Seeing BeautyOctober 1, 2013 - 5:00 am
“When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.”—Genesis 8:11
The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 54:1–55:5.
When we look at the people around us, what do we see? Size, colours, age, and all other exterior things. Based on what we see, we make judgments: He must be smart, she seems conceited. He looks mean, she looks sweet. However, if you look really closely into the pupils of the person, you will see a tiny reflection of yourself. In a way, when we look at other people, we are really looking at an image of our self.
In this week’s Torah portion we read about Noah and the great flood. After the rains stopped, the world was still flooded and so Noah, his family, and all the animals remained in the ark. Noah sent out two ravens and then a dove in order to determine whether or not there was dry land. The dove was the first to return with an olive branch in her beak, demonstrating that the trees were beginning to emerge.
The image of a dove carrying an olive branch remains iconic even today. A dove universally represents peace, and the source for that symbolism can be found in this Torah reading. When the dove returned to Noah with the olive branch, it was an indication that the storm had passed and the world was at peace again.
The Sages teach that the olive branch has a meaning of its own. It represents inner beauty. By all appearances, the olive branch appears unsightly — its colour is drab, the wood useless, the fruit hard as a rock. However, once cultivated, olives produce a most valuable commodity: olive oil. This precious substance was critical during biblical times. It was used to warm homes, cook food, and it served the holiest purposes in the Temple as part of offerings and as the source of light for the menorah. An olive is the most beautiful fruit of all, but you have to look beneath the surface.
Taken together, the olive branch and the dove teach that only when you are at peace with yourself, can you see the inner beauty of another person. When we look at others, we see a reflection of ourselves. If we see something bad, we had better take a deeper look inside our souls. If we see faults in others, that very fault is somewhere inside us, too. When we are whole and complete with ourselves, we will only see goodness in others as well. When we are beautiful on the inside, we will see beauty everywhere on the outside.