Akiba Academy Of Dallas

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Parshat Noach

Walking through the early childhood building this morning, I was drawn to the magnificent representations of rainbows hanging on Morah Lindsey's bulletin board. Our youngest students experimented with color and shape to recreate a rainbow's pattern of hues in arcing lines. This week's parashah inspired the magnificent artwork, as God's display of the rainbow in the heavens signifies for Noach that the world will never again be destroyed by water. As I surveyed the student work I was struck by the dissonance between rainbows' beauty and the stigma that they possess within Jewish tradition. Rainbows in our tradition are considered bad omens, signs that Hashem is angered with us and must be reminded of the promise made to Noach; some Jewish teachings warn us not to call others' attention to rainbows because we do not want to be bearers of bad news. As I viewed the student artwork with these ideas in mind, I became increasingly perplexed: How could Hashem use such an amazingly beautiful spectacle to convey such a warning? Perhaps the rainbow signifies Hashem's love and compassion for humanity; instead of solidifying a covenant with humankind through thunder and lightning or an earthquake, Hashem chose a gentler and kinder reminder for us. Still, I cannot help but wonder: is there not another interpretation of the rainbow that could place this natural wonder into a more glorious light? With this question in mind, I encountered several commentators who provide a more positive perspective on the rainbow. Rav Meir Shapira (19th century Poland) notes that rainbows only appear on bleak days, in the midst of clouds, and never when it is perfectly sunny. Even in the greyest of situations, light can burst forth, a glimmer of hope when all is dark.  Rabbi Shlomo Riskin comments on a different aspect of rainbows: the shape. An arch is merely a semi-circle. G-d's covenant not to destroy the world is half the promise; humans must partner with G-d to complete the other half the circle and ensure the continuity of a good and flourishing world. Finally, Rabbi Aharon Soloveitchik's explanation of the rainbow offers the most vivid interpretation of the sign. Using a scientific explanation as his starting point, he explains how a rainbow refracts rays of sunlight into the component colors that create pure white light. Each human was created with the spark of Hashem, a white light, inside. Nonetheless, each human also has an individual color that emanates from his or her own uniqueness. Humans all begin with the same white light and, together, they can ultimately generate white light to illuminate the world with their diverse contributions to it.

Shabbat Shalom!