This week, the rainbow seems to remind us that even where there is currently no active destruction, the middas hadin — divine trait of judgment — prevails. At any moment, the Creator could release His anger and selectively destroy any part of His universe (Maharal, Chiddushei Aggados, Rosh Hashanah 23b and Avodah Zarah 25a). This severe view of the universe comes only after Hashem nearly destroyed the entire world, saving only a few individuals who would be charged with rebuilding it, as Hashem intended. Even they ultimately failed in their quest, leaving it to Avrohom Avinu and Am Yisroel to perfect and return the world to its pristine pre-sin condition (Derech Hashem 2:4:3).
However, this somewhat dismal view of the post-diluvian world is only a small part of the picture. There is actually a much more optimistic shining through the colorful bow in the sky. First, let us examine when, exactly, Hashem created the first rainbow. The Ramban, unlike the Ibn Ezra, takes the strong position that the rainbow was part of creation all along, as the Mishnah (Avos 5:6) records. The simplest explanation of its significance is that Hashem used it as a reminder that He would no longer bring a flood upon the earth. However, the halachah concerning the brachah upon seeing a rainbow seems to clearly indicate that it is actually a bad sign. It is forbidden to tell someone that there is a rainbow in the sky, although this is a natural human impulse (Mishnah Berurah 229:1) and staring at it can lead to diminished eyesight, so one should quickly recite the brachah and not look again (ibid no. 5).
Despite all this, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l (new edition, page 133) suggests that we should imitate Hashem’s sign of the rainbow. He points out that “obviously, Hashem does not need reminders, so the rainbow must be a lesson for us. Just as Hashem decided not to ever destroy the world after the great flood, using the rainbow as a sign of this commitment, so should we always provide ourselves with a memorandum whenever we have reached a point of great inspiration and motivation.” The question, therefore, is how do we view the rainbow, as a frightening warning of what could happen or as a beautiful reminder that our world is ultimately safe and secure?
Perhaps the answer was provided by Rav Meir Shapiro zt”l, the great Lubliner Rov (see Ohel Moshe, page 174), who asks a fascinating question. Noach spent an incredible 120 years building the teivah (see Ramban 6:19) so that he could chastise his generation, teach them what danger was looming ahead, and avoid the catastrophe with a wave of teshuvah. What happened? He didn’t seem to succeed in bringing even one person to repentance; otherwise, he would surely have been a passenger on the ark.
Rav Meir Shapiro offers the explanation that Noach himself did not really believe that his generation was capable of heeding his exhortations. In fact, Yeshayah Hanovi (54:9) refers to the flood as “Noach’s waters” because he did not do enough for his generation, as did Avrohom Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu in their own eras.
Now we know that Noach spoke words of admonition to everyone who would listen, endangered his life to save strangers, and then spent sleepless nights feeding disparate animals, birds, etc. for an entire year so that there would be a future world. What did he do wrong?
Rav Meir Shapiro teaches that he gave up too easily. He felt that the spiritual darkness of his generation was so deep that no light could penetrate their souls, no matter what he said. So, ultimately, perhaps subliminally, his heart was not in his words of rebuke.
Hashem’s message to Noach was the rainbow. It is a marvelously beautiful entity of light, which arrives only after darkness and gloom. The lesson to us is a profound one: don’t give up, no matter what your stage of iniquity is at the moment. The radiant rainbow can still bring beauty and light, no matter how deep the darkness is.
On a more cosmic scale, we might look at the continuum of Parshiyos Bereishis and Noach as a mandate to find lessons, inspiration and guidance in Hashem’s beautiful world. The Rambam (Yesodei HaTorah 2:2) famously asks, “What is the way to learn to love Hashem? When a person contemplates the actions and amazing fantastic creations of Hashem, recognizing His infinite wisdom, he will immediately love, praise and seek to know His great Name.” The Rambam goes on to delineate all the various forms of life on earth and beyond, clearly implying that there are lessons to be learned from everything in the universe (see also Eiruvin 100a).
In this context, we must note that despite the diehard adherents of evolution and its sundry offshoots, science is constantly offering us new and astonishing proof that there must be a Creator behind the ever-unfolding treasures of the universe. One such recent discovery relates to the growing science of information storage. In the age of Google and instant access to all the world’s knowledge and wisdom, the worry about how to store and preserve this mass of data has been universal. However, the solution apparently may turn out to be…Hashem’s own data storage system, now known as DNA.
Peter Shadbolt, a CNN reporter, recently (February 25, 2015) referred to DNA as “the eternity drive,” asserting that “science is now looking to nature to find the best way to store data in a way that will make it last for millennia.” He and others reported breathlessly on the newly discovered fact that “just one gram of DNA is theoretically capable of containing all the data of internet giants such as Google and Facebook, with room to spare.”
Another scientist put it this way: “One human DNA molecule contains enough information to fill a million-page encyclopedia” (Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, London, Burnett Books, page 334). Another expert marveled succinctly that “DNA is the ultimate hard-drive.”
Perhaps we should take a new look as well at Shlomo Hamelech’s famous words: “there is nothing new under the sun” (Kohelles 1:9).
Indeed, we both make a brachah on the rainbow and retreat from its potential message. But we also accept that its beauty can be the motivation to become much better. It is the glory of Hashem’s creation that always spurs us to imitate Him. In this case, it is to make sure that our Creator is not disappointed and that he is “happy with His creatures.” If we follow the Rambam’s program of learning from Hashem’s universe how love Him, every day can be a lesson plan in ahavas Hashem.
Anyone who ever heard Rav Mordechai Gifter’s cry of “Se’u marom eineichem ure’u mi bara eileh — Lift up your eyes and see Who created all this” would never doubt if there is a Creator. Anyone who walked with Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l and listened to him explaining the glory of photosynthesis or the beauty of a rose would never question if the universe was random. Today, we are privileged to have books such as Rejoice O Youth, Adon Haniflaos (in English) by Rav Yitzchok Zalmen Gips, and many others that lead us smiling and learning through Hashem’s glorious world, deepening both our faith and knowledge.
Let us read, watch, listen and continue to grow in our emunah and love of Hashem.