As the pandemic started hovering overhead this past March, life has only become more and more chaotic. Nothing has really seemed to get back to normal since then. It was sometime during those first days that a pair of doves built a nest of tiny twigs outside my kitchen window. Perched right above my backyard lights, the pair of soft brown doves began “sheltering in place” with my family. Watching them each day has taught me life lessons from nature’s wonders. My children and I have become avid bird watchers, checking the nest each day to see if the eggs hatched into chicks. One of my daughters actually did the mitzvah of shiluach haken, as the mother bird flew away and then returned to her nest unharmed. Over the past couple months, they have truly been my eye of the storm. Each morning before I turn on the news, I listen to their cooing sounds. I have felt uplifted and at peace thanks to their soprano tones. I realized that the symbolism of doves found in the Torah has always been one of peace, healing, and hope for a better world.
The first appearance of a dove in the Torah is in Parshat Noach. Noach sent out the dove twice when he was trying to ascertain if the rain had ended and they could exit the ark. According to Rashi, the flood waters began to recede on the first of Sivan. The second time the dove was sent out, it brought back an olive branch in its mouth. This became a symbol of peace and healing for the future of humanity.
Kabbalistic teachings explain that a bird symbolizes the name of Hashem: the head of a bird is like the letter yud of the divine name (yud-k-vav-k), the body of the bird is like the letter vav and the two wings are similar to the two hehs. In the Tanya (an early book of Chabad philosophy by Rabbi Shnuer Zalman), it says that the two wings of a bird represent fear and love of G-d: the left wing is strength and the right side is kindness. In Shaar Hayechudim by Chaim Vital (the main student of the famous Kabbalist the ARIZaL), it is written that wings of a bird are like arms for a person. Love and fear elevate the performance of the 613 mitzvot.
In the Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 53b states that the dove is compared to the Jewish people. In a quote from Psalms 68:14; it states that even if the Jewish people are steeped in exile, they will become as exalted as the wings of a white dove, whose wings shimmer like silver and her wingtips with brilliant gold. A dove saves herself by either flying away or by fighting with her wings, while other birds fight with their beaks. Since the Jewish people are likened to a dove, the virtue of the mitzvot are compared to a dove’s wings which protect and save Israel from harm.
Rav Kook further deepens our understanding of the wings of a dove. He said that the mitzvot have internal and external aspects. The inner purpose of each mitzvah is like a muscle that powers the wings. The inner meaning of mitzvot is like gold, only understood by great scholars. The outer wings are covered in silver, a more commonly used metal. The outer silver wings are the outer expressions that are available to everyone. They are interconnected. Mitzvot therefore benefit all aspects of a Jewish person.
The Torah teaches us that we can learn good character from every living creature. As it says in Job 35:11; “from the animals of the land, and from the birds of the heaven [He] makes us wise.” The dove, after all, is a monogamous bird, demonstrating the qualities of fidelity and loyalty. The fidelity of a dove is meant to teach us that fidelity with our marital partners on earth is important. It also represents the loyalty that we display to G-d. It is a relationship of mutual trust, with us dedicating our lives to doing mitzvot and in return finding shelter and strength from the Almighty.
Many years ago, as a student in Jerusalem, I walked to the Kotel for morning prayers at sunrise on the morning of Shavuot. As the sun came up, a large group of white doves began flying around over everyone in large circles. There was a heavenly aura to this experience. It was a time when one could experience a glimpse of the revelation from Sinai. During those moments, the doves of Jerusalem seemed to be placing crowns on our heads as we silently uttered na’aseh v’nishma.
Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, and is the Matriarch of Moshiach. Interestingly, if you turn the letters of the name Ruth around in Hebrew it spells out the word tor which means dove. We read the book of Ruth on Shavuot. The story is essentially about chesed (kindness). As a pure dove, Ruth’s conversion to Judaism and her humility and dedication to her people are the foundation for what true royalty means for a Jewish King. In Artscroll’s Megillat Ruth, it is written that the Torah contains 606 mitzvot, separate from the 7 Noahide laws which are incumbent upon non-Jews. It is interesting to note that the number 606 is equal to the numerical value of the name Ruth.” It was from the metaphorical wings of Ruth’s mitzvot that bore the fruits of the Davidic dynasty. May we merit the ultimate healing of the world at this time and have a chag sameach!
Shoshanah Weiss is a native Chicagoan, She is a community Torah educator, writer, poet and artist. She studied at University of Illinois-Urbana, Michlelet Bruria, and Hebrew Theological College-Anne Blitstein Institute.
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