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Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari Enkin, rabbinic director, United with Israel.

After the Flood, God promised that He would never again flood the world. But God wanted a reminder of this promise, and therefore, He created the rainbow. But does God really need a reminder?

After the flood, the Torah says: “I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth… And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look upon it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living being, among all flesh that is upon the earth.” [Genesis 9:13-16].

The Torah is telling us that after the Flood, God promised that He would never again flood the world. But God wanted a reminder of this promise, and therefore, He created the rainbow. It is taught that whenever God gets angry and is tempted to destroy the world, He looks at the rainbow and reminds Himself of His promise.

Huh? God needs a reminder?!?!? What’s going on here?

The commentators explain that the rainbow is not a reminder for Him, but a reminder for us. When we see the rainbow, we are supposed to examine our deeds, and realize that God might desire to destroy the world again…but He doesn’t due to His promise. As such, the rainbow is a reminder to live a life of goods deeds and to repent for what we do wrong.

We are told that we should not stare at a rainbow. But why? It’s so beautiful, lots of pretty colors, it’s when the sun has just come out! What could be wrong with looking at it?

The answer is…that is precisely the problem! When we look at a rainbow we only see the superficial material aspects of the rainbow. We only pay attention to its beauty, and the like. But what we should be ‘seeing’ when we see the rainbow is the story of Noah! A desire to do good deeds! We should be recalling the immorality that gripped the world in Noah’s time. By merely saying “Wow! The rainbow is so beautiful” is essentially the exact opposite of God’s intention for having put it there in the first place!

One sages compared admiring a rainbow simply for its beauty to a situation where a father who was terribly angry with his child, raised his hand to hit him. Imagine the scene. The father is livid and the expression on his face manifests extreme dissatisfaction with his child. The child looks up and is suddenly amused by his father’s facial expression. Such a reaction will anger the father even more! This might be the situation if our only reaction to a rainbow is admiration for the rainbow’s beauty.

I’m not saying that we should completely ignore the rainbow or dismiss its beauty. In fact, there is even a blessing that should be recited when seeing a rainbow! But the rainbow shouldn’t simply be dismissed as a function of nature, or looked upon only for its beauty. We when we see a rainbow we should use the opportunity for a quick moment of pause, and ask ourselves, “Am I serving God the best I can?”

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah reading, click on the links below: