Insights Into the Rainbow

Es kashti nasati be’anan v’haysa l’os bris beini u’bein ha’aretz (Bereishis 9:13)

The rainbow has become known as a symbol of peace and harmony. On a simple level, this is due to the fact that it represents world preservation, as Hashem told Noach after the flood that the rainbow would be the sign of His covenant to never again destroy the earth. However, this still raises the question: In what way does the rainbow uniquely connote the concept of peace? Further, the Gemara in Chagigah (16a) teaches that if a person gazes at a rainbow, it would have been better had he never been created. Why is staring at a rainbow viewed so harshly? The Gemara explains that Hashem’s Divine Presence rests on the rainbow, and somebody who gazes at a rainbow is therefore considered to be disrespectfully staring at the Divine Presence. Nevertheless, this fascinating explanation begs the question: Of all the myriad awe-inspiring creations in the world, why did Hashem specifically choose to associate Himself with the rainbow?

Rav Aba Wagensberg posits that the seven colors of the rainbow correspond to the seven holy Ushpizin whom we welcomed on the recent festival of Sukkos. Each of these seven national Patriarchs and leaders had a unique approach to serving Hashem, which is alluded to by the seven different colors of the rainbow. Nevertheless, although each of the colors is distinct, they are all united in their ascent toward Hashem, as a rainbow is formed in the shape of a mountain, arching upward toward the heavens. Further, each of the different colors lies adjacent to the next, as the beauty of the rainbow is created through the harmony and synergy of each of its component parts.

From this perspective, the rainbow teaches us the value of individuality in serving Hashem utilizing our own unique strengths and abilities, and of being not only tolerant of other halachic streams of Judaism, but to appreciate them for their distinct contributions to increasing Hashem’s honor. The Gemara teaches us that these themes are so fundamental that Hashem elected to rest His Divine Presence on the rainbow. This also explains why Hashem specifically selected the rainbow as the sign of His promise not to destroy the world, as destruction results from our failure to respect and appreciate the differences that make us unique, while the rainbow’s harmony reminds us of the importance of valuing individuality, and for this reason it is a most appropriate symbol of peace.

Rav Wagensberg adds several beautiful connections between Parashas Noach, the rainbow, and Chanukah. The Torah records that at the conclusion of the flood, Noach sent a dove to ascertain whether the floodwaters had subsided, and the dove returned in the evening with an olive leaf in its mouth (8:8–11). Why does the Torah emphasize that this took place in the evening? The Kli Yakar explains that at night, the Ark needed light, and the olive branch brought by the dove had an olive on it, from which oil could be extracted to illuminate the Ark.

From where did Noach obtain light prior to this episode? Hashem instructed him to make a tzohar for the Ark (6:16), which Rashi interprets as a window. However, the Chizkuni disagrees and maintains that the word tzohar is derived from the word yitzhar — oil. In other words, Hashem told Noach to gather olives to supply him with enough oil to provide light while he was in the Ark. As such, the Imrei Noam explains that Noach already had a sufficient supply of olives in the Ark, so he took the olive brought back by the dove and squeezed its oil into a flask, which he sealed and gave to his son Shem, with instructions that it be passed on to the most righteous person in each generation. The Torah records (14:18–20) that Malki-tzedek, whom Chazal identify as Shem (Nedarim 32b), met with Avraham Avinu, at which time he gave the flask to Avraham, who subsequently passed it on to Yitzchak Avinu, who transferred it to Yaakov Avinu.

As Yaakov was traveling with his family to meet Esav, the Torah records (32:25) that he was levado – all alone. The Gemara (Chullin 91a) explains that he forgot some small flasks and went back by himself to retrieve them. Why was Yaakov so concerned about such seemingly trivial objects? The Daas Z’keinim writes that they contained olive oil, which we can understand as a reference to the precious flask containing Noach’s oil that he inherited from his father. Yaakov passed the flask on to Yosef Hatzaddik, and it later made its way into the possession of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohen, and was eventually given to Dovid Hamelech. When Dovid dug the foundations of the Temple, he saw prophetically that it would one day be defiled and a pure flask of oil would be needed, so he hid it away, and it was this flask that was discovered by the Chashmona’im and used to miraculously light the Menorah for eight days.

Rav Wagensberg suggests that because this flask of oil passed through the hands of each of the seven Ushpizin and absorbed each of their distinct approaches to serving Hashem, it was uniquely suited to rekindle the seven-branched Menorah in the Temple. Further, the Torah stipulates (Shemos 25:31) that although the Menorah contained seven branches, it had to be crafted from one single block of gold, symbolizing that it was inherently one. This is analogous to the Ushpizin, who had seven different approaches to serving Hashem, but were ultimately united in their overall mission. It is therefore quite appropriate to note that the Menorah itself is formed in the shape of a rainbow, and when all of the seven branches unite harmoniously, it creates a light that illuminates the world.

Q: How many rooms were there in Noach’s Ark?

A: The Yalkut Shimoni quotes a dispute about the number of rooms in the Ark. Rav Yehudah maintains that there were 360 rooms, each of which measured 10 cubits (15–20 feet) by 10 cubits, while Rav Nechemiah argues that there were 900 rooms, each of which was six cubits (9–12 feet) by six cubits.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email