This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Noach (5763)
This week we read the strange story of the flood.
The Torah tells us that after the flood G-d put a rainbow in the sky as a sign that He would never destroy the world's population again.
At first glance this is not understood.
First: the rainbow is a natural phenomenon. It occurs every time light is refracted through water vapor in the sky. What has it got to do with a heavenly covenant?
Secondly: Why did G-d chose a rainbow? Why does it symbolize His decision to not destroy the world?
To understand this here is a story.
Little Shlomo was ten years old but he wasn't afraid, or at least that's what he kept telling himself. He sat in warm sun on the ship's deck, feeling the breeze on his cheeks, reading the small book of T'hillim
(Psalms) that he brought along and tried to take his mind off the long trip that remained ahead of him.
It was two weeks between Morocco where his parents sent him to learn Torah and his home town in Madrid Spain. Once a year before Passover, he would return home and now he was in the middle of his journey.
The other passengers, non-Jewish merchants and travelers, rarely spoke to the boy but the few times they did the conversation got around to what god he believes in.
It seems that all traveling merchants carry some sort of statue or good-luck charm in their pockets or around their necks which they pray and make vows to in time of need. And comparing 'gods' was a common pastime.
But when little Shlomo answered that his G-d is invisible and rules the heavens and earth they snickered, winked at one another and said " The Jew is too cheap to buy and idol."
Well, as fate would have it on that very day a storm broke out. Shlomo sensed that something was wrong. Early in the morning the sky and sea had been unusually beautiful and placid the sailors were scurrying about securing everything on the deck that moved and lowering all the sails and a tension filled the air.
Suddenly the skies became frighteningly dark and cold winds began churning the sea into white foam. Waves began splashing across the deck of the ship and within minutes howling winds and roaring waves were smashing and tossing the ship in all directions as though there was no up or down, the sea and the sky had melted together in a wicked, black explosion of raw destruction and it seemed certain that the helpless ship and everyone on it was doomed.
Poor Shlomo wedged himself into some corner between two railings on the deck, grabbed onto a beam for dear life while the rain and wind battered and drenched him to the bone, closed his eyes and cried.
Suddenly he felt something tug at his pants. He opened his eyes and saw several of the other passengers. They had somehow managed to crawl over to him and were desperate. One put his mouth next to the boy's ear and screamed over the howling storm. "Pray!!! Pray!!!!"
All of them were pointing to heaven and shouting the same thing "Pray!!! To your G-d!!! Save us!!!"
Little Shlomo understood what they meant. They probably had tried to pray to their gods, obviously with no success, and now they were desperately turning to him.
He pulled himself up by the pole he was hugging, the merchants tried to hold him up as they could while trying to keep themselves from being washed away and the boy prayed.
"G-d!! Save us!! Do a miracle!!! Show these people that You are the King of the Universe!! I'm scared!! I want to go home!!"
And he fell back down to his place weeping.
Now, usually when G-d answers prayers it takes a while, sometimes even years.. But not this time.
In five minutes the huge waves stopped. Shortly thereafter the sea became calm and the clouds began parting. And in twenty minutes the sun was shining as though nothing had happened.
If it weren't for the puddles of water on deck and the two broken masts one could think that it all had been a terrible dream.
The other passengers realized what had happened and they were quick to show their appreciation. They took little Shlomo on their shoulders and began to sing and dance with joy.
But the ship had been seriously damaged and the Captain announced, to the relief of the passengers, that they would stop for repairs at a nearby island where everyone could get off onto dry land until they resumed the journey in a day or two.
The ship reached port and the passengers eagerly filed off the ship. But as they were all on the dock suddenly someone yelled out. "Hey! Where's the boy?" "Yes" someone else asked aloud, "Where is he? Did anyone see him leave the ship."
After a few seconds they decided to go back and see what happened to little Shlomo. Maybe he didn't have money. Maybe he was asleep and didn't know they left. In any case they would fix it up.
But as they returned to the ship they saw him just sitting there in his usual place on the deck reading.
"Excuse us, my little friend" said one of the merchants, "Why are you sitting here? Why don't you get off the ship and see the island? Didn't you hear the captain say that it's okay to leave the ship? We'll be here for two days. Why not get off?"
Shlomo just looked up at the people and said. "Thank you for being so kind, but to tell you the truth . I'm afraid. After all, I'm all alone and I'm weak. I'm not big and strong like you. So I think I'll just stay here."
The passengers looked incredulously at one another then back at Shlomo and said. "What! What did you say?! YOU are alone and weak??
"Why, You are NEVER alone. Wherever you go your G-d is with you! And your G-d rules the whole world, He even stopped the storm! There is nothing stronger than that.
If there is anyone that is alone and weak it's US!!
And they escorted him to the island.
This answers our question.
But before we continue let's just ask one more question. Why did G-d decide to kill everyone just because they were having a good time? What is the Torah telling us here?
The answer is it's telling us that the world was created (and is continually created) for a REASON and a GOAL; G-d wants to be revealed here.
And when everyone did the opposite there was no reason to keep them alive. (But nowadays it's different; G-d promised Noach that He wouldn't do it again.)
Now we can understand the rainbow. The Ramban writes that the rainbow was an indication of how much this goal; how much is G-d being revealed in the world, is being accomplished.
Therefore, he says, before the flood there was no rainbow! The world was so evil and coarse (something like the merchants in the beginning of our story), that there was no possibility that the revelation of the Creator could permeate.
But after G-d purified the world with the flood, and 'light' was able to shine through (like our passengers after the storm) the rainbow appeared.
So that is the connection of the rainbow to G-d's covenant with Noach. It shows that the purpose of creation is being carried out, if not by man then by HaShem Himself, and therefore He will not destroy the world no matter how bad it is.
But there is a second level of rainbow. The Talmud (Ketuvot 77b) tells us that in the generation of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi (the author of the mystical masterpiece The Zohar) there also was no rainbow. But then it was because Rabbi Shimon HIMSELF was like the rainbow. He was G-d's sign in the world that the world is being purified.
And there is yet a third level. The Zohar (1:72b) says "When you see the rainbow in exceptional brilliance then the Moshiach is near."
Noach's and Rabbi Shimon's rainbow represents how G-dly light permeates the creation. But Moshiach's rainbow represents how it permeates even the evil sinners. And nothing is as pleasing to G-d as the repentance (or 'return' as it is called in Judaism) of sinners
As it says elsewhere in the Zohar that the Moshiach will cause EVERYONE to return.. (in fact even the most righteous will see that they have to
Then there will be a different type of flood; the the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of HaShem like water fills the sea. Then this physical world will shine with the infinite splendor and joy of a new rainbow....
Copyright © 1999-2018 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.