Over the rainbow

Clouds of sin can obscure the rainbow, the sign of our Covenant with Hashem. Its semicircular shape is not random, but deeply symbolic.

Danny Ginsbourg‏ ,

Rainbow , 18.01.09
Rainbow , 18.01.09
Flash 90
We read in our Parsha:(9:8-16)’And G-d said to Noach..

I establish My covenant with you and your offspring..;Never again..shall there be a flood to destroy the earth; And G-d said:This is the sign of the covenant..;I have set My rainbow in the cloud and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth; And it shall happen, when I place a cloud over the earth, and the bow will be seen in the cloud;..I will remember My covenant..and the water shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh’.

The Netziv expounds the words:’This is the sign of the covenant’:’Meaning that Hashem showed Noach a rainbow, miraculously without there being any clouds, for the purpose of the covenant’.

Why was it necessary for Hashem to show Noach how the rainbow looked? Our Sages say (Avot 5:9) that the rainbow was one of the ’Ten things created on the eve of Shabbat of creation’!Why, then, did Noach not know how it looked?

Answers the Abarbanel:’True, the rainbow already had been created; however, the condensation on the earth from which the clouds were formed, was so dense, that, the quantity of water that ascended from the earth, precluded the rays of the sun, whose reflection in the clouds, creates the appearance of the rainbow, from being seen from the ground’.

‘This density’, he adds, ‘resulted in the clouds being so full of water, that, when they descended, flooded the earth.

‘Now, to prevent there ever being another flood, Hashem in His mercy, reduced the condensation, thereby thinning the clouds, so that the sun’s rays could be seen in the clouds- and so, too, the rainbow.

‘This is the sign, which Hashem now showed Noach, as a sign of His covenant’.

The Lissa Gaon brings a beautiful insight to this:’The sins of the generation of the flood were so pervasive-‘the earth was filled with robbery, from them’- that their transgressions created ‘clouds of sin‘ in the air, so dense, that Hashem’s light could not be seen on earth-and precluded the rainbow from being seen, by man’.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch provides another answer to this question:’There is no need to say that until this time there were no rainbows in the clouds, and it was only ‘created’ as a result of the changes wrought in the atmosphere after the flood.

‘We find that Hashem showed the new moon- which clearly had waxed and waned since Creation- to Moshe and Aaron, as a sign when to sanctify the New Moon; similarly now, Hashem showed them the rainbow, as a sign of the covenant He now entered into with them.

This, in the literal sense, is the meaning of the words נתתי:’I have given my rainbow in the cloud’: from the days of Creation I gave my rainbow in the clouds; from here on, it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth’.

Why did Hashem choose the rainbow, as the sign of His covenant?

Answers the Ramban:’The bow in the cloud was not made with its ‘feet’- its two extremities- facing upwards, which would allude to it being, as it were, poised to shoot arrows at the earth, but was ‘upside down’, to denote that it- alluding to Hashem- would not shoot arrows at the earth.

‘This is the way of the warriors, to ‘reverse’ their bows, when they make peace with their enemies’.

Rav Gedalia Schorr brings an insight of Rav Yehoshua from Kutna:’The rainbow is a half circle, to teach man that he cannot do whatever he is minded to do, as this can lead to destruction of the world.

‘The generation of the flood gave full rein to their powers, and desires, without any limitation; and the result was that ‘the earth was full of theft’, and the flood was decreed.

‘Hashem, to fulfill His covenant, to never again bring a flood on the earth, therefore now weakened the ability, and the desire, of man to do as he wished.

‘This was symbolized by the semi-circular form of the rainbow, to teach man of the limits to his actions and to his desires, and that he would never again be permitted to do as he wished, and thereby lead to the need to bring a flood to destroy the world’.

Rabenu Bahya adds:’Know that the rainbow is not seen on every cloudy day, nor on every day that rain falls; it only appears when the generation is sinful, to warn them, when they see the rainbow, of the need to repent’, and reminding them of Hashem’s love for them- as exemplified His covenant to never again to bring a flood on mankind.

A concluding thought from Rav Yehonathan Eibschitz:’True, by the form in which the rainbow appears, it signifies that Hashem will not, as it were, fire arrows at us; however, conversely, at the same time, its form ‘enables man on earth, כביכול, to fire arrows at the Heavens.

‘When we transgress the Mitzvot, we are, as it were, ‘firing arrows at Hashem’!

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.