Parashah of the week: Noach

“At the end of forty days, Noah opened the window of the ark he had made and sent out the raven” Genesis 8:6


A torah (Hebrew scripture) reading. The "yod" - a hand-shaped silver pointer - is used by the reader to mark his or her place in the text.

Every Jewish or secular child can tell you that Noah gathered every species “two by two” to take into the Ark. What is less known is that of “clean” animals Noah gathered seven pairs, presumably to enable Noah’s family to eat during the Flood and to be able to offer sacrifices on their departure from the Ark.

Of birds there is less clarity about whether Noah gathered seven pairs of
all types or merely of the clean birds. Birds, of course, play a crucial role in Noah’s story as he sends first a raven and then a dove to test whether the waters have receded.

The raven is a bird of carrion which would have fed on the drowned floating carcasses and is considered “unclean” for the Jewish diet or sacrificial system.

The Babylonian Talmud records a conversation between a raven and Noah: “The raven made a telling point when it said to Noah: You must hate me, for you did not send out to scout from the species of birds of which there are seven pairs in the ark, but from a species of which there is only one pair. If the power of the sun or of the cold had overwhelmed me, would not the world be missing a species?” (Sanhedrin 108a).

History shows us that the raven survived as a species and appears many times in the Tanach, not least in the story of Elijah.

The prophet Elijah lived in the ninth century BCE during the infamous reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel were intolerant of opposition, particularly that of prophets who demanded they change their ways. When Elijah announced the coming of a drought in a clash with the idolatry of Ahab, who had confidence in a pagan rain god, Elijah’s life was threatened and he was forced to flee to Wadi Cherit (1 Kings 17:6) where he was fed bread and meat every morning and evening by a group of ravens.

Despite this, the raven remains “unclean” by Jewish law and unpopular by secular folklore, which perhaps reminds us that human memories are short.

Noah enters the Ark because the world is corrupt at such levels that God despairs. Today it is not God who will bring the floods and threatens eradication of species but rather the selfishness of humanity, which may herald dramatic and drastic changes
to life on Earth.

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