Parshas Noach: Why Did Hashem Choose a Rainbow?



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    Parshas Noach: Why Did Hashem Choose a Rainbow?

    This week we read the strange story of a flood that drowned the entire decadent world except Noach and family. The Torah tells us that after the flood G-d put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that He would never destroy the world’s population again. Read the full article by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton • Full Article

    Parshat Noach      Download as PDF

    This week we read the strange story of a flood that drowned the entire decadent world except Noach and family.

    The Torah tells us that after the flood G-d put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that He would never destroy the world’s population again.

    At first glance this is not understood.

    First: Why did G-d have to kill everyone? Couldn’t He have just changed them?

    Secondly: Why did G-d choose a rainbow? Why does it symbolize His decision to not destroy the world?

    Finally, the rainbow is a natural phenomenon. It occurs every time light is refracted through water vapor in the sky. What has it got to do with a heavenly covenant?

    To understand this here is a story that occurred over 500 years ago when Jews lived and flourished in Spain.

    Little Shlomo was ten years old but he wasn’t afraid, or at least that’s what he kept telling himself. He sat in warm sun on the ship’s deck, feeling the breeze on his cheeks, reading the small book of T’hillim (Psalms) that he brought along and tried to take his mind off the long trip that remained ahead of him.

    It was a two weeks journey from Morocco where his parents sent him to learn Torah to back home in Madrid Spain. Once a year before Passover, he would return home and now he was in the middle of his journey.

    The other passengers, non-Jewish merchants and travelers, rarely spoke to the boy but the few times they did the conversation got around to what god he believes in.

    It seems that all traveling merchants carried some sort of statue or good-luck charm in their pockets or around their necks which they prayed and made vows to in time of need. And comparing ‘gods’ was a common pastime.

    But when little Shlomo answered that his G-d is invisible and rules the heavens and earth they snickered, winked at one another saying, ‘The Jew is too cheap to buy an idol.’

    Well, as fate would have it, that very day a storm broke out. Shlomo sensed that something was wrong. Early in the morning the sea had been unusually beautiful and placid but the sailors were scurrying about securing everything on the deck that moved and lowering all the sails and a tension filled the air.

    Suddenly the skies became frighteningly dark and cold winds began churning the sea into white foam. Waves began splashing across the deck of the ship and within minutes howling winds and roaring waves were smashing and tossing the ship in all directions as though there was no up or down, the sea and the sky had melted together in a wicked, black explosion of raw destruction and it seemed certain that the helpless ship and everyone on it was doomed.

    Poor Shlomo wedged himself into some corner between two railings on the deck, grabbed onto a beam for dear life while the rain and wind battered and drenched him to the bone, closed his eyes and cried.

    Suddenly he felt something tug at his pants. He opened his eyes and saw several of the other passengers. They had somehow managed to crawl over to him and were desperate. One put his mouth next to the boy’s ear and screamed over the howling storm. “Pray!!! Pray!!!!”

    All of them were pointing to heaven and shouting the same thing “Pray!!! To your G-d!!! He rules the sea!!! Save us!!!”

    Little Shlomo understood what they meant. They probably had prayed to their gods with no success, and now they were desperately turning to him.

    He pulled himself up by the pole he was hugging, the merchants tried to hold him up as they could while trying to keep themselves from being washed away, and he prayed.

    “G-d!! Save us!! Do a miracle!!! Show these people that You are the King of the Universe!! I’m scared!! I want to go home!!”

    And he fell back down to his place weeping.

    Now, usually when G-d answers prayers it takes a while; weeks, even years. But not this time.

    In five minutes, the wind seemed to lose its fury, then the waves stopped rocking the boat. Shortly thereafter the sea became calm, the clouds began parting and in twenty minutes the sun was shining as though nothing had happened.

    If it weren’t for the puddles of water on deck and the two broken masts one could think that it all would have been a terrible dream.

