Parshas Noach: Lessons from the Rainbow

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Noach, as a result of the sinful ways of mankind, Hashem destroys the whole world in the Deluge, saving only Noach, his wife Naama (Rashi to Gen.4:22), their three sons Shem, Cham and Yafes, and the wives of their sons.

In the aftermath of the flood, G-d introduces the sign of His covenant that He will never entirely destroy the world again: אֶתקַשְׁתִּי, נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן; וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץMy bow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth; וְהָיָה, בְּעַנְנִי עָנָן עַלהָאָרֶץ, וְנִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת, בֶּעָנָן, and it will be, when I cloud a cloud upon the earth, and the bow is seen in the cloud;  וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶתבְּרִיתִי, אֲשֶׁר בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם, וּבֵין כָּלנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה, בְּכָלבָּשָׂר וְלֹאיִהְיֶה עוֹד הַמַּיִם לְמַבּוּל, לְשַׁחֵת כָּלבָּשָׂר, and I will remember My covenant that is between Me and between you, and between every living creature of all flesh, and the waters will be no more as a flood to destroy all flesh (Bereishis 9:13-15).

Rashi teaches: בענני ענן. כְּשֶׁתַּעֲלֶה בְמַחֲשָׁבָה לְפָנַי לְהָבִיא חֹשֶׁךְ וַאֲבַדּוֹן לָעוֹלָם, When I cloud a cloud upon the earthWhen I have in mind to bring darkness and destruction to the world [I will see the bow and remember My oath].

When Hashem sees the rainbow, keviyachol, He is reminded of His promise and will never destroy all of mankind and all living beings in a deluge again.  While the rainbow is a beautifully, breathtaking natural wonder, it is actually a sign that though the generation is sinful, Hashem has promised that He will never again flood the entire world.

There are many natural phenomena that could have been chosen as a manifestation of Hashem’s promise.  What is the significance of the rainbow that it was chosen as a sign of G-d’s bris to never destroy the world again?  Moreover, what is the lesson to us, to mankind, in the diverse colors of the rainbow?

R’ Shalom Rosner, quoting R’ Avraham Rivlin, writes, “One of the unique and beautiful aspects of a rainbow is its spectrum of colors.  What do all the different colors of the rainbow symbolize?

“It stands as a lesson to all mankind about the sin of the generation of the mabul (deluge).  In that generation, everyone lived for themselves, without considering others or including themselves in the collective.  The Torah tells us that the world was filled with theft, fraud, and injustice.  People cared for themselves and lacked concern and compassion for other people and their property.

“The rainbow symbolizes unity.  What a beautiful sight when all the colors come together and form a rainbow.  What a beautiful world it would be if people of different persuasions, of different hashkafot, would respect each other and come together.  If we do not want to be deserving of another mabul, then we have to be a united people.  Each person can be an individual, but that individual has to be within the spectrum.  The rainbow symbolizes diversity within unity” (Shalom Rav, p.31-32).

As we read Parshas Noach this coming Shabbos, it behooves us all to remember the lesson of the rainbow… In a world where so many rise up against us to slander, defame, debase and destroy us, we have no one but each other.  If only we could face the world with unity amongst ourselves, respect each other and come together, perhaps we too will merit a bow of (proverbial) light in a world of darkness.   

The holy Baal Shem Tov zt’l (1698-1760) taught that there is no Jew who does not have some good quality, some spark of holiness.  Two times in the Torah we find the command “to love”. “Love Hashem, your G-d” (Deut.6:5), and “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Lev.19:18).  This comes to teach us that our love for Jews must equal our love for G-d.  We must love G-d, despite the fact that at times He seems to act against us… And so, we must love every Jew – even if we decry his actions (Tales of the Righteous, p.70).

In regard to the lesson of the rainbow, R’ Rosner further writes, “R’ Meir Shapiro asks: It took Noach several hundred years to build the ark, so how is it that he was unable to influence even one individual?  Apparently, Noach’s heart was not in the task.  He gave up on the people of his generation” (Shalom Rav, p.32).

Had Noach really believed in the capacity and ability of the people of his time to change, he would have managed to at least influence some of them!  According to this interpretation, the failing then was not in the people, but in Noach himself.  From here we derive a most important life lesson.

Concludes R’ Rosner, “When a teacher or rebbe does not have faith in his students, they will certainly not succeed.  The rainbow is a bright burst of color on an otherwise dreary, rainy day.  It is symbolic of not giving up on others no matter how dark the situation may seem.  If we keep trying, we might be able to suddenly see our influence on our students and witness them beginning to shine.  We need to believe in them and encourage them to expose their true colors” (Shalom Rav, p.32-22).

The great chassidic master, R’ Yisrael of Ruzhin (1796-1850, Ukraine), used to say, “One must never despair of a Jew.  Every Jew, even a wicked one, maintains some small link with Judaism.  When a bucket falls into a deep well, it is possible to pull it up from the bottom, as long as it is connected to a rope.  It could be a thick rope or a very thin rope, as long as there is a rope” (Tales of the Righteous, p.210).

We must unite together, one nation under G-d, even if we may disagree with each other; and we must remember that every Jew is just that: a Jew, ultimately always connected to the RS”O, in whom (and in Whom) we must never lose faith.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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