וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים אֶל־נֹחַ זֹאת אוֹת־הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר הֲקִמֹתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵין כָּל־בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל־הָאָרֶץ׃
“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.” (Genesis 9:17)
In this week’s Torah portion, we read of G-d’s near-complete destruction of the world and its inhabitants, and His subsequent promise never to destroy the world again. This was to be a covenant between “G-d and every living creature”, where “G-d” is represented by the word E-lokim, indicating the Divine Attribute of גבורה (gevurah - stern judgment). G-d selected the קשת (keset- rainbow) to be the sign of this covenant.
In verse 12, the word “generations” is written in a short form, דרת instead of דורות, without the vav-cholem vowels. When Biblical words are written in this fashion, they are called חסר” ,lacking”. Rashi (loc. cit) cites Midrash Rabba, where the Sages have stated that the word is spelled חסר in this instance to indicate that there would be generations that would not require the rainbow, because of the presence of tzaddikim, completely righteous people. The two vavs correspond to the generations of Chizkiyahu HaMelech (King Hezekiah) and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. A curious custom has developed for Lag BaOmer, the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai where children are given toy bows-and-arrows to play with, because the word קשת means both “rainbow” and “bow”.
What does it mean for a generation not to require the rainbow? In verse 14, we read, “when I (G-d) bring clouds over the earth”, which appears to refer to rain. Yet, Rashi explains this to mean, “when it arises in My Mind to bring darkness and devastation to the world.” Lest the sins of mankind and the aberrance of nature reach the level of debauchery of the generation preceding the Flood, G-d will see the rainbow in the clouds and will remember His promise not to destroy the world by Flood again. Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrahi (c. 1455-c. 1525) writes, in his supercommentary on Rashi, that the elements in the verse are somewhat out of sequence. G-d does not forget anything; this idea is mentioned on Rosh Hashanah. Rather, the rainbow is a sign to us that G-d honors His promise, despite our culpability.
In the gemara (Menachot 36b), the suggestion that the Jewish mitzvah of wearing tefillin (phylacteries) applies on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays is rejected on the basis of the verse 1 “and you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand” (Deuteronomy 6:8). The Sabbath is also referred to as “an eternal sign between Me and the children of Israel” (Exodus 31:17). Therefore, since the Sabbath itself is a sign, no additional sign is required.
In a similar vein, the presence of righteous people in a generation is sufficient to mitigate the Divine attribute of judgment, and to transform it into Divine compassion. It appears that when we sanctify our lives through right action, both in our service of G-d and our love of humanity, the effect is as vibrant and radiant as the beautiful colors of the rainbow; the rainbow is then not needed.
We must think globally, and act locally, nurturing the seeds of righteousness within ourselves, and searching for those people who, by dint of their holiness and purity, sustain the world as Noach the Tzaddik himself did.
May we be blessed to be in the company of tzaddikim.
By Rabbi Tani Burton
Tani Burton is a life coach, psychotherapist, author and educator living in Jerusalem, Israel. A special interest of his is the Torah's universal message for humanity, its prescription for right living, a close and personal relationship with
G-d, and the opportunities we all have to make the world a better place. \
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Republished by Angelique Sijbolts with permission for the Noahide Academy.