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The Symbol of G-d’s Everlasting Promise

by Risi Adler
December 18, 2018
photo credit: Noam Shahaf

“Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.”

Winter in Israel is in full swing, and that means rainy season – which means rainbows. People get excited to see rainbows and are quick to point them out – but rainbows hold a great significance in Jewish culture that people tend to forget about. The significance is so great that the rabbis made a blessing for the Jewish people to recite upon seeing a rainbow.

We all remember the story of Noah and the Ark from Genesis. God sent a flood to destroy the world, but saved Noah and his family, along with pairings of each animal. They survived the 40 days and 40 nights of rain on an ark, which God instructed Noah how to build. When the rain finally stopped, God sent a rainbow as a sign, “And God said: ‘This is the sign of the covenant, which I am placing between Me and between you, and between every living soul that is with you, for everlasting generations. My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I cause clouds to come upon the earth, that the rainbow will appear in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and between you and between every living creature among all flesh, and the water will no longer become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will see it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and between every living creature among all flesh, which is on the earth.’” (Genesis 9: 12-16). Rainbows are a sign of peace and hope, they are the sign of the promise that God will never destroy the world again. When we see the rainbow, we make a blessing reminding God and ourselves of that promise.

It is also important to remember what a rainbow is. Normally, clouds block the sun, whose light we see as white. But, when a cloud is thin enough, it reveals the sunlight’s “true colors.” This can be seen as a metaphor for our material, physical existence. The material world can often act as a cloud which attempts to block out God’s light – though even the darkest storm cloud can’t block the light completely – stormy days are not as dark as night. One who completely eliminates any materialism will have the bright, blinding light of a cloudless day. The ideal, however, in this world, is to find the correct balance between physical and spiritual, and a person who achieves that balance is like a thin cloud or mist through whom God’s full range of colors can shine.

The Talmud warns against gazing at a rainbow. The reason for this is if we get too entranced by the rainbow, which is actually a cloud, we can forget to look beyond it at the sun. As you may remember from our Blessing of the Trees article, Judaism holds a deep appreciation for natural beauty. In fact, there is a whole list of blessings that are recited over various natural phenomena and beautiful things, smells, and tastes. We are encouraged to appreciate the beauty of this world and use blessings as a tool to remind ourselves that all of the beauty of this world comes from a divine source, from God.

With too many terror attacks and death over the past week, including the loss of a three day old baby, the people of Israel can look up at the rainbow and be reminded that God is always watching over us and keeping His eternal promise.