In this week’s Parashah, we hear the story of the Great Flood which nearly destroyed mankind. Towards the end of the story, Noach sends out a raven in order to see if the water level has subsided and if it is safe to go out. However, the raven is reluctant to go. The Torah states (BeReishit 8:7), “VaYishalach Et HaOreiv VaYeitzei Yatzo VaShov,” “And he sent forth a raven, and it went forth to and fro.” All the raven did was hover close to the ark and didn’t even leave Noach’s sight.
What was the reason for such strange behavior on the part of the raven? After spending such a long time in the Teivah, wouldn’t it finally want to be free and fly around a little? Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Yatzo VaShov) based on a Gemara (Sanhedrin 108b) explains that the raven was suspicious of Noach with regard to its mate. Therefore, the raven made sure to never be too far from the Teivah, and kept an eye on Noach to make sure he stayed away from the female raven.
The story in the Gemara seems to be quite strange. Like all Agadic stories, there must be a lesson to learn from it. Rav Frand offers an insightful interpretation of this story. He explains that it is symbolic of individuals in their own lives. We often see people talking, and, as we approach them, they stop talking. It is human nature to assume that those people had been talking about us just before we interrupted them, and that they had stopped once we approached them. It is possible, however, that the people were simply talking about some other unimportant topic and were embarrassed to be heard when they noticed us come over. For some reason, we assume that everyone is talking about us and everyone is out to get us. We all suffer from some degree of paranoia.
Rabbi Frand continues to explain that at the root of all this paranoia lies a touch of geocentricism. We all believe that we are the center of everybody’s world, and that the world revolves around us to a certain extent. Therefore, even though those people we interrupted could have been talking about anything, we believe that we were the subject of their discussion. Rabbi Frand adds that until the age of 20, we believe that everyone is always talking about us; in that way we are very paranoid. Between the ages of 20 and 40, we develop enough self-confidence to not care about what other people think of us. By the age of 40, we realize that people are not actually thinking about us, but they are thinking about themselves.
While at times a little paranoia can be positive, often it is necessary for us to realize that the world isn’t about us, and other people have their own needs and wants as well.