The Rainbow Covenant
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Noah leaves the ark, builds an altar, and brings animal offerings to the altar. God responds by making a covenant never to destroy the world again through a flood. God states that the rainbow (keshet in Hebrew) will be a reminder to man of God’s covenant. Many commentators ask why God chose the rainbow as a sign of this covenant?
Ramban offers the following answer. The Hebrew term used for a rainbow is keshet, which also means bow. The rainbow appears like a bow, positioned to point its arrows upward toward the sky. God is communicating to humankind that He will no longer point His arrows towards the earth to destroy it. Chizkuni provides a different answer (based on the prophet Yechezkel’s vision): “Like the appearance of the bow which shines in the clouds on a day of rain, such was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. That was the appearance of the semblance of the Presence of the LORD. When I beheld it, I flung myself down on my face. And I heard the voice of someone speaking.” (Yechezkel 1:28) When the rainbow appears after the rain, it is as if God is saying: “I am showing you a glimpse of My beauty to assure you that I will not destroy the earth with rain.”
Rabbi Frand quotes Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s beautiful answer to the message of the Rainbow. Noah was unsuccessful in convincing the people of his generation to repent and return to God. It took Noah 120 years to build the ark, and yet, there was not even one person that he managed to bring close to God. Rabbi Meir Shapiro suggests that Noah felt that the people of his generation were so wicked that it was pointless and impossible to bring them over to Godliness and spirituality. He gave up hope on his generation and, therefore, failed to influence them positively. Before a storm, the sky gets dark and blocks out the sunlight. The clouds then disperse and the light of the sun returns to brighten the sky and to form a beautiful rainbow. We should never give up on any individual, no matter how far that person has fallen. Behind the dark clouds, the light of the sun is just waiting to emerge. Our task is to disperse the large, dark clouds and allow God’s light to reveal the true beauty hidden in every person.