Parashat Noach Plaut p. 64
Source Sheet by Yair Robinson
(12) God further said, “This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. (13) I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. (14) When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, (15) I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (16) When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.
(יב) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים זֹ֤את אֽוֹת־הַבְּרִית֙ אֲשֶׁר־אֲנִ֣י נֹתֵ֗ן בֵּינִי֙ וּבֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם וּבֵ֛ין כָּל־נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתְּכֶ֑ם לְדֹרֹ֖ת עוֹלָֽם׃ (יג) אֶת־קַשְׁתִּ֕י נָתַ֖תִּי בֶּֽעָנָ֑ן וְהָֽיְתָה֙ לְא֣וֹת בְּרִ֔ית בֵּינִ֖י וּבֵ֥ין הָאָֽרֶץ׃ (יד) וְהָיָ֕ה בְּעַֽנְנִ֥י עָנָ֖ן עַל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וְנִרְאֲתָ֥ה הַקֶּ֖שֶׁת בֶּעָנָֽן׃ (טו) וְזָכַרְתִּ֣י אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֗י אֲשֶׁ֤ר בֵּינִי֙ וּבֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם וּבֵ֛ין כָּל־נֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּ֖ה בְּכָל־בָּשָׂ֑ר וְלֹֽא־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה ע֤וֹד הַמַּ֙יִם֙ לְמַבּ֔וּל לְשַׁחֵ֖ת כָּל־בָּשָֽׂר׃ (טז) וְהָיְתָ֥ה הַקֶּ֖שֶׁת בֶּֽעָנָ֑ן וּרְאִיתִ֗יהָ לִזְכֹּר֙ בְּרִ֣ית עוֹלָ֔ם בֵּ֣ין אֱלֹהִ֔ים וּבֵין֙ כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֔ה בְּכָל־בָּשָׂ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
Many of us love this particular section of the text: after the deluge, the horror of annihilation, there comes the Rainbow, a symbol of a hopeful future. The problem, of course, is that the rainbow was not a miraculous thing; it is, in fact, a natural phenomenon, no different than a sunrise or sunset, and the rabbis of old knew this.
How do we square this disagreement? Sure, we as a people are good at looking for signs–see faces in power outlets, see all kinds of things in the clouds. Is that all this is?
Perhaps, then, the text is trying to teach us something else. Perhaps, the rainbow is not merely a natural phenomenon, nor a sign that God is going to fix everything, but something else entirely. That in fact, we shouldn’t have to wait for a sign from God to do what needs to be done, what our tradition teaches us to do, to make this world what it should be. Whether it’s through tzedakah, or prayer, or providing a sympathetic ear when someone is struggling, or bearing witness to horror when we can’t be there ourselves to help others. Our rabbis were keenly aware of this. They, after all, coined the phrase: pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on us.
In this moment of darkness we may wish there were a sign–a miracle–to heal the wounds of this world. We can wish for them, wish for the rainbow, but better to put ourselves to use, to work for the betterment of others, whether in Israel and Gaza or here in our own communities. May it be so. Amen.