Journeys of the Dove

[for Jeremy's bar mitzvah, Oct. 2, 2010]

based on Genesis 8:6-12

* 1 *

I did not want to go out that first time

after the Boat went aground on the mountaintop.

I did not want to leave

the place that had been my home and protection

during the Great Storm

and during the weeks and months afterward

when the tossing seas pitched us hither and thither

amidst muck, uprooted trees,

and carcasses of unfortunate beasts.

The Earth as I remembered it

had been wiped out.

I did not want to leave my companions.

I had come aboard with the other creature of my kind;

but, surprisingly, six months of confinement

shared in darkness and tumult

had made all creatures into one family.

Hippos and geese, snakes and orangutangs,

cattle and crawling things -

each understood the other and

got along as never before.

We vowed that, should we survive this Flood,

we would never again seek the blood of another.

We hoped that the People, too,

would learn to forsake the evil imaginings of their hearts.

My closest friend had been the Raven

who had stood, a week before,

on the same edge of the wooden hatch where I now stood.

He had launched out over boundless gray waters.

Soon, I could not make out his sleek body

against the gray sky and gray sea.

He failed to return, that day and the days after,

and I was sad

as I pictured him flying frantically to-and-fro

desperate for land.

Now it was my turn

for Noah knew I was a good flyer with keen eyesight.

With a final look back

at the expectant multitude in the Boat,

I flew off from the cypress plank.

Into the air I rose, uncertain at first,

for the use of my wings was unfamiliar to me

after having to negotiate the cramped space of the Boat.

I looked for a landmark but could see none,

nor could I make out the horizon

where gray sea met gray sky.

I flew onward though I felt it was hopeless.

Looking down, I noticed

patches of water of different shades of gray and

stretches of sea with more debris or less,

but most important - no land.

A full day went by in this bleak fashion.

Knowing my limits, I turned around

and headed back toward what I felt sure

was the lone mountaintop in the whole world.

I re-entered the Boat with utmost relief.

It was small, stuffy, crowded - but secure.

* 2 *

I would not have ventured forth a week later

had Noah not insisted.

The situation was desperate.

Supplies of barley were low,

the hay was musty.

We had to get out.

The Boat could not be our sanctuary forever.

When I stood on the cypress plank as I had before,

perched between solid wooden ark

and inhospitable sea,

I keenly felt our peril and my responsibility.

I sensed the multitude behind me,

more expectant than the last time.

I looked out again at the inhospitable sea

but this time thought I felt a tremor in the air

and smelled a remnant of fragrance.

O, the memory of a time

when sea and earth

had each their proper domains!

I leaned forward and took off.

I flew with determination

and with love for those on the Boat,

who indeed were all the living creatures

on the Earth.

I flew over water that was gray and not so gray

and brown and green and turquoise and blue.

The debris was more diverse now,

more sticks, seaweed and mud.

The surface undulated or was calm.

I peered toward the horizon to get my bearings.

I peered and saw

an interruption of the endless line,

an edge slanting up from the water.

After an hour, I noticed

smaller lines upon it.

I flew on,

my heart pounding in anticipation.

I could make out a scraggy hillside

with trees on it.

After an hour more

I reached the hillside. I settled

in the nearest olive tree.

Dry land! Dry land!

Incomparable gratitude swept through me.

I savored a moment of rest amid the foliage

then tore off a small branch

which I held tightly in my beak

as I joyfully flew back.

At sunset I got back to the Boat

waving the branch with hard buddings of olives on it:

a banner announcing the triumph of new life

over the forces that had suffocated the land.

* 3 *

A week later I stood again

on the cypress plank.

The familiar plank was of the same wood

as the rest of the great ship,

covered with pitch

for protection against the elements.

Yet it marked the outermost point,

the stepping off place

from known to unknown, from comfort to struggle.

I was excited to be going forth.

The sea was vast

but no longer inhospitable,

in fact many dry places

could be seen from the Boat itself.

I would not have to fly to-and-fro in search of land

as my friend the Raven had.

I could fly where I chose,

many places beckoned.

I was sad, too.

The others would leave soon after me.

I would not be present

when they lit their thanksgiving fires,

claimed homesteads, found mates,

and slowly restored the decimated population.

I would do the same things in a different place.

I had no need to look back

at the multitude of creatures who were watching me:

they were in my heart.

I flapped my wings to be free of the Boat.

I headed toward a part of the sky

where many colors were shining.

A rainbow loomed before me.

Joel Reisman