In this week’s parshah, Noach, we read that after the flood, Noah sent a dove out of the ark. It returned. “And behold, it had plucked an olive leaf with its beak,” and Noah knew that the water had subsided from upon the earth.

Why does the verse tell us what kind of leaf it was? And why does it say that it was “plucked”? What about this olive leaf told Noah that the water had subsided from upon the earth? The olive tree could have been on a mountain, and the leaf could have been from the top of the tree?

Another question: Where was this leaf taken from?

One opinion is that it was taken from the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve had been before they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. The problem with this explanation is that being that it was a holy place and the troubles of the world didn’t reach there, it makes sense that it wasn’t affected by the flood. If that is the case, how would it be a sign that the water had subsided from the rest of the earth?

Another opinion is that it was taken from Israel. Now, there are two opinions about the Holy Land. Some say that it wasn’t affected by the flood. If that is the case, like the Garden of Eden, a leaf from there could not serve as a proof that the water had subsided. Others say that the Holy Land was flooded as well. If this is the case, it could surely act as a sign to Noah that the water had subsided. However, we would need to clarify, why would the sacred Land of Israel be affected by the flood?

Indeed, others maintain that the dove took it from a tree that was not far from the ark.

In either case, in order to be a sign that the water had subsided, it had to be taken from a place that had been previously affected by the flood.

Why an olive leaf? Rashi points out that an olive is bitter. The dove was hinting that he1 would rather have bitter food from the hand of G‑d than sweet food from the hand of man.

More so, olive trees are very hardy. We see that Noah knew this, as Rashi tells us that Noah took onto the ark “a [grape] vine and a fig sapling.” But he didn’t take an olive sapling because he was certain that being a very strong tree, some would survive. It therefore makes sense that the dove would have found an olive tree.

Why does the Torah say that it was “plucked”? This means that Noah was able to tell that it was a fresh leaf and not one found floating on the water. It was a new leaf that had grown after the flood.

This was also what indicated to Noah that the water had subsided from the earth. Because even if the tree was on a mountain, the fact that it had enough time to grow new foliage indicated that enough time had passed for the water to subside.

Finally, why would Israel, the Holy Land, be affected by the flood? The flood had a positive impact on the earth as well. First, it purified the earth from the evils of the generations that preceded it. Second, we must conclude that the flood also added a new level of holiness to the earth because what point would there be to send the whole flood just to have the earth revert to its prior state. We also see this from the fact that our haftorah calls the flood the “waters of Noah.” In Hebrew, the name Noah means “respite” or “tranquility”—meaning that the flood had a positive side. It raised the status of the earth. This is what the Holy Land gained by having the flood; it was raised to an even higher level of holiness.

The flood is symbolic of all our troubles. Just as its ultimate purpose was to raise the status of the earth, so, too, every difficulty in life is really a positive in disguise. It is a necessary hardship there for your benefit, to bring you to a higher place spiritually and physically. And if you can see it this way, life will start to become easier and happier.

It is now more than two years since I had a tracheostomy and started breathing with a ventilator. I remember how scary the whole ordeal was. Especially because at that time I lost the use of my right hand, and with that went my ability to communicate. It was this idea—that there must be positive in what I was going through—that helped me so much. Even more than that, I was helped by the fact that my wife Dina and my family were there for me. Although life is still difficult, and I wish and hope to be healed, I am so grateful to be alive, to watch my children grow up, to get nachas from them and have wonderful times with my wife.

I am also grateful for being able to make a difference in so many people’s lives through my writing and friendships. While every day is a struggle for me and my family, we are able to make the best of it by realizing that there is a positive purpose to what we are going through.

Soon, this flood, too, will end. G‑d will surely send healing, either through a cure, through miracles or with the coming of Moshiach. Either way, we will not be the same as before the struggles; we will have been elevated to a higher state, both physically and spiritually.

May it happen soon.

Dedicated to Devora Schuchat, who is battling ALS and just had a tracheostomy, and to her husband, Ben, and their children, for their strength and love.