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Parshas Noach - Vol. 11, Issue 2
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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 Gemora 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? Based on a verse in Yechezkel (1:28), the Gemora elucidates 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 of the myriad awe-inspiring creations in the world, why did Hashem specifically choose to associate Himself with the rainbow?
Rabbi 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 Gemora 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.
Rabbi Wagensberg adds several beautiful connections between Parshas Noach, the rainbow, and Chanuka. The Torah records that at the conclusion of the flood, Noach sent a dove - another symbol of peace - 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 צוהר for the Ark (6:16), which Rashi interprets as a window. However, the Chizkuni disagrees and maintains that the word צוהר is derived from the word יצהר - 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 (Nedorim 32b), met with Avrohom, at which time he gave the flask to Avrohom, who subsequently passed it on to Yitzchok, who transferred it to Yaakov.
As Yaakov was traveling with his family to meet Eisav, the Torah records (32:25) that he was לבדו - all alone. The Gemora (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, and it later made its way into the possession of Moshe and Aharon, and was eventually given to Dovid. 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 Chashmonaim and used to miraculously light the Menorah for eight days.
Rabbi 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.
The name of the Jewish Zodiac sign for the month of Kislev, when Chanuka begins, is קשת - bow - which also means rainbow. In contrast to most other Jewish holidays which begin in the middle of the month when the moon is full, Chanuka starts at the end of Kislev, when the waning moon is in the shape of a rainbow. The Sefer HaToda'ah writes that the first time Noach observed the rainbow was in Kislev. The letters in Noach's name (נח) can be read as an abbreviation for נר חנוכה, and the mitzvos that are incumbent upon non-Jews are referred to as Noahide laws, and they number seven, the number of colors in the rainbow and branches in the Menorah in the Temple.
The Jewish calendar has two beginnings. Rosh Hashana, the start of a new year, is in Tishrei, while Nissan is considered the first of the Jewish months (Shemos 12:2), and according to Tosefos (Rosh Hashana 27a) is when the world was actually created. The Kedushas Levi points out that Sivan, which is the third month when counting from Nissan, is when the Torah was given at Har Sinai. Similarly, Chanuka is associated with the acceptance of the Oral Torah, and it therefore begins in the month of Kislev, which is the third month when counting from Tishrei.
Rashi writes (Shemos 19:2) that when the Jewish people came to encamp at Har Sinai, they did so united as one, as unity is a necessary prerequisite for the giving of the Torah. They were further unified through the sound of the shofar (19:19), which not surprisingly has the shape of a rainbow. Chanuka also represents the acceptance of the Torah, and it is therefore celebrated with the menorah, which is also shaped like a rainbow. Further, the order of the shofar blasts that we blow today is tekiah, shevarim, teruah, tekiah, which is commonly expressed with the acronym ת-ש-ר-ת. However, the Be'er Mayim Chaim suggests that if we use the letter ק to represent a tekiah and ת to connote a teruah, the acronym for the shofar blasts spells ק-ש-ת (-ק).
Hashem should help each of us discover our own unique paths to serve Him with our individual strengths and abilities, while at the same time respecting and valuing the approaches selected by others, and in the merit of our heightened achdus inspired by the rainbow, Hashem should once again rest His Divine Presence upon us, may it be speedily in our days.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (6:18) that those in the Ark were forbidden to engage in marital relations. Were they also forbidden to be secluded (yichud) together with their spouses during this time? (Kli Yakar 8:16)
2) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (108b) relates that there was a bird on the Ark which saw how difficult it was for Noach to feed each animal according to its own unique feeding schedule, and opted to be merciful and not to request any food. Upon recognizing this, Noach blessed the bird that it should live forever. The Maharsha writes that this was the bird which didn't eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge like the other animals (Rashi 3:6). If it didn't take part in the sin which brought the decree of death to the world, why did this bird need Noach's blessing that it shouldn't die? (Maharil Diskin Parshas Bereishis, Tiferes Torah)
3) Did the 70 languages spoken by the nations of the world exist as spoken languages prior to the dispersion of the generation that attempted to build the tower of Bavel? (Rashi 11:1, Chizkuni 11:7, Moshav Z'keinim, Bechor Shor, Ayeles HaShachar)
4) How old was Avrohom when he married Sorah (11:29)? (Seder HaDoros 1973 and 1998)
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