“וַתָּבֹא אֵלָיו הַיּוֹנָה לְעֵת עֶרֶב וְהִנּה עֲלֵה־זַיִת טָרָף בְּפִיהָ וַיֵּדַע נֹחַ כִּי־קַלּוּ הַמַּיִם מֵעַל הָאָֽרֶץ.”
“The dove came to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf, so Noach knew that the water had cleared from the earth” [Bereishit (Genesis) 8:11].
“And behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf” – the simple implication of the posuk (verse) is that the trees were not uprooted or wiped out by the flood, for the water did now flow strongly there, though the world was filled with water. However, in Midrash Breishit Rabba [33:6], Chazal (our Sages) ask from where the dove brought the olive leaf, and Rabbi Levi says it was from the Mount of Olives, since the flood did not affect Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). This is what the Holy One, blessed be He said to Yechezel (Ezekiel) [22:24]: “Son of man, say to her: You are a land that has not been cleansed, that has not received rain in the day of indignation.” Ramban (Naḥmanides), ibid.
The Spiritual Significance of the Fact that the Land was not Flooded in the Deluge
The Ramban cites a Midrash which presents a novel historical understanding, which is both interesting and curious. In the generation of the righteous Noach, the Holy One, blessed be He brought down a flood from heaven to wipe out everything on the face of the earth and only Noach, his immediate family and a limited number of animals of each species were saved from the flood in order to establish a new world. Noach was instructed to build a wooden ark and cover it with tar. The Holy One, blessed be He brought Noach and his family and all species of animals into the ark. During that generation, the world was subjected to a severe punishment. Noach spent an entire year in the ark, awaiting and anticipating God’s sign that the time had come to leave the ark and rebuild the world. The rain had stopped, the flood ended and the water began to recede. The mountain tops could be seen as the water continued to recede. Noach had already sent a raven out from the ark, but it was not the harbinger that the anticipated time to leave the ark had come. The dove had already been sent one week before, but quickly returned to the ark. And now the dove returned with an olive leaf in her beak. From where was it brought?
The Source of the Olive Leaf
The First Answer – a Natural Way
The Ramban initially offers an explanation which allows the question to be answered on a more natural level. The simplest assumption is that the flood waters wiped out all living beings, human and animal. However, specifically since the water came virtually simultaneously from the heavens and the earth, [Bereishit 7:11] there were not torrents of water raging across dry land, rather the land was rapidly covered with water, and within the forty days of rain, the entire earth was flooded. Thus, it is understandable that when the water receded, it was possible to find trees which had not been destroyed by the flood, and it was from one of these that the dove brought the olive leaf to Noach.
The Second Answer – Via Miracle
The Midrash cited by the Ramban presents a novel idea: Eretz Yisrael was not flooded by the deluge, and thus, the dove was able to bring Noach an olive leaf from the Mount of Olives.
The Gemara (Talmud) Zevaḥim 113a presents two ways of understanding Chazal’s comment that the flood did not affect the Land:
1) The rain did not fall on the Land; however, since there was no miraculous stoppage of the flood waters entering the Land, all living beings within the Land were wiped out by the flood;
2) Not only did the rains not fall on the Land, but miraculously, the flood waters did not enter the Land.
However, according to the second suggestion, we would expect that all living beings within the Land survived the flood. The Gemara asserts that the flood waters were boiling, and though they did not enter the Land, the living beings within the Land succumbed to the heat and died.
According to either suggestion, the punishment of the flood affected Eretz Yisrael and all other lands in significantly different ways. What lies behind this distinction? What spiritual ideal is the basis of the Divine decision to ease the punishment of the flood for Eretz Yisrael?
First Level – a Title of Honor for Eretz Yisrael
The Abarbanel [Yechezkel 22:23] refers to the distinction between the affects of the flood on Eretz Yisrael and all other lands as “A title of honor for Eretz Yisrael.” Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land, ordained to be the unique place of Divine worship, the Land chosen for the Am Yisrael (people of Israel), who are destined to sanctify God’s name in the world. God created Eretz Yisrael to be the land especially connected to His name, and thus He treats the Land with great respect. This being the case, it is appropriate for us as well to relate to the Land with the proper level of respect. This is comparable to one whose friend has special skills and abilities. Such a friend, who has positive attributes, who demonstrates concern for others and a desire to help, earns respect. Eretz Yisrael differs from all other lands in its essence. The Holy One, blessed be He created the Land with sacred material, with spiritual traits which exist nowhere else in the world. By withholding the flood waters from Eretz Yisrael, the Holy One, blessed be He taught us to show respect for the Land. Given that the Creator of the universe shows respect for the Land, it certainly behooves us to attempt to understand and appreciate her value and to respect her.
Second Level – Eretz Yisrael Does Not Require the Benefit Brought by the Flood
The Midrash cited above is based upon the verse in Ezekiel, which states:”A land that has not been cleansed, that has not received rain in the day of indignation.” Based upon the posuk’s wording, Kli Yakar [Bereishit 8:7ff.] explains that the flood waters had a spiritual element, serving as waters of purification. Rabbi Tzadok haKohen of Lublin compares immersion in a mikveh to the flood waters. One who immerses himself in a mikveh, as it were accepts upon himself the flood waters and immediately leaves them and is saved. The Lubavitcher Rebbi adds that the forty se’ah (the minimal amount of water required) of the mikveh represent the forty days of rain. The flood waters cleansed the atmosphere of the world from man’s sins.