    The other passengers realized what had happened and they were quick to show their appreciation. They took little Shlomo on their shoulders and began to sing and dance with joy.

    But the ship had been seriously damaged and the captain announced that they would stop for repairs at a nearby island where everyone could get off onto dry land until they resumed the journey in a day or two.

    The ship reached port and the passengers eagerly filed off the ship. But as they were all on dry land suddenly someone yelled out. “Hey! Where’s the boy?” “Yes” someone else asked aloud, “Where is he? Did anyone see him leave the ship.”

    After a few seconds they decided to go back and see what happened to little Shlomo. Maybe he didn’t have money. Maybe he was asleep and didn’t know they left. In any case they would fix it up.

    But as they returned back on board, they saw him just sitting there in his usual place on the deck reading.

    “Excuse us, my little friend” said one of the merchants, “Why are you sitting here? Why don’t you get off the ship and see the island? Didn’t you hear the captain say that it’s okay to leave the ship? We’ll be here for two days. Why not get off?”

    Shlomo just looked up at the people and said, “Thank you for being so kind, but to tell you the truth, I’m afraid. After all, I’m all alone and I’m weak. I’m not big and strong like you. Maybe I’ll even get lost. So, I think I’ll just stay here.”

    The passengers looked incredulously at one another then back at Shlomo and said. “What! What did you say?! YOU are alone and weak??

    “Why, you are NEVER alone. Wherever you go your G-d is with you! And your G-d rules the whole world, He even stopped the storm! There is nothing stronger than that.

    If there is anyone that is alone and weak it’s US!! Without you WE would have been lost!

    And they escorted him to the island.

    This answers our questions: Why did G-d send the flood, what does the rainbow mean and what is the Torah telling us here?

    The answer is that the world was created (and is continually being created) for a REASON and a GOAL; G-d wants to be revealed here in every detail. And this depends on us, on man doing, saying etc. what G-d wants.

    So at first, when everyone rejected this goal, there was no justification for their existence. Hence the flood.

    But nowadays it’s different; G-d promised Noach that He wouldn’t do it again. And that was signified by the rainbow.

    The Ramba’n (Moses ben Nachman) writes in his commentary on the Torah that the rainbow was an indication of how much this goal; the Creator being revealed in the worldm, like sunlight through the clouds, is being accomplished.

    Therefore, Ramba’N says, before the flood there was no rainbow! The world was so evil and coarse (something like the merchants in the beginning of our story), that there was no possibility that the revelation of the Creator could permeate. No one thought about Gd. Ever.

    But after G-d purified the world with the flood, and ‘light’ was able to shine through (like our passengers after the storm) the rainbow appeared.

    So that is the connection of the rainbow to G-d’s covenant with Noach. It shows that G-d has unconditional hope for mankind (who, after all, is created in G-d’s image) and there is always hope for harmony and beauty.

    But the rainbow contains even deeper messages.

    The Talmud (Ketuvot 77b) tells us that in the generation of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi (the author of the mystical masterpiece The Zohar some 1,800 years ago) there also was no rainbow. Because Rabbi Shimon HIMSELF, like the rainbow, was G-d’s sign that the world is being purified.

    And the Zohar (1:72b) tells us “When the rainbow is exceptionally brilliant…  the Moshiach is near.”

    Moshiach’s rainbow represents how even the evil sinners will realize the image of G-d within them. And nothing is as pleasing to G-d.

    As it says elsewhere in the Zohar that the Moshiach will cause EVERYONE, even the most righteous, to return to the truth.

    Then there will be a different type of flood; the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d like water fills the sea (Isiah 11:9) Then this physical world will shine with the infinite splendor and joy of a new rainbow.

    It all depends on us to make it happen and not much is lacking. We are standing on thousands of years of Jewish self-sacrifice and suffering. Now it could be that just one more good deed, word or even thought, can tip the scales and bring…..

    Moshiach NOW!!!

    Rabbi Tuvia Bolton
    Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim
    Kfar Chabad, Israel

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