"He sent off the dove…." (Gen. 8:8)

Rabbi Pinchas said: The Holy One blessed be He wished to test the Children of Israel, and so He sent them into exile in Babylon, as it states: "He sent off the dove". "The dove" refers to the Community of Israel [the collective souls of the Jewish people, known as "Knesset Yisrael"].

This exile took place after the destruction of the First Temple.

Now see what is written in the next verse "But the dove did not find a perch for its foot…" (ibid. 8:9) in regard to this: the King of Babylon exacerbated the yoke of their exile by starvation and thirst and by murdering many of the righteous. Because of the harshness of the exile, "…"[the dove] returned to him in the ark and he took it".

This symbolized that the Jewish people repented and returned to G‑d, who stretched out His hand, having accepted their repentance.

Then the Community of Israel sinned again, and He sent them into exile again, as it states, "Once more he sent the dove out from the ark" (ibid. 8:10)

This time into the Greek exile, during the era of the Second Temple.

This final exile has no set limit, and everything depends upon repentance….

After [the Jewish People suffered great anguish and duress during the Greek exile,]: "Toward evening, the dove returned." (ibid. 8:11) What is the allegorical meaning of "toward evening"? That the hour of relief did not shine as it had done previously. The righteous were killed, the day darkened, as is states: "Woe to us, for the day wanes, and the shadows of night are lengthening." (Jeremiah 6:4) "The day wanes" - these are the righteous, who shine like the sun; "and the shadows of night are lengthening" - they remained like the dregs. This is the meaning of "towards evening", and not at the time when the righteous shone like the sun.

"In its beak was an olive leaf it had plucked". (Gen. 8:11)

Had the Holy One blessed be He not aroused the spirit of the Kohanim who lit the Menorah using olive oil1 then the vestige of the tribe of Judah would have been lost.

But each time [the Jewish people were sent into exile] they repented and returned, and their repentance was accepted…

[He waited yet another seven days] "and sent out the dove"…. (Gen. 8:12)

This refers to the exile of Edom [i.e. Rome, after the destruction of the Second Temple].

"…it did not return to him any more". (ibid. 8:12)

Until this very day we have not repented, and our spirit has not been aroused [to return to G‑d].

Rabbi Pinchas said: Every time the Jewish People were sent into exile, the Holy One blessed be He set a limit to the exile, and they were always aroused to repentance. But this final exile has no set limit, and everything depends upon repentance.

[From Zohar, Midrash HaNe'elam, Zohar Chadash p.23c; translation and commentary by Moshe Miller.
First published by Fiftieth Gate Publications and Seminars.]