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Secret Beauty Revealed

By: Rabbi Uri Cohen

The Gemara in Ketuvot 77b states that when Rav Yehoshua Ben Levi arrived in Olam HaBah, he was tested and asked if a rainbow had been seen during his lifetime. If a rainbow had been seen, that would mean that he was not completely righteous. Why?
Rashi explains that the rainbow is a sign given by Hashem of His promise to Noach that He would not destroy the world; if so, the appearance of the rainbow indicates that the world was really worthy of being destroyed, and only because of the promise did Hashem refrain from destroying it. During the lifetime of a great Tzaddik, the world is preserved by his merit, and there should not be a need for a rainbow.
It seems unusual that Hashem would pick such a beautiful sign to indicate to us that the world deserves to be destroyed. People are generally happy when they see a rainbow; rainbows are used in stickers and all sorts of cute decorations. So why is the sign of bad news such a beautiful thing?
Rav David Zvi Hoffman explains that the rainbow is obviously not a sign for Hashem; He does not need a reminder not to destroy the world. Rather, it is a sign for people, and as such, it was designed in such a way that it serves as an appropriate symbol for the people viewing it.
The Midrash teaches that the fact that it took Noach 120 years to build the gigantic ark served an educational purpose: People would ask him what he was doing, providing Noach the opportunity to warn them of the coming flood and convince them to do teshuvah. Rav Meir Simcha of Lublin asks, how is it that in the space of 120 years, Noach was not able to get even one person to repent? Imagine a "kiruv professional" who produces no successes for more than a century! He answers that deep down, Noach that the people of his generation were horrible, hopeless sinners, beyond redemption. Since his heart was not in it, he could not convince anyone to repent.
Rav Soloveitchik explains that this is why Hashem chose the rainbow as a sign. Hashem was teaching Noach that while he saw only the dark clouds, the sins of the people, he was missing the small amount of light that can interact with raindrops to make a beautiful rainbow. The generation of the flood could have been reached; they did have the ability to change their ways. People have the potential for great good and beauty, as symbolized by a rainbow. In a righteous generation, we do not need to be reminded of this, as it is self-evident. We obviously recognize the good in others who are openly and clearly good. In a less righteous generation, we need to be reminded of the beauty hidden in every Jew, thereby encouraging us to reach out and help him, and ourselves, realize this great potential.




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