Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Noach
“Why are there so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?” I love the Muppets. “Rainbow Connection” is a classic song that speaks of hope and love … and all the good things that we cherish in life. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is about cherishing life. On Rosh Hashanah, we read about the shape of the shofar and its connection to the shape of the rainbow … and most shofrot (plural) even have patterns that look as if they are patterned after the “rungs” of the rainbow’s colors. The blast of the shofar is a wakeup call reminding us … on the birthday of creation, to celebrate that we exist. In fact, a vast majority of the baby nurseries I have seen incorporate the rainbow into the décor. It is a wonderful symbol and a spectacle that makes one look at it in awe. I have never seen someone not get at least a little excited when viewing the rainbow. Whether one believes in the pot of gold on the other side, does not matter. The smile that seeing the rainbow evokes is itself a gift.
Yet, we would not have that gift, but for the destruction of the world. God brings on the flood, and for whatever reason, feels that the punishment overstepped the magnitude of the crime committed. God sends a rainbow as a sign that God will never destroy the earth in anger, again. Really? A rainbow is the best apology God can offer? I understand that Torah is an allegory, and that the God of the Torah is a character in the story, but despite all of the celebrations that revolve around rainbows and the promise not to destroy the world in anger, I find this very unsettling. How can I feel strengthened in faith, by looking at a rainbow, and be okay that it is a sign that God won’t throw a temper tantrum again?
As with every story in Torah, I have to believe that the “story line” that spawned the conversation is of little relative value. I also know that every mythology of the ancient world has a flood story. That means that there probably was a flood, but that presents a problem. The Bible says that Noah and his ark of people and animals were the “only survivors” of the flood. An ancient Gaelic flood story (Cessair) argues that there were 50 survivors of the flood that ended all life on earth. The Sumerians have Ziusudra, the Babylonians have Gilgamesh, the Greeks have two floods that destroyed the world the flood during the reign of Ogyges, and the flood of Deucalion when he and his wife threw stones over their shoulders to repopulate the earth. Of note, there are whole groups who climbed mountains to escape this flood. Many Asian, Indian, and African cultures have an oral tradition of flood myths, as well. Isn’t it amazing how all these different people are the only survivors in each of their own flood stories?
Face it, we watch lands flood all over the earth in our own day. If God promised not to flood the earth in anger, it was not explicit that there would be no more floods, only that they would not be brought on by God’s wrath. Ok, I feel better. The area in which I live was destroyed in the floods following Hurricane Sandy. Louisiana and Mississippi faced destruction because of Katrina. I am relieved to know that God was not angry even though the floods destroyed lives.
The rainbow is not about the flood or the storms that brought the floods. We now know waters recede and lands dry. The rainbow reminds us that even in the midst of pain, there is hope. The rainbow reminds us … even as we are treading water, there is dry land somewhere. The rainbow reminds us to have hope that there is an “after the storm.” The rainbow is inclusive of all color and for all people. The neatest thing is that you don’t even need a rainstorm … or a flood, to see a rainbow. One refracts off the water in the pond, in the street, off of our windows … in the sparkle of an engagement ring, and even from the drool of a coddled and hugged infant.
So, why the flood story? My take is that if in even the darkest moments we can know that light exists, perhaps we will see how brilliant it is in the rest of our lives, as well. One of the difficult characteristics that we humans exhibit (way too often) is that it takes a crisis to open our eyes to the real blessings that confront us and attach to us daily. Certainly the flood stories are not reminders to us that if we act badly, we will die in floods, unless God breaches promises. I wonder if the people screaming that we did something to deserve Sandy, Katrina, and the other natural disasters that we have endured ever thought about the Biblical promise that God would never do this again? My sense of truth is that the world happens, our job is to help God help us get through it and celebrate it. Somewhere, over the rainbow, we find the lovers, the dreamers, and, I pray, you and me.