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04/14/2020 01:20:38 PM


Rabbi Jeff Miller

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Do you want proof that "a picture is worth one thousand words"?  Take a look at this photograph, taken yesterday:

A rainbow forms in the sky from the top of One World Trade Center to the top of the Empire State Building as the sun sets in New York City on April 13, 2020, as seen from Jersey City, N.J. (Photo by Gary Hershorn/FOX News)

In the midst of a pandemic coupled with hurricane force winds, Gary Hershon shot this awe-inspiring photo.  It is real; not a trick shot.  That it reaches from the Freedom Tower and crosses the Hudson makes it all the more spectacular.

A rainbow, we know, is a natural phenomenon caused by sunlight's reflection, refraction and dispersion as it comes into contact with water droplets.  But just because we can describe (and duplicate) the process of making a rainbow - just because it is no longer a scientific mystery - does not make it any less spectacular or holy.  My Rebbe once said the same thing about gravity; just because we "kind of" understand its properties does not diminish God's miraculous role in letting come down whatever has gone up.

This idea is found in the words of Torah.  God Tells Noach that the rainbow will be a sign (Gen. 9:13, "My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Myself and the earth") and a covenant (Id. 9:16, "And the rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will see it, to remember the everlasting covenant between God and between every living creature among all flesh, which is on the earth").  God makes clear that the rainbow has a 'natural' connection with clouds and rain (vs. 14) but it is still a message from on High.

Here is something I never appreciated before, even though I've read (and taught) parshat Noach many times over the years.  At first blush, we might think that the rainbow is supposed to comfort us and remind us that HaShem is still in control of the world and nature.  But the verses tell us that the rainbow is God’s reminder:

And I will remember My covenant, which is between Me and between you and between every living creature among all flesh, and the water will no longer become a flood to destroy all flesh.

By setting up the rainbow as a natural alarm clock, God is letting us know that every now and then He needs to take the world off autopilot and reassert control over nature.  More importantly, He is empowering us to raise our voices and not be timid or shy.  He is giving us license to remind Him that the natural order has run amok and a little Divine Intervention is warranted.  And welcome.

Think about the Pesach, Matzah & Marror paragraphs at the Seder.  Matzah and Marror are given purely logical, reasonable, historical explanations by the Hagadah.  The Korban Pesach, however, has a description added to let us know that nature bends to the Divine Power at work:

  פֶּסַח שֶׁהָָיוּ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אוֹכְלִים, בִּזְמַן שֶׁבֵּית הַמִּקְדָּשׁ הָיָה קַיָּם, עַל שׁוּם מָה? עַל שׁוּם שֶׁפָּסַח הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, עַל בָּתֵּי אֲבוֹתֵֽינוּ בְּמִצְרַֽיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַאֲמַרְתֶּם זֶבַח פֶּסַח הוּא לַיָּי, אֲשֶׁר פָּסַח עַל בָּתֵּי בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּמִצְרַֽיִם, בְּנָגְפּוֹ אֶת־מִצְרַֽיִם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּֽינוּ הִצִּיל, וַיִּקֹּד הָעָם וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ.

The Passover-lamb that our fathers ate during the time of the Beit Hamikdash - for what reason [did they do so]?
Because the Omnipresent passed over our fathers' houses in Egypt, as it is said:
"You shall say, It is a Passover-offering to the L-rd, because He passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians with a plague, and He saved our houses. And the people bowed and prostrated themselves."

As we begin the last days of Pesach and recall the great miracles of HaShem over nature, let us hope that HaShem will see the rainbows and be reminded of His Promises.

Chag Sameach

By: Rabbi Jeff Miller

Wed, May 25 2022 24 Iyyar 5782