Friday, February 10, 2012

YITRO: WHY THE DOVE IS THE SYMBOL FOR PEACE

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



Everybody knows that the dove with the olive branch is the symbol of peace. It's even the logo for the 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. But why is that exactly? The dove's return to Noah's ark with an olive branch symbolized a new era of peace. Granted, after the flood narrative's depiction of the violent end of life excepting the ark's inhabitants, any harbinger of the receding waters deserved an elevated status, for humanity will now be entering a pristine dawn of a new covenantal moral awakening. It is a cultural assumption that such a linkage exists. But this is only derived from an implicit contextual understanding. Can there be yet an even deeper connection?

Only in parshat Yitro is there an explicit, yet concealed, connection between the dove and the idea of peace (shalom) per se, where we see hints in the text which reveal a hidden link between Noah and Yitro. The key factor lies in understanding that the first time a word appears in the Torah it is the foundational prism by which to understand all subsequent usages of that word throughout the Torah (espoused by Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen, an early Hassidic Kabbalistic master).

The word SHaLaCH (sent) is the explicit link. The dove was sent out to bring proof of the receding waters so that Noah and his family could free themselves of the confinement of the ark and begin life anew. Israel, quite dovelike, was thrust out of the confining Egyptian ark (Mitzrayim-MeTZeR/confinement) to seek freedom and to bring a new awareness for humanity that freedom is the birthright of all peoples and that tyranny and despotism are evils that must fail/fall. Here is the SHaLaCH, or "sending" comparison. This is the foundational basis of the link between these two narratives. Moses says to Pharaoh: Sh'lach et ami! Let my people go!

In Parshat B'SHaLaCH we saw Israel as the Yonah (dove) for Humanity. The rising and falling waters of the Yam Suf drown the violence prone Egyptians, echoing the drowning of the generation of the flood who were corrupt- and violent (Hamas).But the linkage goes even deeper in Parshat Yitro. Jethro (Yitro), Moses' Father-in-law, meets up with B'nei Yisrael once they leave Egypt. He brings with him Moshe's wife, Tzipporah (literally BIRD!) who had been SENT home earlier (achar SHiLuCHeha- EX 18:2). So here is the dove parallelism.

In the flood narrative the dove returns to the ark with an ALeH Zayit, an Olive branch. ALeH is spelled ayin lamed hey. In this week's parsha (EX 18:12) Yisro takes an OLaH uZevachim (burnt offerings and other sacrifices for G*d) as an expression of praise to G*d for Israel's deliverance. OLaH and ALeh are both spelled with the same letters - ayin-lamed-hey. They are only vowelized differently. And this is the first time OLaH appears after we see the same word in the context of an ALeH (literally leaf). And the letter zayin is shared by both the words Zayit (olive branch) and Zevachim (burnt offerings).

The Children of Israel, having emerged from the world wide deluge of the 20th century Holocaust as a burnt offering, wants peace more than any other nation on earth. But the peace of life as opposed to the peace of the grave. A patch of dry land to call home once the waters have subsided. And thus the olive branch analogy.
Finally, Jethro gives his sage advice to Moses to appoint capable G*d fearing leaders (anshei chayil) to administer justice to thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Moses would only see the hardest cases. He concludes, saying (EX 18:23): "if you agree to this and G*d concurs, you will be able to survive. This entire nation will then also be able to attain its goal of PEACE/SHALOM." And so finally- the peace connection.

Freedom and survival are thus not ends in themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to live covenantally in PEACE. So finally we see the explicit linkage between the dove and peace. This linkage traverses time and terrain, and involves the utilization of esoteric hints, and yet is clearly there for those who have the eyes and the inclination to see it.

The Torah employs holy gentiles each time as the heralds of a new covenantal relationship between humanity and G*d. Noah brings humanity to a new "Rainbow Covenant" expressing ethical monotheism, while Jethro (pre-conversion) appears in the narrative immediately before the Theophany of the Ten Commandments, where his kehuna status (priesthood- literally intermediary servant) is echoed by the Covenant of Sinai, whereby Israel becomes a Nation of Priests and a Holy People in order to convey a modeling of ethical monotheistic teachings to all humankind.

The Torah is truly universal- a blueprint for the transformation of human consciousness, both Jew and gentile. It is a narrative of successive covenants. Noah's rainbow covenant symbolized humanity's embrace of ethical monotheism. Israel's Sinai covenant symbolized G*d's embrace of a nation molded by the imprint of slavery and genetically programmed to aspire to peace and freedom for both themselves and the world at large. The dream of peace, love and musical harmony of the Woodstock Nation is mirrored by that of the Hebrew Nation's Shabbos Kodesh Sabbath Day. And while the earth is once more filled with Hamas/violence, may both Israel and all humanity finally come to soon see a real and lasting SHALOM/PEACE in our day and for all time. And may all the doves yet fly again soon. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom.
Good Shabbos!

© 2000 - 2012 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman


These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.


http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!