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No one is condemned to a life of sin. It is always possible to change and to improve.

This week’s Torah portion is one of everyone’s favorites! I’ll give you a hint: Who built the Ark? You guessed it… “Noah!” (Genesis 6:9-11:32).

The reading opens with an entirely corrupt world, except for Noah and his family, and God decides He wants to destroy mankind and start again. God destroys the world by means of a flood, saving Noah and family from the waters by having him build (and live in!) an ark.

After the flood, God promises Noah that He will never again flood the world. To show that He is serious, God designates the rainbow as the reccurring symbol of his promise. There is some discussion as to whether the rainbow was created during the six days of Creation and was now simply designated as God’s sign that He would never again flood the world, or if the rainbow was created later on for the purpose of serving as the sign.

It is interesting to note that virtually every religion and culture includes in its tradition the story of a devastating flood during pre-historic (biblical) times.

There are many commentaries and interpretations on the rainbow. One is related to Noah’s failure to convince others to repent for their evil ways and thereby avert the flood. Indeed, Noah is so badly blamed for the flood that the prophet calls the flood “The Waters of Noah.” Some say that Noah made no effort whatsoever to urge the people to repent. When God told him of His decision to destroy mankind, they say, Noah was simply happy to hear that he and his family would be saved. Hence, the flood was Noah’s fault.

On the other hand, when Abraham heard that God was planning to destroy Sodom, he begged God not to do it! Although he wasn’t successful, his efforts were exemplary.

The question is asked: Why did Noah not urge others to repent and thereby possibly avert the flood?

It is explained that Noah assumed there was no hope that the situation or the decree would change. He didn’t believe that the people would mend their sinful ways no matter how many warnings of a flood he would give. In other words, he had no hope for mankind. He believed they were doomed, that they could never change.

This is where the rainbow comes in. We are told that while the world was flooding, the celestial bodies ceased functioning. There was no sunrise or sunset. No seasons. Nothing. The world was essentially still as the rain came down. When the flood was over, not only did the sunshine return in a major way, but a bright and colorful rainbow also appeared.

This was intended to serve as a hint to Noah, and everyone else, that no matter how “dark” a situation is, it is always possible that it will become bright and colorful once again. No one is condemned to a life of sin. It is always possible to change and to improve. The rainbow represents the potential of every single person, no matter where he or she is in life, to turn over a new leaf. Indeed, the many colors of the rainbow represent the many different types of people in the world and who should all unite for the purpose of helping one another become closer to God.

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.