Parashat Noah: The Dove and Repentance
After the flood, the world remained uninhabitable for many months, as it was covered by water. The floodwaters gradually subsided, and eventually Noah decided it was time to determine whether or not the world was again ready for human habitation. He sent a dove from the ark, and the dove returned to him, having found no dry land on which to rest. A week later, Noah sent the dove again, and this time the dove returned in the evening with an olive branch which it had ripped off a tree. Noah then realized that the waters had receded enough for vegetation to be available.
The current Bobover Rebbe offers a beautiful insight into the deeper message of this story of Noah and the dove. In many sources, the Jewish Nation is compared to the dove. Our Sages teach us that a dove mates with only one fellow dove, unlike other birds and animals, and thus we, who remain steadfastly loyal to G-d, and refuse to worship or serve any other being, are likened to the dove. And the olive, the Rebbe suggests, is symbolic of repentance. Just as an olive initially tastes bitter but its taste gradually sweetens, similarly, the process of repentance is at first very difficult and grueling, but becomes easier with time and offers great rewards. Moreover, our Sages teach that just as an olive must be crushed to produce oil, G-d must similarly subject us at times to harsh conditions and difficulties in order for us to grow and improve. The process of Teshuba resembles that of producing oil, as we grow by overcoming difficult challenges and withstanding adversity.
Accordingly, the Rebbe explains, the dove’s return to Noah with an olive branch in its mouth symbolizes our return to the Almighty with words of Teshuba on our lips. Just as the dove arrived at the ark in the evening, we, too, must return to G-d in repentance each night. Our Rabbis teach that each night, just before we go to sleep, we are to recite Vidui (confession) and ask G-d for forgiveness. Just as marriage counselors advise married couples never to go to sleep after an argument without first resolving it, similarly, we should not go to sleep in a state of “conflict” with G-d, and must ask forgiveness each night before we retire.
The Torah says that when Noah saw the dove with the olive branch in its mouth, he knew that the floodwaters had subsided. Similarly, the Rebbe explains, if we return to G-d each night with words of Teshuba, we can rest assured that any potential calamity will be averted. By repenting each night, rather than waiting and delaying the process, we help ensure our protection from the consequences of sin. Sins leave a stain on our beings much like a stain on a garment. When we stain our clothes, our best chance of completely removing it is to wash it off immediately. Likewise, if we want to permanently and completely remove the spiritual stain of sin, we are best advised to start “washing it” immediately, and for this reason it is customary to recite “Vidui” each night before we go to sleep.
This is a very relevant message for us specifically during this period, having just concluded the month of Tishri and the holidays. Many people mistakenly assume that we can now leave our thoughts of Teshuba aside for a while, and “take it easy” until next Elul. This is incorrect. Teshuba is something we must do each day. Of course, the period of Elul and the High Holidays is a time for special focus and heightened awareness, but this does not mean that we can ignore repentance and self-improvement the rest of the year. Our best chance of keeping ourselves spiritually “clean” is to work regularly to remove the “stain” of our sins, each and every day of our lives.