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Olives and All-Of-Us

10/20/2023 06:34:53 PM

Oct20

Shabbat Shalom. This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Noach, the story of the Great Flood. As the flood waters recede, Noah first sends out a raven to test the land situation. The raven never comes back. One might interpret from this that there was indeed land to perch on, but without evidence, Noah was not certain where to try to find it. So then Noah sends out the dove. The dove comes back empty-beaked, so Noah understands that the dove has not found good earth to live off of. He waits a week, and then sends the dove out again, and this time the dove comes back with an olive branch. Olive trees do not get to be super tall, so if there are olives in reach, there must be dry land, farmable land, for Noah and his family to settle. 

Olives are one of the 7 species of the Holy Land. Deuteronomy describes the Promised Land to the People of Israel: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing”. Encyclopedia Judaica extols the wonders of olives: they are evergreens, but sturdy and suited to dry, rocky soil. They live long lives under hard conditions, and yet continue to bear fruit. The trees symbolize longevity, the leaves and branches symbolize peace, and the oil was used extensively in sacred ritual practices. And is delicious. 

The BimBam video on Parashat Noah points out that the raven is like Noah, doing what is necessary to live without regard to others. The dove comes back with the olive branch to let the others know that it is safe. One of the age old questions of the parasha is why doesn’t Noah warn his neighbors? A midrash suggests that he does, and they laugh at him, but the Torah does not show him talking to anyone about the incoming deluge. Shouldn’t a human, a righteous man of his generation at that, be of stronger moral character than a raven? 

An Yemeni-Israeli hip-hop trio, A-WA has a song I love called Hana Mash Hu al-Yaman (Here is Not Yemen). It opens with the specific Judeo-Arabic of Yeminite Jews recalling the words of Deuteronomy: 

Blad bur, wash'eir, wa'enab, wazayt

Watin, waruman, watamr, wubayt

Blad bur, wash'eir, wa'enab, wazayt

Watin, waruman, watamr, wubayt

Land of wheat and barley, grape and olive

Fig and pomegranate, date and home

Land of wheat and barley, grape and olive

Fig and pomegranate, date and home

 

 

The song tells the story of the Yemeni refugees to Israel, how they came to the land of milk and honey, the promised land, the land of their ancestors, and nation-state ruled by their coreligionists where they believed they could be free in a way that had not been so in Yemen in recent years [decades]. But when they arrived, they lived in tents, were told to stop speaking their own language, were looked down upon and discriminated against by the European Jews who held all the social and political power in the country. 

Jews should behave themselves as the dove in this Torah portion. We should always be willing to extend the olive branch, to utilize our resiliency to encourage others, to go back for those left behind. Our Torah is such a beautiful holy work because it shows us that even the “righteous men of their generation” could not always live up to their potential. We may not always succeed. Sometimes we get stuck in our fear and our trauma, our anger and our grief, and it’s hard to not shut in on ourselves, or to fly off on our own, feeling abandoned by all else. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying. It is never too late to be the dove, to create communities truly filled with abundance and all the wonderful things the 7 species symbolize, welcoming in all others seeking refuge in our holy spaces, our lifeboats, our arks. 

Today, as we bless all our pets, let us also bless the birds of the sky who help spread the seeds of hope, the beasts of the field who help cultivate the species that diversify our ecosystems, and the fish of the sea that remind us that even when it feels like everything that matters is getting washed away in a flood, we still must just keep swimming. And may we live in harmony with all the creatures of the Earth. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784