Noah – The Rainbow

When the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth. (Bereishit 9:16).

The Rainbow

When the rainbow
appears in the clouds,
will you see and remember?

I forswore destruction.
Will you save the earth
and its untold species?

I inverted the bow:
a weapon transformed.
Will you pursue peace?

I forged but one human race.
Will you cherish the beauty
of the spectrum’s every shade?

In recent years, the Shabbat on which we read Parashat Noah has become one of the Shabbatot on which environmental issues are emphasized. This week’s Parasha describes the maintenance of biodiversity (the degree of variation of life forms) recounting the careful preservation of every species on earth in Noah’s ark. The text describes the instruction to take a male and female of every animal species. The Midrash adds that after the flood, the world was defoliated and bare. Noah and his family had stored in the ark seeds of all plants and trees, which they  then sowed in order to “green the planet”.

Symbolized by the rainbow, God made a covenant with Noah and his descendants and indeed all living creatures, never again to destroy the world. Yet human activity is causing insidious destruction. Rapid environmental changes typically cause mass extinctions. One estimate is that less than 1%-3% of the species that once existed on Earth are still extant.  The period since the emergence of humans has displayed an ongoing biodiversity reduction caused mainly  by human activity, particularly habitat destruction.

The rainbow is symbolic in other ways. The Ramban suggests that the rainbow in the sky is an inverted bow. Such a bow would be pointing arrows away from the earth – a sign of peace.

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch brings a beautiful teaching about the rainbow. He says that the rainbow is one complete, pure, white ray of light, broken up into seven colours, which he interprets as a symbol of the manifold variety not only of all living creatures, but specifically of humanity. He says, “God unites them together in one common bond of peace, all fragments of one life, all refracted rays of the one spirit of God, even the lowest, darkest, most distant one [is] still a son of the light.”


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