hidden” in the raven all along.[30] G-d was thus hinting to Noach that he should look for the hidden spark of goodness that can be found deep inside every person and every creature.
This also explains the following story in the Talmud:[31] There was a famine in the days of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, known as Rebbi. Being very wealthy Rebbi, supported the needy Torah scholars but would not provide food for unlearned people. One of his students, Rabbi Yonatan ben Amaram, not wanting to benefit from his Torah knowledge, dressed like a simple person and asked Rebbi for assistance. When Rebbi asked him if he knew the written Torah or the Mishnah, he replied that he did not but that Rebbi should feed him anyway “like a dog or a raven.” Rebbi agreed and provided him with food. Later on, Rebbi realized that this person was really Rabbi Yonatan. Thereafter he changed his policy and fed even the unlearned people.
Rabbi Raitbort suggests that Rabbi Yonatan was alluding to Rebbi that just as G-d didn’t forsake the dog and raven despite their sins, because He knows that they have hidden goodness inside them, so too Rebbi should consider the good qualities that are hidden inside even the simplest person and provide for them as well. Since Rebbi was his teacher, Rabbi Yonatan could not correct him directly. Rather, he hinted this to him by choosing his words carefully. Indeed, Rebbi got the message which is why he changed his policy after this encounter.
May we all merit to ignite the hidden sparks of goodness that lie within ourselves and others!
[1] Gen. 8:7
[2] Chizkuni
[3] Rabbi Aibu in the Zohar Chadash, page 28b
[4] Chullin 49b based on Tehillim 147:9
[5] See Torat Menachem, 5747 vol. 3, pg. 176 that this is the defining feature of the raven since, as a rule, each type of animal has only one defining trait. This is based on Likutei Torah, Parshat Emor, 37c.
[6] Rabbi Chiya in the Zohar Chadash 29a. The Zohar points out that although Noach was a tzadik, he spoke in a disrespectful manner towards G-d because the suffering of the world affected him deeply.
[7] Sanhedrin 108b
[8] Several reasons are given for this prohibition:
·        It is not proper for couples to be intimate when the world is suffering (Rashi on 7:7 from the Tanchuma).
·        It is inappropriate for them to rebuild the world while G-d is destroying it (Tanchuma, No’ach 11).
·        The Derashot of Rabbi Yehoshua Ibn Shuab (Spain 1280 – 1340) explains that the ark was a holy place. The 300 amot (cubits) in length represented the letter shin in G-d’s name – Shakai. The width – 50 amot –alluded to the nun in the name “Adnai.” And the height – 30 amot –represents the Yud in G-d’s name “Havayeh” (i.e., the ten Sefirot) that exist in all three spiritual realms. (10 x 3 = 30) Thus it was improper for procreation to take place in such a holy place.
But see the Ibn Ezra on 8:19 who maintains (following the simple understanding of the verses) that the animals mated and bore young in the ark.
[9] Rabeinu Bachaye (end of Parshat Chukat) quotes the following explanation from the Midrash. Shamchazael was an angel who consorted with the wife of Cham shortly before the flood began. She became pregnant from this union. (The baby she bore was Sichon, king of the Emorites.) In order to cover for his wife (and make it seem like he was the father of the baby) Cham broke the rules of the ark and had relations with his wife in the ark. (No’ach took three young women as wives for his sons just before they entered the ark [Sefer HaYashar, quoted in Torah Shleima 6:214]. Thus, people would not expect these wives to be pregnant from before the flood.)
[10] Accordingly, the words וישלח את הערב shouldn’t be translated as “He sent the raven (on a mission)” but rather “He sent the raven away.” This is similar to the meaning of the words  ושלחה מביתוin Deut. 24:1, regarding divorce.
[11] See Me’orei Ohr by Rabbi Ahron Varmish (a student of the Sha’agat Aryeh) on Sanhedrin ibid, that animals shouldn’t be punished for their sins since they don’t have free choice. Nevertheless, G-d does “punish” them in some cases in order to teach mankind a lesson – that those that disobey get punished. As an example, he cites the Jerusalem Talmud, Ta’anit 1:6 that the animals in the ark survived the flood in the merit that they guarded their lineage. (This means that they didn’t mate with the wrong species prior to the flood [Korban Ha’Eidah] or that that they didn’t mate in the ark [Penei Moshe]). Since animals act instinctively, this wasn’t a reward per se. Rather it teaches mankind a lesson – that those who obey are rewarded and vice versa.
[12] See Rashi on 8:5 that the mountains became visible on the 10th of Av. The raven was sent 40 days later, on the 20th of Elul. The ground didn’t dry completely until the 27th of Cheshvan (8:14). [The Da’at Mikra says (on 8:7) that the raven was flying around for approximately 100 days. I’m not sure what is his basis for this number. A.C.]
[13] Seforno
[14] Sanhedrin, ibid
[15] Be’er Sheva, quoted in the Metivta Shas, note 16. Alternatively, it was the angel of the raven that spoke to Noach (Ben Yehoyada). (According to the Arizal, every living being has an angelic force that is the source of its vitality. It is these angels that sing the praises of G-d attributed to every animal as enumerated in Perek Shira.)
[16] See 6:19 “And of all living things of all flesh, two of each you shall bring into the ark to preserve alive with you; they shall be male and female.” Rashi says that this means one male and one female. But see the Divrei Maharya on the Torah by Rabbi Yehudah Assad who understands this verse to mean that there were two males and two females.
(Rabbi Yehuda Assad [1796-1866], was the author of Responsa Mahari Assad and Yehuda Yaaleh. He was born in Assad, north of Budapest. Rabbi Yehuda was a student of Rabbi Mordechai Banet of Nikolsburg and served as Rabbi of Szerdahely from 1853 to 1866. After the passing of the Chatam Sofer, Rav Yehuda was regarded as the leader of Hungarian Jewry.)
[17] In the language of the Talmud: “If I am accosted by the angel of heat or the angel of cold.”
[18] See Ramban on 6:18 that G-d made a covenant promising that all the people and animals that went into the ark would come out alive.
[19] Ohr HaChaim
[20] The Levush Ha’Orah says that the raven suspected that Noach was going to breed his mate with a different bird. But Rashi on Sanhedrin, ibid (D.H. BeMutar Li) seems to understand that the raven suspected Noach of avisodomy.
[21] Kiddushin, 70a
[22] Bereishit Rabbah 33:5
[23] The Etz Yosef points out that the word יבשת is the same letters as תשבי (Eliyahu the Tishbi).
[24] Kings I, 17:6
[25] In addition, according to my Google research, ravens will murder other birds for no apparent reason. They are also known to be tricky birds. These traits are enshrined in the English name for a flock of ravens – “an unkindness.”
[26] Pirush Maharzu on the Bereishit Rabbah
[27] In Kehilot Yitzchak (printed in Vilna, 1900) on Parshat Noach. This explanation is cited in the notes on Bereishit Rabbah printed in the Artscroll Mesorah edition.
[28] See Sanhedrin 113a and b “Eliyahu HaNavi was a kapdan (very particular person).”
[29] See Zohar Chadash, Parshat Noach 29a
[30] But see Likutei Torah, cited in note 6, that “The raven never strays from its trait of cruelty, even a hairsbreadth.  It never displays any mercy.”
[31] Bava Batra 8a
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach!

Add Your Comment