This week we come to the story of the Noah and the flood, Noah getting drunk and stupid after the flood, and the Tower of Babel. But the story that interests me has to do with my tallis. Over the high holidays I got a lot of compliments on my hand-designed silk tallis. A very important part of that tallis is the image of the Dove. We read of doves in the Noah story (Genesis 8:6-12)
|From Blogger Pictures|
6. And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made; 7. And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8. Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; 9. But the dove found no rest for the sole of its foot, and she returned to him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth; then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her into the ark. 10. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11. And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. 12. And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which did not return back to him any more.
The question arises what is the difference between the dove and the raven? Popular reading of this story puts the dove as the good guy and the raven as the selfish bad guy. But is that the case? Reading the text carefully it does not say the raven just disappeared, but instead kept looking until its mission was finished – of finding dry land. The dove however returns to the Ark, until the time after it returns with an olive branch.
The story hints the ancients were very aware of many animal behaviors. Ravens, as scavengers are known to keep searching until they find a meal. It is for this reason the Rabbis of the Talmud likened ravens to Torah scholars who spends too many hours in deep study [Eiruvin 22a]. Ravens, however, are for the most part independent creatures not relying on any other bird, even neglecting their young in their pursuits. Ravens on rare occasions group together when there is a group interest. Doves on the other hand are Doves are committed to their mate. Often when perching on a phone line you will see doves in pairs. So committed are doves that even when their mate dies, they will circle the body for hours not letting go to their mate. They also will never look for another mate. It is such strict animal monogamy that Noah used to get some message to the status of the world. While accurate, using the raven takes time to get feedback. Until things are dry, Noah will not know what the status of the world is from the raven. On the other hand the Doves desire to be with her mate is so strong, she cannot stay away for long. When the dove comes back with the olive leaf, only then does the dove change its strategy and prepare the nest for both itself and her mate, who will soon join her.
On my tallis I have a picture of two doves one on each side of the tallis. On the collar, instead of the traditional blessing, I have the words in Hebrew Hinach Yafa Ra-yati, Hinach Yafa, ay-na-yich Yonim which is from the Song of Songs 1:15 as an declaration of the male to the female. In English, this translated to the phrase How beautiful you are how Beautiful! Your eyes are like doves.’ It is easy to believe that her eyes are pretty because they have a soft, dove-like quality. In The Song of Songs 1:9 the male lover compares the female to a mare released among all the stallions of Pharaoh’s army. While the allusion seems to be a man who is taken back by all the the suitors the female protagonist has, but 1:15 shows she has eyes for no one but the male. Her eyes are like doves as they can only see her mate.
In the rabbinic mind, the Song of Songs is a parable. The male here is God, the female Israel. The rabbis also do not believe that eyes are compared merely on appearance, but on their qualities. (Shir Ha Shirim Rabbah I:66) Within the Song of Songs, Israel, while having many suitors, only has eyes for God. The Rabbis comment:
Just as a dove, from the time that she recognizes her mate, never changes him for another, so Israel once they had learnt to know the Holy One, blessed be He, have never exchanged Him for another. (Shir Hashirim Rabbah I:64)
Similarly it is the Tzitizit of the tallis, which are to remind us not to have eyes for others.
39. And it shall be to you for a fringe (tzitzit), that you may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that you seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, which incline you to go astray; 40. That you may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. (Numbers 15:39-40)
I combined these images, the tzitzit and the Dove together to make my tallis. My tallis is about commitment, both in the worlds above and the worlds below. It is a commitment to God. It is also about commitment to all of our relationships in this world. The one I was thinking at the time I made my tallit was of course finding the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. It so fills me with joy every Shabbat to stand next to my fiance and wear the tallit that I show my commitment to both.
The Raven was committed to finding land, and not coming back till it did. The dove was committed to its mate and would make multiple trips to the ark. The wicked generation of the flood had no commitment.
For all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. (Gen. 6:12) R. Johanan said: This teaches that they caused beasts and animals, animals and beasts, to copulate; and all of these were brought in connection with man, and man with them all.
Others believe the animals, wild and domestic, copulated willingly:
R. ‘Azariah said in R. Judah’s name: All acted corruptly in the generation of the Flood: the dog [copulated] with the wolf, the fowl with the peacock; hence it is written, For all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. (Gen. 6:12)[Genesis Rabbah 28:8]
The generation of the flood did not even commit to a species let alone a single mate. Some in our society today think that sexual promiscuity is where one does anything that isn’t about making children. Sexual promiscuity is where there is a lack of commitment. A lack of commitment was the big sin that got everything killed. Anyone, Gay, Bi, or Straight who makes a commitment to others is far from promiscuous.
Living in the modern world my talis is a reminder to that commitment, in a simple promise to our life-partner’s commitment for a healthy lifetime together, to our commitment to God forever. For me, commitment is a holy thing. Praying next to my bride-to-be every Shabbat, I find joy in my commitments to God, and to the commitment to this woman who is the love of my life.