Eretz Yisrael is holy and does not tolerate the impurity of sinful acts which are done within her. Therefore, one who sins greatly within the Land will be vomited out by her, as the posuk states:
“(כד) אל תטמאו בכל אלה כי בכל אלה נטמאו הגוים אשר אני משלח מפניכם. (כה) ותטמא הארץ ואפקוד עונה עליה ותקא הארץ את ישביה.”
“Do not defile yourselves by any of these things, because the nations I am driving out before you have defiled themselves by all of these things. The Land vomited out its inhabitants.” [Vayikra (Leviticus) 18:24-25]. It follows that by God’s preventing the flood from entering Eretz Yisrael, the Land retained its full measure of sanctity and spiritual strength. Indeed, Sforno comments on Abraham’s journey to Eretz Yisrael that “the Land serves as the staircase for conceptual ascent and is the most desired of the lands, as Scripture states:
“ארץ אשר ד’ אלוקיך דרש אתה תמיד עיני ד’ אלוקיך בה מראשית השנה ועד אחרית שנה”
“It is a Land the Lord your God cares for, the eyes of Hashem, your G-d, are always upon it from the beginning of the year to year’s end.” [Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:12] And its climate was not affected by the flood as were the climates of other lands, as the posuk says: [Yechezkel 22:24] “לא גשמה ביום זעם” (“That has not received rain in the day of indignation”). Also Chazal (our Sages) have stated: “אוירה של ארץ ישראל מחכים” (“that the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise”) [Gemara Bava Batra 158b].
We may add another explanation: all the soil of the earth is mundane, without sanctity. The sins of the evil generation of the flood defiled the atmosphere of the lands and their soil. The flood renewed the face of the earth and brought pure fresh air to the world. The Land of Israel was not defiled because impurity cannot penetrate that which possesses an inherent internal sanctity. Therefore, rather than the Land being defiled by sins, the Land vomits out the sinners who have created impurity through their transgressions. Kli Yakar adds that it is likely that the mundane aspect of the lands (other than Israel) drew people to sin, and therefore it was necessary to moderate the physical aspect of those lands. The Land of Israel stands in contrast: its physical aspect sanctifies man and elevates him. Bayit Ḥadash [Tur, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 208] asserts that eating the fruit of Eretz Yisrael sanctifies one and imbues the heart of a Jew with fear of Heaven. Thus, the flood could have impaired the sanctity of the Land’s atmosphere or the sanctity of the soil itself, and it was therefore fitting that the flood not affect Eretz Yisrael.
Summary of the Answers
We suggested two reasons that the Holy One, Blessed be He did not bring the flood onto the Land of Israel
1] Eretz Yisrael is holy and destined to realize great and important goals. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He wished to demonstrate that He Himself respects the Land and minimizes the punishment of its inhabitants, to teach us to respect the Land and seek its virtues.
2] Eretz Yisrael is the Holy Land, which does not require spiritual cleansing from the effects of the sinners within her. The impurity of the sins performed within the Land do not penetrate her, rather the Land expels the sinners and the impurity of their sins from her midst.
On the contrary, cleaning the atmosphere of Eretz Yisrael and softening its soil would diminish her sanctity.
Based upon these points, Chazal teach the great significance of God’s preventing the flood from affecting Eretz Yisrael.
Purifying Eretz Yisrael Through the Righteous of our Generation
It is difficult to actually feel purity and impurity. Kuzari [2:60] argues that only those whose souls are pure and tender and who attempt to cling to God can perceive this subtle feeling which does exist. Rabbi Ḥayyim Druckman, may he merit a good and lengthy life, relates that he used to travel to Jerusalem to attend the lessons of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Kook stressed over and over that sanctity exists in reality within the world, not merely as a theoretical construct, divorced from reality. Rabbi Kook often cited the Gemara [Makkot 22a] that one who plows with an ox which was dedicated to the altar and then disqualified for sacrifice (by virtue of a blemish), receives lashes for plowing with two different species of animal, [Devarim 22:10] since the ox, though a single body, is considered to be two, as it has a secular and a holy dimension. If sanctity is not something real, why would there be the punishment of lashes?
In recent generations, since the beginning of the return to Zion, with strengthening of aliya, the Torah of Eretz Yisrael has been resurgent. Am Yisrael now studies Halachic concepts which were merely theoretical in the Diaspora. After being almost totally barren and without the seed of Israel for close to two thousand years, the Land of Israel is filling up with holy people from within our nation. As well, the recognition of the Land’s sanctity is being established. Rabbi Kook’s teachings have contributed greatly to this development. In our generation, there is an increase in righteous people who feel the sanctity of the Land of Israel and the purity within her. These righteous people will not leave the Land of Israel for any purpose, except saving lives.
May it be God’s will that we all feel the sanctity and purity of the Land and the fear of heaven which accompanies dwelling within the Land, and which is conveyed by eating its fruit, and thereby we will merit the complete salvation, speedily in our days.