NOACH (Genesis, 6:9-11:32) — “Quoth the Raven . . .”

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too.

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It was devastating.  G-d had warned the world, through Noah, that the End was near.  Noah’s neighbors got a good laugh, watching him daily as he built his Ark.

Now they were gone.  It was just Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.  Oh yes, there was also a boat full of animals!

After almost ten months in the Ark, Noah wanted to find out if the earth was ready to be re-inhabited.  He needed a messenger to find out.  It would have to be a bird.  Which bird should he send?

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Life on the Ark was unbearable.  It was also miraculous.  (Let us consider, for example, the dimensions of the Ark.  It was 300 cubits long, and 50 cubits wide.  A cubit is the distance between the elbow and the end of the outstretched hand, one-and-a-half to two feet.  Even at two feet per cubit, we end up with trying to fit two of every non-kosher animal and seven or fourteen (depending upon the commentary) of every kosher animal onto a floor area of 600 feet by 100 feet.  That’s about two football fields.  That’s the world’s smallest zoo with the world’s largest zoo population!  It could not have been done without a miracle.)

There was a divine spirit of cooperation on the Ark.  The animals were, for the most part, patient about being fed.  (The lion, however, didn’t take kindly to a late feeding, resulting in Noah walking with a limp.)

One of the rules in the Ark was a requirement of “Zero Population Growth.”  It was considered insensitive for people and animals to reproduce during a time that the rest of the world was suffering.  There would be plenty of time to repopulate the earth after the end of the Flood.

Three species violated this commandment: The ravens, the dogs, and Noah’s son Ham and his wife ignored the plight of the rest of the world.

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Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom.  It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice.  AND, it was despicable.

He sent out the raven; it went back and forth until the water dried out from the earth. (Genesis, 8:7)

The Midrash interprets the above verse beyond its literal meaning.  G-d was responding to Noah’s question as to the value of ravens.  He explained to Noah there would be a day in the future, when “the water dried out from the earth” — Elijah the Prophet would pray to G-d to bring a drought. Elijah’s food would be delivered to him from the king’s table.  And who was the delivery service? . . . the ravensbrought him meat and bread.  (1Kings 17:6)

The raven HAD to survive the Flood.  It was absolutely essential.  Some day, its descendants would save Elijah the Prophet.

Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin points out how much preparation went into feeding Elijah.  First, G-d created the ravens.  He allowed them to survive until the Flood.  He told Noah to take two of them into the Ark.  After the Flood, the world refilled with millions of ravens all over the world.  Millions of ravens.  Millions of WORTHLESS, trash bag-tearing ravens.  All so that at just the right time, there would be a few of those guys around to deliver breakfast and supper to Elijah the Prophet!

I see three important lessons here.

1) Never underestimate anybody.  Every person is created in G‑d’s image, with a Divine mission.  That mission may be to save your life!

2) You know that paycheck your boss gave you the other day?  It comes every payday, like clockwork, right?  Or, if you are self‑employed, that sale you made the other day really came in handy.  You had better stop to appreciate it.  G‑d decided on Rosh Hashanah how much you were going to earn.  He has been causing customers to want and need your product.  He has supported your boss’s business so you can afford to send your kids to Yeshiva.

3) Look at all those ravens.  Millions of them!  To Noah, they were unimportant.  To us, they are annoying.  But every generation of ravens was essential.  If that raven in the Ark had died without leaving offspring, Elijah would have gone hungry.  If that raven’s son had died without leaving offspring, Elijah would still have gone hungry.  Every one of those ravens had a mission; if only to keep on keeping on until Elijah needed them.

You and I are who we are because of the lessons we learned from our parents and grandparents.  And they learned from THEIR parents and grandparents.  If any single generation of our ancestors had “opted out” of Judaism, we would be on the outside looking in.

Our ancestors remained committed to Judaism.  Every single generation of them.  That’s why we’re here as Jews today.  Don’t we owe the same commitment to OUR children and grandchildren?

How long will this commitment need to continue?

To misquote the Raven: “Forever More!”

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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 Nimro-bama” (2009) 

…Society was uncomfortable with Abram’s “Inconvenient Truths.”  He said things that challenged their beliefs.  He contradicted Nimrod’s plans of absolute sovereignty.  He dared to accuse the “Great Leader” of being, well, merely mortal.  Therefore, he had to be silenced.

Last November, the people of America  displayed the “Audacity of Hope” and voted for “Change.”  As the bumper stickers ask, “How’s that ‘Hopesy-Changey’ workin’ out for you?” … 

Read more.

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“Murdering the Murderer?” (2008) 

“Two wrongs don’t make a right!  If it is wrong to kill, it is wrong to kill!  When we execute murderers we become no better than they are!”

So goes the argument of the anti-capital punishment crowd.  When we kill a killer we become killers ourselves.

