Rainbow Nationby Andrea Simantov November 6, 2018
The winter is looming, even for those of us living in the Middle East. At the time of this writing, gale-force winds and torrential rains furiously pound America’s southern states; the muggy, enveloping warmth of summer seems a distant dream. We in Israel enjoy/suffer the heat for longer periods than much of America, but Jerusalem winters are nothing to sneeze at. Damp, bone-chilling cold creeps into the ancient walls of older apartment buildings and stone floors and single-pane windows do not make for toasty toes. It is easy to ignore the misery of others when personally struggling to keep the cold at bay.
“Cold” doesn’t always mean temperature. Apathy, loneliness, fear and anger can leave us coolly disconnected from an awareness that we have spiritual obligations to look out for one another.
Miserable weather always reminds me of Noah and his ark; The Torah doesn’t say, “ … and Noah – a righteous and whole-hearted man – was left.” It simply says, “Noah only was left.” Commentators explain that by doing nothing to persuade his contemporaries to mend their ways, Noah sinned. By keeping apart from others to remain untainted, he actually descended, becoming ‘Noah only.’
Observant Jews are not awed by rainbows. They serve as Heavenly reminders of what can happen when we neglect each other. The flood (Hebrew School 101) was a product of jealousy and hatred. The resulting rainbow was composed of seven clearly different colors that appear harmonious together. Even though man’s thoughts and characteristics are different, it is possible for human beings to achieve peace and brotherhood. Discrepancy doesn’t need to end in controversy. On the contrary, it is the contrast of the bow’s colors that produce such beauty.
On the heels of Noah, G-d showed Abraham what the ideal reciprocal relationship between men should look like. Like the colors of the rainbow, the stars are also different from one another and yet exist harmoniously. Life lesson? Like the stars, there should be love, peace and unity between men in an effort to serve a loftier purpose.
Which brings us to the moon. G-d showed Moses the silver crescent and told him, “Look out for this reappearance and consecrate the beginning of your months.” The Maharal explains that Bnei Yisroel (Children of Israel) is likened to the moon insofar as that the moon renews itself. We are commanded to undergo a similar spiritual and moral rejuvenation monthly. There is no such thing in Jewish thought as “This is who I am. Take it or leave it.”
The rainbow, stars and moon together represent the plan for a cohesive, peaceful and harmonious society. In addition, they provide us with three different Torah dimensions regarding our goals and behavior, both individually and as members of a larger whole. The ‘bow’ expounds the view that it is not individuality that is important but, rather, mankind’s value as a group. The stars address the role of man as an individual; our unique shapes and energy denote that we were respectively created with different bodies, talents and inclinations with goals and/or missions that only we can fulfill as individuals among others. Lastly, the perpetually renewing moon teaches us that man must constantly pursue higher spirituality through learning, self-discipline and refinement of behaviors.
Waking up each wintry morning to either a streaming sun or looming clouds, the life-canvas we are issued requires a brush dripping with color. The color and passion and yearning of the entire human experience.