Noah: Reminder of the Rainbow

rainbow-israelThe story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, “Why are you building a boat on a hill?” Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways (according to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask “How long can you tread water?”). We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people’s curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.

The generation does not do Teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. ah leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do Teshuva — to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Torah Portion of the Week
Noah, Genesis 6:9-11:32

The rainbow is a sign to do teshuvah. I’d never heard of that before or, if I had, it leaked out of my memory somewhere along the way.

The Jewish world has just completed the period of the High Holidays including Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most Holy and solemn day on the Jewish religious calendar, a day when every observant Jew seeks to repent and to beg God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others. The rest of the world, including most Christians, don’t have much regard for Jewish holidays, but for Christians, you’d think we might take a cue from the rainbow.

Of course, since we have the blood of Jesus covering our sins and we’ve been washed white as snow, most Christians don’t give a great deal of thought to ongoing repentance, forgiveness, and atonement. More’s the pity.

But this is about me, not you. No, I’m not writing this as an exercise in narcissism, but rather as my effort to continue to turn toward God and to seek His face.

The heart of those that seek God shall rejoice. Seek God and His might, constantly seek His countenance

Psalms 105:3-4

As I write this, I didn’t sleep well last night. I thought about seeking God, about recounting His wonders, about remembering His marvels and judgments, but my mind was too clouded and distracted. Reading the Bible while fighting fatigue was unproductive. All I could do was to try to cling to God and pray that He would grant me at least a little bit of rest.

I’ve resolved to meditate on and even to memorize His Word (some of it, anyway) as a way to keep Him and His teachings close to my heart. Last night wasn’t a good time to do that and it reminded me of just how far a journey I must yet travel.

sandy-little-ferry-flooding-hmed-4a_photoblog500If I had known last night what I know this morning, I might have meditated on a rainbow.

Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman says that the rainbow is both a curse and a blessing. It’s a curse because it is a reminder that the world deserves to be destroyed for its sins, but that God has promised by covenant not to do so by flooding. Such a grim reminder of destruction that, in slightly smaller ways, we still suffer from today. But then, what else can we say about the rainbow? Rabbi Ullman states this:

The generation of the flood indulged in this worldliness to the point of perversion. Their wanton obsession with variety and variation resulted in their abusing the full gamut of their G-d given powers for the purpose of impurity. The flood purged the world of this impurity and the rainbow was given as a sign and reminder of what results from inundating the world with indulgence. However, the same rainbow simultaneously reminds us to repent from the relentless pursuit of multiplicity drawing us away from G-d. It urges us to direct the full spectrum of our powers and interests over the rainbow to the One on High.

In this way the rainbow is at once both curse and blessing; transgression and repentance; seductively appealing and pristinely beautiful. It depends on what you’re looking for in life. And perhaps that’s why, although it’s forbidden to indulge in the rainbow’s beauty, one may gaze at it – for the purpose of doing teshuva and directing one’s pluralities to G-d — in order to make the blessing.

I think the rainbow is visually appealing so that it will draw our gaze and having done that, remind us that we must continually seek to repent, to do teshuvah, to be reminded that we have a purpose in this world that goes beyond pursuing our individual desires.

I’ll never look at a rainbow the same way again.

One of the fundamental differences in Jewish Law and Noahide Law is that, Jews do not actively pursue Jewish converts, among non-Jewish nations.

The B’nai Noah are already under the Seven Laws, and have been permanently warned concerning their observance, so it is not a matter of trying to “convert” someone, from one religion to another; for the Noahide Code is not a “religion;” and all organized “religions,” are prohibited for the Noahide.

For the Noahide, it is a matter of Teshuva (return to G-d), not proselytization. Similarly a Jew who grew up atheist or agnostic, or who had strayed from the Torah and converted to an idolatrous religion; when he realizes his mistake and returns to Judaism, he does not “convert” back to Judaism; it is a matter of Teshuva, or returning.

It is the same for a Noahide. Others proselytize, Noahides return.

