The Rainbow (Parashat Noach 5781)

Posted on by Rabbi Barbara Symons

Parashat Noach 5781

I am sorry to say, but I have a problem with the rainbow in the Noah’s Ark story. And I love rainbows. After every rain when the sky begins to clear, I go outside seeking rainbows.

I am ready with our rainbow blessing: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to [Your] covenant, and keeps [Your] promise.

At the end of the Noah’s Ark story, this is what we read (Genesis 9:9-17):

“I now establish My covenant with you and your offspring to come,

10 and with every living thing that is with you—birds, cattle, and every wild beast as well—all that have come out of the ark, every living thing on earth.

11 I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come.

13 I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.

14 When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds,

15 I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.

17 That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.”

The issue I have with the rainbow is that it shows up too late. It shows up when God brings clouds over the earth… but I, who look for rainbows know that the rainbow comes after the storm. The storm is already over.

Therefore, this sign of the covenant seems to be less about God remembering the covenant, than a reminder to us, to humanity. We need to do our part before the rains begin.

The Torah Haiku writers came to the same conclusion in what seems to be a rhetorical question:

The rainbow’s a sign
But is it to remind man
Or to remind G-d?

So the question is: what is our side of the covenant? God will not wipe out the earth and we…?
Going back to the text:

6:5 Adonai saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth,

and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.

6:11 The earth became corrupt before God;

the earth was filled with lawlessness.

To what do these words refer: wickedness, corrupt, lawlessness? Per our commentaries: lewdness and idolatry, robbery, abusing women

On this beautifully warm sunny day let us look around. We see wickedness. We see corruption. We hear untruths. We witness lawlessness. We see women being abused. And it is about to start raining.

Per Jewish belief, even if we are not perpetrators, we are responsible. Abraham Joshua Heschel said: Some are guilty, all are responsible.

We need to take action. We need to continue educating ourselves. When the listening gets hard, we need to listen harder. We need to vote. We need to mark tragedy – our own such as October 27 and our fellow Americans’ tragedies and do everything in our power to prevent them in the future. We need to work toward meriting the same description Noah had: righteous, blameless in his age and walking with God.

And then, when we look up at rainbows, we will know that the covenant was two-sided.

We will say: Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe,

who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to [Your] covenant, and keeps [Your] promise.

And perhaps God will respond: Blessed are you, humanity who I created, who remembers the covenant, is faithful to your covenant and keeps your promise.

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