Why does Noah send the dove from the ark to see if there is any dry land? Perhaps it is just human nature to want to know what is going on, but the Torah spends multiple verses on Noah sending the dove. Nothing will change for him (and all on the ark) if the dove finds dry land; they will wait for the ark to hit dry land in any case.
I would suggest that Noah understands that redemption begins before we taste it. He grasps that the dove may find dry land even though the ark will not have landed yet. The importance of this lesson is to remember that we must prepare for change and adapt accordingly. We must not only prepare for the storm but also for the new era.
Leadership scholars (Heifetz, Grashow, Linsky) teach that we should not operate from fear and past models when attempting to “weather the storm.”
The danger in the current economic situation is that people in positions of authority will hunker down. They will try to solve the problem with short-term fixes: tightened controls, across-the-board cuts, restructuring plans. They’ll default to what they know how to do in order to reduce frustration and quell their own and other’s fears. Their primary mode will be drawing on familiar expertise to help their organization weather the storm, (Harvard Business Review).
History is filled with stories of leaders who adapted to change and those who refused and were engulfed by history. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams to mean that seven years of abundance would be followed by seven years of famine, and so the grain surplus was stored during the years of abundance and helped save Egypt during the succeeding famine (Genesis 41:25-30). Joseph could have become acquiescent, as Egyptians were used to regular flooding from the Nile that annually replenished the soil, seemingly guaranteeing a perpetual plentiful food supply. However, he understood that eventually there would come a time of scarcity, and acted accordingly. On the other hand, the last king of Babylon, Belshazzar, ignored the literal “writing on the wall” (Daniel 5:25-28) at his peril and decided to celebrate what he thought would be a long, secure reign. In reality, a large force of Persians and Medes were about to overthrow him and bring about the downfall of Babylon.
Today, there are signs of great change on the horizon, and we look to our leaders to have the vision of Noah. For many years, scientists have warned of the consequences of climate change, and the impact of humanity on that change. Unfortunately, at Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2009), world leaders largely failed to address this looming crisis in a meaningful way. This year, scientists made another effort, with a more dire prediction. In late September, the world’s leading climate scientists (through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group) issued a dire warning: there is a limit to the carbon emissions issued by humans that, if exceeded, will irrevocably put the world on a course toward cataclysmic climate change. Unfortunately, this level may be reached within a few decades unless there is a radical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Thomas F. Stocker, co-chair of the Group, noted that “Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time. In short, it threatens our planet, our only home.” Sadly, many climatologists have concluded that the UN group was optimistic in its calculations.
President Obama has endorsed the conclusions reached by this and other UN panels, but his efforts to achieve the reduction requiring the development of technology that would trap carbon dioxide emissions underground has met with strong political opposition. The UN will summon the heads of state in 2014 in an effort to achieve a treaty to reduce carbon emissions. As the House of Representatives continues to force the partial closure of our government over the issue of health care, we ponder the question of whether our leaders, in facing dramatic change, will be like Joseph or Belshazzar.
We dare not retreat in fear of challenges. Rather, we must prepare for them (personally and collectively) and adapt to new realities. Sometimes we must look outside of our own “arks” to properly—emotionally and practically—prepare for the new world we are embracing. May the dove search as our eternal reminder to see the big picture and adapt new global realities.
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder & President of Uri L’Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V’Aretz Institute and the author of “Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century.” Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the top 50 rabbis in America.”