In our parashah, God brings the deluge because human beings have become sinful and spread violence over the earth. However, he decides to save Noah who is a righteous man, with his family and specimens of each species, so as not to destroy the whole of his creation. So he commands Noah to build an ark and to stay in it with the living creatures God wants to spare during the deluge. After the deluge is over Noah, his family and all the beasts he brought with him in the ark come out. This coming out of the ark marks for them a new beginning.
In our lives, we also undergo similar situations. Sometimes, we go through very tough experiences and then when all is over we start something else and build something from our ‘new world’.
This is the case when we undergo a serious illness, when we mourn a loved one or when we go through a major crisis in professional or family life. During these difficult periods when it seems that our entire world is falling down, when we feel submerged by difficulties we cannot overcome, we are like Noah in his ark. To be able to pass through the crisis, we tend to close in on ourselves, to limit our social interaction and to retreat from the world, so as to try to recover from this difficult situation.
And then… the crisis is over. The illness is cured or managed, the pain of mourning lessens; crises are resolved. However after such experiences our world does not stay the same.
So, what can we do with this new start?
It could be that the crisis was linked to our own errors in which case one of the first thing to do is to reflect on the way to avoid its repetition.
And that is precisely what God does when Noah, his family and the creatures with them go out of the ark after the flood. We are told the earth was full of violence because of the evil nature of human beings. In chapter 8, verse 21, God acknowledges that human being possess an inclination to do bad things. God says it “to his heart”, which means, according to the Midrash Haggadol, that he told absolutely nobody about that. It is like when we recognise we missed a point and then notice it ourselves, but do not boast about it…
It seems that previously, God did not take the limitations of human beings into account and imposed rules on them were not capable of controlling them. This ended in a general break down and the only solution left was to destroy nearly everything.
As a condition of the new covenant that God makes with his creation, human beings are allowed to eat meat (Chapter 9, verse 3). Indeed, previously all the creatures were vegetarian. Maybe, by this way, God wanted them not to kill each other to feed themselves. But it did not prevent them from killing one another – especially, human beings to kill their fellows. So, in letting human beings kill animals to feed themselves, maybe God wanted it to act as a catharsis, so as they would not kill one another?
But we all know that it is not enough – still nowadays, terrible wars and crimes occur in the world. So, to limit the “murderous instinct” of humans, God decided that a killer would be punished by death (Chapter 9, verses 5-6).
Despite all these precautions, we know that crisis situations remain possible. Yet we must always remember that we have suffered before and managed to start anew. In other world, we will have to keep hope for a better future, and a thoughts on all that is beautiful and precious in life, even in bad times.
And how is this hope symbolised in our parashah?
By the rainbow.
How is a rainbow produced?
When the sky darkens and it begins to rain, but the sun is still here behind us, then the white sunlight goes through the drops of rain, and the drops distinguishes the light in the infinity of colours that it contains, from red to purple. And the beauty of this light, which is invisible to us in normal times, strikes us. Indeed, all these colours which are always components of the sunlight are now discernible, whereas in normal times they are all melted together and it is impossible to isolate them.
Similarly, when things begin to go wrong in our lives, and we think back to all the good things that occurred for us in the past, we realise how life is precious. In normal times, we often do not pay attention to all the beauty of life. But when it disappears – then, we realise how it was beautiful. The hope to grasp again this beauty in the future, or even to find sparks of it in the dark present, or to discover other beautiful things that we did not notice, can help us to pass through our difficulties. As we pay more attention to the good things that we possess, the “dark present” will seem less dark.
If we consider God’s point of view in our parashah, what may the rainbow symbolise?
The rainbow is composed of an infinity of nuances. These nuances can allude to the beauty and the diversity of the creation. So, when God will “see” the rainbow, it is as if he were looking at his creation and at its beautiful component… and so, he will remember that some things are worthwhile in his world and he will not be willing to destroy it anymore. Furthermore, the Hebrew letters of “qeshet”, the bow, can make the root “shin – tav – qof” in another order. And one of the meanings of this root is to appease. So, it seems that the “qeshet” has a power to bring appeasement to the one who watches it.
Student rabbi Iris Ferreira (Paris)
The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.