Friday, October 08, 2010

What was the significance of the dove's olive leaf?

There's a not-nearly-well-known-enough opinion in the Talmud that says the flood waters didn't reach Israel. Some take this to mean that the world was flooded, but an invisible wall kept the water away from the Holy Land; others see this as suggesting that Israel was the flood's southern, or western boundary, and that nothing to the south or west of Israel was flooded.

A supporting opinion in the Talmud says the leaf the dove brought back came from Israel - which fits: if the world was flooded, with everything destroyed, where else might the dove have discovered vegetation(1)? It had to have come from Israel, the only land that wasn't touched by the flood. The problem, then, is why did Noah find the leaf significant? Israel hadn't been flooded, and the leaf came from Israel so what, as they say, was the raya the the waters had receded? They hadn't reached Israel in the first place.

The passages reads:
When he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.
Note that we are told "the dove could find no place to rest its feet." Why? Perhaps because the dove was traveling from the ark in Turkey to Israel. On the first trip it came back empty-beaked, because it couldn't get to Israel. The journey was too far for the dove to complete without resting; the waters hadn't receded so there was "no place to rest its feet." By the time the dove was sent a week later, the waters had receded enough to provide it with resting spots, and it was able to reach Israel where there was vegetation.

According to this understanding, the leaf the dove brought back was proof that it had finally been able to reach Israel, and not evidence that plants in the rest of the world had started to bloom.

Heard 15 years ago in yeshiva.

(1) One understanding is that everything was destroyed, including the seeds. Just as the earth had to be repopulated by Noah and the animals on his ark, it had to be replanted as well with seeds Noah took along. Also, trees and plants take months to germinate and bloom. On the dove's first trip there was nothing - not even a place to rest its feet. How could there have been plant life just a a week later?

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