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Color My World

By: Mrs. Bracha Krohn

What do Shabbat, Tefillin, Brit Milah and the rainbow all have in common?

This is not the opening line to a joke – all four of the above are referred to as otot, signs, by Hashem in the Torah. Why is that? How are they similar?

Regarding Shabbat, Rav S.R. Hirsch writes (Shemot 31:13) that a sign is a “means of making something known”. For Shabbat, Rav Hirsch explains, the idea that Hashem made known through this symbol/sign was that Hashem separated us from the other nations to celebrate creation and G-d’s mastery over the world. Tefillin, the psukim makes clear, are for us to remember G-d constantly and be fluent with the words of Torah. The Brit Milah reminds us of our eternal covenant with Hashem.

What about the rainbow? In what way is a rainbow an "ot"? What does the ot/symbol of the rainbow teach us and remind us? Perek 9 pasuk 11 tells us that never again will G-d kill all (or almost all) of mankind with a flood, and never again will a flood destroy the earth. But how does this symbol work? What’s the significance of a rainbow that IT was chosen to teach that? (And according to some mefarshim, it was actually created right then and there for the first time!)

The most well-known idea is that whenever there’s a rainbow it’s as if Hashem is reminding us that the rains that just ended moments ago could have gone on and on for 40 days again… But Hashem is holding back, and this will not be like the flood that happened in Noach’s generation.

Ramban explains to us that the rainbow looks like an upside down bow (turned away) without its arrows, and thus non-threatening. The symbol here is of G-d’s peaceful ways with the world.

Rav Hirsch describes the significance of this symbol in terms of its many colors:

“…In spite of all differences in the degree of human development, G-d would never again decree the downfall of the whole human race, but that its future education to its Godly purpose was to be founded just on these differences and variety of humanity…” The world consists of many different types of creatures, and even among the humans, there are so many levels when it comes to relating to G-d.  Together we all make up “the ray of light”, and thus, as a world, all is good, at peace and united.

If all of this is true – that the rainbow holds such an important message for us – why does the Gemara (Chagiga 16a) say that people should not look at a rainbow and if they do, their eyesight will be diminished?

When cited as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch, R. Yosef Karo writes that actually although one should not stare, one can glance at it and then must make the bracha written by our chachamim for the occasion:

“Blessed are you… who remembers the covenant and is faithful to His covenant and keeps His word”

Again, even if it’s just prohibited to stare, what is so wrong with taking five minutes to look and contemplate all of the significance that commentators attribute to the rainbow?

The Gemara answers that the navi Yechezkel, in perek alef, describes the rainbow and its light as similar to the image of G-d. We know that if one looks at G-d, one cannot live (as Hashem tells Moshe). So we cannot really take a long and hard look at the rainbow.

The Mishnah Brurah explains that if one makes a big deal about the rainbow to the point where you’re getting everyone around you to look up and point and think about what it means, it’s like talking and thinking lashon hara about the community/area, because what we’re all saying now is that “everyone deserved to die and be wiped out here, but Hashem is holding back.”

As the rainy season approaches here for Midreshet Moriah students and for all of Eretz Yisrael, let’s hope and pray that this be a winter with rains of blessing…and maybe a pretty rainbow to take a quick glance at too!


Shabbat Shalom.






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