The idea derives from the section in this week’s portion about Noah sending a dove out of the Ark to see whether the flood waters had gone down (Gen. 8:10).
Only when the dove came back with an olive branch in its mouth was Noah sure the waters had receded and the community of the Ark could emerge onto the earth.
Why is the olive leaf important? The rabbis say that the dove told Noah, “It is better that my food comes from God than from flesh and blood”.
The symbolism? When there isn’t enough to eat and food can be withheld in order to make others suffer, there can be no peace. But if economic prosperity is assured there is no need or desire for war.
Note that the Hebrew for war is milchamah, and central to milchamah is lechem, bread.
The episode tells us two more lessons.
One is that like the dove with its yearning for a quiet life, people need to want peace.
Another: that as the dove flies from place to place in the interests of peace, so the peacemakers need to leave no stone – or olive leaf – unturned.