Chaos and Creation
Striking me, on this year’s reading of Parashat Noah, were the two following verses: “God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1), and “But the dove could not find a resting place for its foot (v’lo matz’ah ha-yonah manoah), and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth” (Genesis 8:9). On the first verse, the Etz Hayim Humash comments: “As the waters symbolize chaos and the undoing of Creation, so the movement of the wind forecasts the return of order.” (p. 45) And of course we know that a few verses later, the dove sent out for a third time does not return. The dove has found a resting place on earth, and order has begun its return.
Each year, it seems to me, as we broaden our life experience, we see things in the Torah that had not touched us beforehand. This year, the juxtaposition of the chaos of the Flood, and the order that begins as the waters subside, struck me particularly because there is a good deal of chaos in my life at the moment – and the “ordered” moments in my life are to be treasured. As I thought about the dove in the verse, and the moments that bring me peace, I couldn’t help but think of the Shabbat zemer, “Yom Shabbaton”. In this special song sung at the Shabbat table, the refrain takes its wording right from our verse 9 above and says: “The day of rest should not be forgotten, its memory is like a satisfying aroma. On it the dove found rest (yonah matz’ah vo manoah), and on it shall rest exhausted ones.”
The people Israel is often symbolized by the dove (see Song of Songs 2:14), and the dove in the Noah story found rest on the “seventh day”. Though the seventh day in the No·ah narrative may not be Shabbat – the seventh day of our week – the composer of the zemer intimates that the people Israel (the dove) have always found rest on Shabbat. The zemer is a catchy one – filled with rhyming verses, love for Shabbat, and remembrances of God’s covenant with Noah and with us. It’s no wonder that it is a popular Shabbat table song. But the deeper meaning of the zemer and its allusions touched me profoundly this year, because it speaks of a weary people, a people in chaos – the Israelite nation as a whole, and the individuals who make it up – and it teaches us that there is an antidote to this chaos – if only for a weekly 25-hour period. The order, the lack of pressure, the peace, and the inner calm which many of us seek is to be found in God’s special gift to us – Shabbat. When we make the effort to prepare for it, when we set it aside as a day when we stop “wrestling with the world” – as Rabbi A. J. Heschel tells us – and instead “care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul” (The Sabbath, p. 13), we can find a haven from the chaos of the world. Shabbat at its greatest can be sublime; for me – and I suspect for many of us busy, harried people – it is essential for restoring a sense of balance, a sense of order and a sense of peace.