“The Noahide Teshuva”
Gateway to Heaven

I include this quote because it suggests a very interesting idea. Jewish people are born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not. When a Jew leads a wholly secular life and later wants to return to God, as “Shlomo” says, that person doesn’t have to “convert” to Judaism, since they’re already Jewish and in relation to God. However, they do have to return to God, to do teshuvah, to repair the damage done in that relationship (I’ll argue that a Messianic Jewish person has not converted to Christianity but rather, made an even more complete return to God by becoming a disciple of Moshiach).

Blessed by GodMost Jewish people don’t recognize the Christian connection to God or that we are the beneficiaries of the blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham. However, they are quite willing to say, as “Shlomo” did above, that all non-Jews already have a covenant relationship with God through Noah. So, from that perspective, a Gentile does not have to “convert” to Judaism or anything else. The Gentile, like the Jew, is born already having a covenant relationship with God and on that basis, must return to God.

And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.

Galatians 3:16 (NASB)

Christianity is something else. No one is born a Christian. Even if you are born to parents who are believers, you are not automatically a believer. Each person negotiates their own relationship with God. On the other hand, the covenant God made with Abraham is very old and spans across human history just waiting for any and all of us to grasp it and experience the blessings of the seed, of Messiah. In that sense, are we converting to Christianity or returning to something God intended for us all along?

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

Not that all of us will, of course. But we each have a responsibility to turn…to return to Him. It is not a casual act and it’s not something you do once and then it’s done forever. I neglect my relationship with God at my own peril. God created each of us in His own image, and endowed us with free will and a desire to seek Him. Many of us twist or distort those gifts and either go our own merry way in chasing our pleasures, or in seeking “something” we can’t define, become lost in the maze of religions and philosophies, imagining we are wise by worshiping what isn’t alive or even real.

Another Shabbos approaches. Another opportunity to welcome the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) beckons. Will the glow of the candles symbolize the warmth of God in my home and my heart? Will I fill in the “missing rainbow colors” in that glow and see the reminder to repent and return?

“A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

-Peter Marshall

Good Shabbos.


12 thoughts on “Noah: Reminder of the Rainbow”

  1. Your comment from Rabbi Packouz, in which he cited 120 years as the period during which Noa’h built the ark reminded me to verify the verses which clarify the timing a bit more accurately. He was referring, I’m sure, to Gen.6:3 where HaShem states that the days of man shall be one hundred and twenty years. However, if we examine the reported lifespans of humans both before and after the flood we find that they were much greater than that, though after the flood they quickly diminished in each succeeding generation toward that number. Nonetheless, one reading of this verse is as a warning that only 120 years would remain until the end of almost all life on earth. Only sea creatures and the animals and humans in the ark would survive beyond that point. But there is a little more information presented about the timing, because in Gen.5:32, only 3 verses prior to HaShem’s “warning”, we find that Noa’h was 500 years old. It also tells us that he produced three sons, but obviously they were not all born in the same year, and presumably they had all been born before Noa’h’s 500th year. Now, immediately after HaShem’s “warning” in Gen.6:3 we find in Gen.6:13 the beginning of HaShem’s instructions to Noa’h about the ark. It seems fairly obvious that the reason we are told Noa’h’s age is to inform us when these instructions were given. If we skip ahead to Gen 7:6 we find that Noa’h was 600 years old when the flood began; and in Gen.8:13, after an enumeration of days that tells us a year passed before the ground was again dry enough for the survivors to leave the ark, we find a statement that this was in the six-hundred and first year. Therefore, Noa’h actually spent only 100 years at most in building the ark, collecting animals, and loading the ark before its one-year voyage. Thus HaShem’s “warning” in Gen.6:3 must have been stated 20 years before His instructions to Noa’h to build the ark. We’re not told to whom HaShem’s statement was given, or if it was merely His own observation, but we can recognize that He allowed 20 years to pass, in which human behavior might have begun to change if there were any willingness to do so, before He commissioned Noa’h to build that ark. Presumably, the existence of an ark on a hilltop should have sparked curiosity; and Noa’h would undoubtedly have explained its purpose. He might even have been much more active about preaching that destruction was coming and that repentance might possibly avert it.