There seems to be a certain amount of merit to that argument, except for one little detail.  G-d disagrees:

“He who spills the blood of man shall have his own blood spilled by man, for G-d made man in His own image.”  (Genesis, 9:6)

G-d made this statement to Noah and his children shortly after He wiped out almost every man, woman, and child from the face of the earth.  Although every human being is created in G-d’s image, G-d had no problem eliminating all but the eight members of the Noah Family.

Why not?…

Read more.

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“A Tale of Two Cities” (2007)

… G-d has limited patience with wicked people. Nineveh  was slated for destruction.  The prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh  to warn them of their imminent doom.  They got the message.  They repented their evil ways and were spared.

As a result of their actions, the (belatedly) righteous citizens of Nineveh  serve as an annual Yom Kippur role model to teach us what we can accomplish by returning to G-d.

Now let us look at another Biblical city.  We will read in a few weeks about Eliezer’s journey to the city of Nachor…In Nachor he finds murderous, wicked people.  … “Laban, son of NACHOR”, (Genesis, 29:5) is one of the symbols of the enemies of Israel.  He is also identified with Balaam, who did everything in his power to curse and destroy Israel.

There you have it.  Two cities. Nineveh, which teaches us how to return to G-d and become better people, and Nachor, a city that teaches us treachery and unrepentant evil.

We, can, perhaps, see the roots of these cities’ differences in this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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 “How to be an Orthodox Jewish Gentile” (2006)

Is it possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Not at all.  Actually, it is very much possible for a Gentile to practice Torah Judaism.  In fact, every member of the human race is obligated to do so.

We do not believe that every person is obligated to follow the 613 Commandments of the Torah.  There is nothing wrong with Gentiles eating pork chops or driving on the Sabbath.  They are, however, required by Torah Law to obey 7 key Commandments, known as the Seven Noahide Laws.  (“Noahide” = Children of Noah.)

What are they required to do?  Well, they could start off by disbanding the New Jersey Supreme Court!…

Read more.

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“No Pot of Gold…” (2005)

It’s beautiful; it’s a sign of ugliness. When you see it, you recite a prayer of thanks; when you see it, you’re not supposed to show it to anyone.  It is a sign of hope; it is a sign of frustration.  It is a sign of divine compassion; it is a sign of divine wrath.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, SomeOne is remembering a promise.  Somewhere, under the rainbow, someone has broken a promise…

Read more.

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 “Yerachmiel’s Ark” (2004) …

… As I lay on the grass in a not-very-rabbinic muddy suit contemplating my predicament, I started laughing.  Noah’s lion strikes again!…

Read more.

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 “Quoth the Raven . . .” (2003)

I hate ‘em!

My garbage pail gets knocked over by the wind, and before you know it, these big black, ugly birds are ripping open the trash bags, spreading the wealth all over my driveway!

Noah hated ‘em too…

Noah didn’t like the raven.  It was a cruel and selfish bird.  In fact, Noah didn’t mind endangering that miserable creature by sending it out of the Ark.  He didn’t understand what value there was in even allowing the raven back into the Ark.  He saw the raven as an unnecessary member of the animal kingdom. It was cruel to its own children.  It was inedible.  It could not be used as a sacrifice. AND, it was despicable…

Read more.

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 “You Can’t Climb a Grapevine” (2002)

… When Noah sobered up, he realized how his son and grandson had dishonored him, and cursed them. Noah blessed Shem and Japheth for their respect and sensitivity.

How did Noah, this great man, who is called “a man of righteousness,” descend so quickly to become “a man of the earth?” How did the savior of mankind so quickly find himself in a drunken stupor, subject to the scorn of his own son and grandson? …

Read more.

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 “Sweat the Big Stuff…and it’s ALL Big Stuff!” (2001)

… there is no such thing as “a little bit pregnant” …

Read more.

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 “A Pig by Any Other Name…” (2000)

… there are two types of laundry — clean laundry and dirty laundry. Would you reclassify these two categories as “clean laundry” and “laundry that isn’t clean?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at http://torahtalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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This is the weekly message at  TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on October 31, 2003 at 8:21 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. And since they sinned, we can learn out that both ravens and dogs have some sort of Neshama (not a human one, but some sort of one).

    And scientists find that ravens/crows etc. are incredibly smart birds.

  2. Usually love you commentary, but I find this one a stretch. One could look, as you have done, much later in our history and find out a service that the raven was used for; or one could think about what ravens usually eat and picture all the organic life that needs cleaning up after the mabul. This would be an immediate and necessary function.
    I find it also far fetched to compare ravens, or the continuation of their species, to our parents and ancestors. The ravens have no choice as to their nature or what they pass on to their offspring. We humans do.
    Have a good Shabbos and be sure to put the garbage in a pail with a tight lid. Howard


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