Parshat Noach- Rav Shames
The closing scene of the flood story is the promise made by God never to destroy the world again. In order to reinforce His commitment He provides a sign in the form of a rainbow. Much has been written concerning this most interesting phenomenon.
The Ramban already grapples with the historic question of when did the first rainbow appear. On one hand it would seem that the first time the world saw a rainbow was after the flood and it was a totally new and surprising event.
The passuk (9:13) states “Et kashti natati beanan” “I have placed My rainbow in the cloud” The past tense “natati” “I have placed” is used. The Ebn Ezra explains that we are to read this as “I have now placed ….”, supporting the position that there were no rainbows prior to this one. The Ramban begins his comments supporting this view, however certain objective evidence bothers him.
“We must believe the Greeks that the rays of the sun in the moist air form a rainbow, as we can see that a jug of water positioned in the sun will produce a rainbow as well.”
The empirical evidence along with the scientific explanation make it hard to believe that there were no rainbows in the pre flood era. The Ramban continues to explain the passuk in this manner:
“As we look into the scripture itself we can understand this as it says, “I have placed” and it does not say, “I am placing””
As opposed to the Ibn Ezra the Ramban sees the past tense used to be significant and indicating the prior existence of the rainbow. However the past tense is used only in passuk 13, if we look at passuk 12 we find the present tense used.
“This is the sign that I am placing between Myself and you and all living items forever.”
The Ramban continues to explain that the passuk should be understood as follows:
“The rainbow that I have placed in the clouds from creation should be from this day forward a sign ….”
The rainbow is ancient the meaning is new.
We very much preserve this dual attitude towards the rainbow in the bracha that we make if we see one.
In general we are to make brachot upon witnessing impressive natural phenomena. We have berachot for lightning, thunder, rivers, mountains falling stars and even hurricanes. In fact it is hard to find any natural phenomenon that we don’t have a bracha for. The brachot fall into one of two categories, those which we say “Oseh maaseh beraishit” (He who creates) and those which we say “Shekocho ugevurato maleh olam” (His strength and power fill the world). The distinction between the two brachot is simply how the event manifests itself. Natural events that are awe inspiring but are quite receive the first bracha while those that instill a element of fear due to their power receive the latter. (I have described the accepted practice in these brachot please see Shulchan Aruch OC 227 for details and for the possibility of interchanging the brachot).
Given the rules above it would be logical for us to make a bracha on the rainbow, as a beautiful natural event and it would fall most likely into the category of “Oseh maaseh beraishit”. This however is not the case. We are told that the bracha upon seeing a rainbow is “Zocher habrit, neeman bvrito vekayam bemaamaro” (He remembers the covenant is true to His commitment and upholds His word).
We are struck by the peculiarity of the bracha and its total lack of similarity to all other brachot on natural events. The focus of the bracha is the historical context of the rainbow in the flood story and not its natural beauty. If we follow the interpretation of the Ramban I think we could suggest that the bracha pre-flood was “Oseh maseh beraishit” noting the beauty of the rainbow and recognizing Gods creation. After the flood when the rainbow took on the status of a “sign” the bracha now reflects the new role of the rainbow. (I, am of course using the pre/post-flood bracha as a metaphor, all brachot of this nature are midrabanan).We no longer look at it as a simple fact of light and water interacting to form a prism. A rainbow now contains within its spectrum of colors the promise made by God to preserve all of the Earth as we know it. The rainbow is the ultimate symbol of Divine mercy while at the same time reminding us that we are not necessarily worthy of it.
The rainbow teaches us two very important lessons. On the more superficial level the rainbow reminds of Parshat Noach. We are meant to reflect upon the need for a rainbow, how do our actions compare to those of the dor hamabul? Are we, as a society, not guilty of the type of immorality that existed pre flood? Is the world left as is because we deserve it or solely out of the grace of God?
On a deeper level the rainbow teaches us to seek meaning. A simple, quantifiable and fairly predictable event should be treated as a meaningful one. We are taught to see God in all of his creations by making the “nature brachot” and to recognize him in all historical events by making the “historical brachot” (For a full list of “historical brachot see Shulcahn Aruch OC 224).
In his introduction to the Mishne Torah the Rambam explains why he placed various sets of halachot where he did. When he explains the rationale behind Sefer Ahava he writes:
“The second book- I will include in it all mitzvoth that are constant that we have been commanded to love Hashem and remember him constantly such as Reading the Shema, Teffila, Teffilin, Brkat Kohanim and Brit Milah, which is a constant reminder in our bodies een when one does not have Tzizit or Teffilin”.
It is interesting to note that the Rambam lists each and every one of the Halachot in the Sefer except Hilchot Brachot!! It would seem that the Rambam feels the nee to define and explain his placement in those areas that are less obvious where as when it comes to brachot the very title of Ahava- love of God- is sufficient.
The message from parshat Beraishit which continues in Noach is God’s presence in the world. I admit it seems like a very simplistic and basic message that should be clear and obvious to all but clearly it is not so. Our major battle with, not only the non-believers, but with ourselves is to understand and recognize God’s steering and guiding of the world. It is this message that the Avot so valiantly begin to spread next week.