Parshat Noach – The Raven and the Dove

By Avner Friedmann

“Noach was a righteous man; pure in his generation[1].”

With the Flood about to begin, G-d instructed Noach to bring a pair of each of the unclean animals, and seven pairs of each of the clean animals that the Torah would later declare to be kosher. They all stayed with Noach and his family in the Ark during the Flood.

After the period of the Flood, in the month of Sivan, the water began to recede and the bottom of the Ark became lodged upon the mountains of Ararat. Soon thereafter the mountaintops became visible, and forty days later, Noach opened the skylight of the Ark to assess when they could possibly leave the Ark: “And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noach opened the window of the Ark which he had made. He sent out the raven, which kept going and returning until the waters had dried from upon the earth. Then he sent out the dove from him to see whether the waters had subsided from the face of the earth. But the dove could not find a resting place for the sole of its foot and it returned to him to the Ark, for the waters were upon the surface of the earth. So he put forth his hand and took it and brought it back to him into the Ark. He waited again another seven days and again sent out the dove from the Ark. The dove came back to him in the evening, and behold! A plucked olive leaf was in its mouth. And Noach knew that the waters had subsided from upon the earth. Then he waited again another seven days and sent the dove forth; and it did not return to him any more[2].”

The Ohr HaChayim asks: Why did Noach send the raven?[3] If it was to see whether the waters had subsided, why then did the Torah not mention this, as it did with the dove? Moreover, if that was indeed the purpose and Noach saw that the raven could not find dry land because it continually circled about the Ark, then why did Noach send the dove in addition to the raven? Furthermore, why did Noach not extend his hand and bring the raven back into the Ark as he did with the dove?

The Ohr HaChayim answers[4] that in the Ark, the creatures were not permitted to cohabitate, however three creatures did so – these were the dog, the raven, and Cham, the son of Noach. The raven, as we know, is one of the unclean birds that cannot be eaten or sacrificed by a Jew. It is also known to be callous, even to its chicks. Noach waited for the water to recede so that he could evict the raven from the Ark. However, after being evicted, the raven refused to leave the vicinity of the Ark. It kept circling and landing on the Ark until the waters receded and Noach did not take it back into the Ark. On the other hand, regarding the dove the Torah tells us that Noach sent it out specifically to see if the waters had subsided and that since it could find no rest, Noach stretched his hand out and took it back in.

The raven said to Noach: “Evidently you and your master (G-d) despise me. Your master instructed you to take seven pairs of each of the clean animals into the Ark, but only one pair of each species of unclean animals. This indicates that He despises the unclean animals. Then you sent me on this dangerous mission. You passed over the species of which you have seven pairs and sent me instead, though there are only two of my kind. If I were to die out here in the heat or cold, then my kind would die out with me, because there would be no male to propagate the species. It was cruel of you to evict me, or perhaps, you desire my wife and therefore sent me out to my death. Maybe you saw me having relations with her and were attracted to her”.

Noach answered: “Wicked one! First of all, I waited until the waters went down before evicting you. Secondly, I too am temporarily forbidden to be with my wife as long as we are in the Ark.  How much more so am I forbidden to be with your wife, which is a permanent prohibition! If I was to have relations, doing so with my wife would constitute only one prohibition, whereas doing it with yours would constitute two”.

According to the Gemara, the raven’s first argument about the survival of the species was a valid one. However, the Ohr HaChayim says, that since the raven had relations in the Ark, he fertilized his mate and had chicks, some of whom were males. Noach knew this and therefore the raven did not have a valid argument.

Now, one of the lessons we learn from this[5] is that a person who declares others to be unfit is himself unfit in the same area. It is specifically through his own blemish that he declares others to be blemished. In other words, if you are critical of a particular flaw in others, this is a sign that you yourself suffer from the same flaw (כל הפוסל במומו פוסל). People act as mirrors to each other. The flaws we notice in others are  reflectiosn of our own flaws. The Baal Shem Tov[6] said that when you see a deficiency in your friend, give him the benefit of the doubt, but realize that this is a message from HaShem. He allowed you to see these deficiencies so that you could work on yourself and correct them.

Being that the raven was callous and uncompassionate, even to his own offspring, he accused Noach of having the same characteristics. He was immodest and cohabitated in the Ark; therefore he suspected Noach of having the same lusts and desires. In truth, his suspicions of Noach were only projections of his own base desires. Seeing that the raven refused to leave the vicinity of the Ark, Noach then chose the dove, which, as is known, is faithful in its mating habits-doves mate for life. This being the case, the dove would never suspect him of having improper motives.

However, even Noach, who accused the raven of being callous and uncompassionate, possessed something of these characteristics himself. When he realized that the world would be destroyed, he[7] did not have compassion upon HaShem’s creatures and did not do anything to avert the destruction. He remained passive and did not cry out to HaShem and plead with Him on behalf of his generation, as did Avraham for the people of Sodom, nor did he go out and encourage people to repent of their sins and to do what is good and proper in the eyes of HaShem, as did Avraham. Because of this, Scripture calls the great flood,[8] “the waters of Noach.” Because Noach did nothing to avert it, it is called after him, as if he did it! This is why the Parsha starts with the words, “Noach was a righteous man; pure in his generation.” In other words, compared to the people of his generation he was pure, but compared to Avraham, his righteousness was insignificant.

What we learn from this, is that if you see callous and destructive tendencies in the world, don’t be passive about it. By making you aware of this, HaShem has given you the responsibility to correct these tendencies within yourself and to go out and encourage others to do so too. Moreover, shirking this responsibility is tantamount to bringing about the resulting destruction, whereas fulfilling it is tantamount to bringing about salvation and redemption. May it be, that with HaShem’s help, we correct our own personal failings and encourage others to do so too, and may this result in the true and complete redemption, through our righteous Moshiach, Amen.


[1] Genesis 6:9.

[2] Verse 8:6-8.

[3] On these verses.

[4] Based on Sanhedrin 108b.

[5] Ohr Hachaim brings down this conversation from Kiddushim 70b.

[6] Keter Shem Tov.

[7] Zohar Chadash 29a.

[8] Isaiah 54:9.

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