    I hope this little contribution to the cause of accuracy in scriptural reading may be found entertaining.

    Shabbat Shalom

  2. I wonder… Why the prohibition on eating unclean animals is not part of the Noahide Laws? After all, Noah did know about clean and unclean animals, and of course didn’t eat any unclean animal while living at the ark… while it is probable that he had some chicken for dinner any of those long days…

    1. @alfredo — If one considers that the permission to eat animals at all was given only in Gen.9:4, and previously what HaShem had identified as food was entirely focused on green plants, one must infer that the distinction between clean and unclean animals was for another purpose, and that HaShem was planning the future human food supply in advance by giving a head-start to the population of clean animals that soon would begin to be consumed by humans. Possibly the clean animals were recognized as the ones suitable for sacrifices such as the one brought by Abel before Cain murdered him. So I don’t believe there were any chicken dinners on the ark, but one might infer logically that humans who began to eat the flesh of animals would take the most plentiful, which were the clean ones, probably beginning with those that were used for sacrifice. This is still not quite up to the standards of kashrut, but the command not to eat the blood along with the flesh was certainly a step in that direction.

      1. Thanks PL. So, no eating while being at the ark, but once out, after Gen 9:4, eating animals (probably clean animals since they where the most plentiful) was allowed. When you say that the command not to eat the blood along with the flesh was certainly a step in the direction of kashrut, do you think that establishing clean and unclean animals (without further explanation in the text, but obviously HaShem did indeed had to explain to Noah what were the distinctions between clean and unclean animals) was also a step toward a definition of animals to be considered as food? (Again, there is no explicit mention of that in the text, but again, HaShem could or might have explained that to Noah too…)

      2. The distinction between clean and unclean probably goes all the way back to Adam, since Abel knew what was an acceptable sacrifice. Nonetheless, humans were apparently vegetarians for more than a thousand years, until after the flood. Kashrut starts with a clean animal and then add a number of further considerations about its treatment, handling, slaughter, preparation, etc. So I don’t believe the clean and unclean categories were defined with future food in mind.

  3. Apparently more about clean and unclean animals was known at that point in time, before the Torah was formally given, than we see in the text.

  4. Interesting. I would have thought that if the Earth was so sinful prior to the flood, that at some point human beings would have tried to eat animals. Do you think that all humans were vegetarians prior to the flood or only righteous humans?

    1. @James : I think that probably they were already performing many unrighteous things, thus the Noahide Laws given by HaShem, so that Noah and his descendants would not incur in such things.

      On the other hand, @PL, I think that Abel even knew that it was acceptable to offer sheep from his flock. I guess that Adam and Chava would have advice both Abel and Cain to offer sheep, since they knew where their clothes came from, and knew that those animals were sacrificed because of their sin. “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” Because of sin, death entered the world…

    2. @alfredo & @James — Sheep are on the list of the “clean” animals, and apparently Abel kept a flock of them. However, prior to the flood the only mention of food refers to vegetation, so we may infer that the reasons for such flocks include sacrifice and animal by-products like milk, cheese, and other dairy products, and wool and hide for clothing. Even when HaShem was instructing Noa’h about what to load onto the ark, He mentions foodstuff for both humans and the animals in a manner that doesn’t imply any distinction between them. Considering some of the other innovations mentioned that were produced by key individuals, like the inventions of weapons and of musical instruments, I think that an innovation like eating animal flesh might have been sufficiently outstanding as to be mentioned. On the other hand, the fact that HaShem mentions it immediately after the flood, with a constraint about not eating the animal’s lifeblood, allows some inference that the idea had been considered and maybe even tried beforehand by those who showed no humanitarian mercy or concern toward the life of these animals.

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