Kalman Estrin wrote:
In a conversation a few months ago, a friend raised the following question. The RAVEN is specifically identified in the story of Noah as the first bird that Noah sends out in search of land. The Raven is also given special prominence in the dietary laws concerning which birds are clean and which are not. Is there a special significance and symbolism connected to the raven?
Dear Kalman Estrin,
Noah sent the raven to find out the state of the world. Since the raven is a bird of prey, it would return with carrion of man or beast if the water had abated to that degree. The raven failed, however, flying back and forth time after time.
Why did Noah send a raven specifically? According to the Talmud, Hashem forbade procreation on the Ark, but the raven violated this prohibition. Therefore, Noah reasoned that of all the birds, the raven was the safest one to send out on this dangerous mission. That way, if the raven didn't survive it wouldn't mean the extinction of its species.
Also, the ancients considered the raven a portent of the future. They would build special cages where the priests would study the motions and flying formations of the ravens. They interpreted these movements as divinations of the future. In this sense, the raven's mission was successful, since Noah could discern from the raven's flying patterns something about the future.
Also, the raven reminds us of Hashem's kindness to even the most helpless of creatures. How? Ravens are cruel to their young, leaving them to die of starvation. But Hashem has mercy on them, and provides them with insects to eat. Thus, sending the raven may have been Noah's way of asking Hashem "Please provide for us, just as you provide for the poor helpless young ravens."
- Tractate Sanhedrin 108b
- Tractate Ketubot 49b