There have been too many rainbows in the sky lately.
As in, way too many.
“Nonsense! How can there be too many rainbows?” you might be thinking to yourself.
“Our world needs as many rainbows as it can get!” might be your reaction as you probably agree that rainbows are one of the most exquisite of all natural creations and have the unique ability to change someone’s mood and brighten people’s day.
But when one considers the traditional Jewish teaching about rainbows, one’s happiness upon seeing rainbows might diminish. It might even disappear altogether.
(Warning: If you love rainbows a lot, you might not want to read on!)
Now I don’t want to ruin rainbows for you for the rest of your life but while ignorance is indeed bliss most of the time, knowledge and awareness are pretty important too.
When the rainbow appears in the Torah after the story of the Flood in the Book of Genesis, God makes a promise to Noah that the world will not be destroyed by water ever again. God then designates the rainbow as a visual reminder throughout the generations of this divine promise not to destroy the world again.
This is understood by many to mean that when a rainbow appears in the sky, as beautiful and awesome as it looks, it’s actually a sign that humanity is not acting as it should and, according to strict justice, is worthy of destruction. The rainbow appears, God “sees” it, and God refrains from pressing the reset button again.
This winter in Israel, after a dry start, has brought buckets and buckets of rain pouring down. And while this is a blessing for a land that traditionally depends greatly on the winter months for its annual rainfall, it has brought with it what seems like a record number of rainbows.
Every other day I look up to the sky and see another one. Sometimes two or three in one day. I’ve even seen many double rainbows this winter. I simply never in my life have seen so many rainbows.
Each time I see one, my knee-jerk reaction is the normal one. The same one the people all around me are having. The “Wow, so beautiful!” reaction.
But then the memory of the ancient Jewish teaching about rainbows kicks in and I look away, contemplating the endless list of our worlds’ problems, accumulating upon and tipping the divine scales of good and evil, right and wrong, causing the need for yet another rainbow to appear in the sky to remind God to strengthen the attribute of mercy and not to destroy the world.
I think about the wars and the hate and the greed and the selfishness that characterize our global human society and the pain and suffering brought upon so many human beings as well as upon members of other species as a result of our wayward desires and actions.
I wonder why God allows us to go on. Why God keeps giving us a second chance. Why God doesn’t just hold back the rainbow from appearing, just once, giving God the green light to start all over again.
And in that moment I say a quick prayer, asking that I and all of us should know how to make it through these days of intensifying challenges. To know how to be happy and how to create happiness for others even in a darkening world. To never give up on another ancient Jewish belief that one day things will get better. That, yes, one day the world will know no more war and no more hate and no more greed or selfishness. That we humans will awaken to our truest selves and help this world to become a place of peace, love and kindness it has always been destined to become.
And then I remember another Jewish teaching about rainbows. The one from the Zohar, the holy book of Jewish mysticism, that says that before the Messiah comes, an especially bright and colorful rainbow will appear in the sky.
And that’s the rainbow I’m hoping to see tomorrow.