The Rainbow Connection – Parshat Noach 5773

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what’s on the other side?”  Kermit the Frog, one of my favorite Muppets, is famous for this song that ponders the magic of a rainbow and my good friend, Roy G. Biv.  Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.  These seven lines come together to create one of the most stunning images in nature.  YouTube videos and countless online photo albums are filled with beautiful pictures of radiant rainbows, single and double.  We are in awe of this splendid display of color and calm after the tumultuous storms that pass. 
Parshat Noach, our Torah portion this week, is made famous for the central two accounts that take place: first, the flood of the earth to drown out those who were not righteous, second the Tower of Bavel and the subsequent spreading out of the nations and languages.  These two narratives are bridged together by the expectations for humankind to behave in an honorable and righteous manner and the covenant established between God and the generations to come, symbolized by the rainbow. 
In our Parshah, chapter 9 verses 12-16, the rainbow officially takes new meaning.  The text states: 
“God further said, “this is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come.  I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all humankind.  When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures, all flesh that is on earth.  That,” God said to Noah, “shall be the sign of the covenant that I have established between Me and all flesh that is on earth.” 
Rambam, the great medieval commentator Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, teaches that the rainbow is a sign of God’s covenant not to destroy the world again, a sign of peace.  This sign is the only phenomenon that had already existed in the world that becomes invested with a new symbolic significance.  The rainbow, in Hebrew keshet, represents all of the different shades and colors of our world bound together in a single instance.  It stands as a reminder that while each of us has our differences, those differences should never push us apart.  And just as importantly, it sets an example of how we should keep our promises to each other, as God did to us. 
When we see a rainbow, we are obligated to say the following brachah,
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה אֱ לֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית, וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ, וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, ruler of the world, who remembers the covenant and is faithful to it and stands by his word. 
Even today, every rainbow we see is a reminder of God’s relationship with humankind.  More than that, when we take the time to take in the rainbow, to pause and remember that the covenant God made comes with expectations of humanity to treat one another with kavod, respect, we renew our covenant with God and create a kehillah kedosha, a holy community.
So, Kermit, there are so many songs about rainbows because they remind us of unity, understanding, faith and God.  Who knew a felt frog could be such a Torah scholar?
THIS TOO IS TORAH: Certain individual colors also hold special significance in Judaism.  For example, we’re commanded to dye a thread of our tallitot (prayer shawls) with techelet, an indigo/blue color.  This serves as a permanent reminder of the tablets given to Moshe on Sinai, which, it is said, were made of the sapphire stone on which God “stood.”

Guilty Pleasures – Parshat Noach 5772

I love junk food.  The sensation of biting into a warm, freshly baked, chewy chocolate chip or peanut butter cookie is ecstasy for me.  The way the dough just melts in my mouth leaves me craving another bite.  And then there is the crunch of a perfectly fried French fry, dipped into any of a multitude of sauces.  Or a nice, juicy hamburger with a perfectly grilled bun and onions grilled just right on top.  If I’m having a bad day, just put any one of these foods in front of me and my day will instantly improve.  I’m certain that we all have our comfort foods, drinks or activities, the “go to” vice after a long hard day when everything seems to be depending on you. 
As with everything in life, moderation is key.  If you have everything in moderation, there will be no problems.  A recent study by Health Magazine lists 10 common vices that Americans have and how each one is actually good for you . . . in moderation.  Drinking a glass of wine, eating a piece of chocolate, sleeping in, playing hooky, massages, coffee, full fat dressing, gender-specific nights out, and more were found to have a positive effect on daily living, when used in moderation.  
This week we read parshat Noach, which tells of the evil impulses running rampant in society, Noah’s building of the Ark, a covenant with God through a rainbow and the building of a tower to approach God.  Noah is the man in charge.   He receives God’s call to build the Ark and the call to put his family and pairs of animals on this Ark.  And, when the flood waters have subsided, he is supposed to regenerate the earth and be in covenant with God.  One can imagine this to do list and the weight of responsibility here sitting heavily on Noah’s shoulders.
But even though Noah is chosen for the job, he isn’t perfect. Noah has his vices as well.  The text teaches us that Noah, as he came out of the Ark, was not only the father of three sons, and not only the one responsible for accepting the covenant with God, but Noah was also the first to plant a vineyard.  We learn in chapter 9, verses 20-21 that “He [Noah] drank of the wine and became drunk, and he uncovered himself within is tent.”  Noah was a man who enjoyed a nice glass of wine after a rough day, but in this instance, he over indulged.  Perhaps Noah found himself alone or burdened with guilt that he survived the flood.  Whatever the case may be, Noah turns to wine and in turn is discovered by his sons, leading them to act immorally and cause shame not only to themselves, but to Noah as well.
Moderation.  The Torah teaches us that there is always a need for balance.  When the people are behaving only on the side of evil, God wipes them out, working to start over again.  And when the people build a tower to reach God, they are reminded that there is a difference between belief in God and wanting to be God.  Here too, while perhaps a moment late, Noah learns that a little wine is acceptable, while too much causes problems. 
Judaism is a religion that appreciates celebration and marks time with pleasurable things: delicious cakes for the holidays, a sip of wine for Kiddush, making a l’chaim at a momentous occasion.  But, each of these is also marked with community, family and moderation.  We can have as many pieces of apples and honey and cake at Rosh HaShannah as we want, as long as we endure the eight days of matzah later on.  Let us work to find and maintain the balance in our lives so that our joyous times are distinguished from our tougher times, making both that much more meaningful.
ללמוד  To Learn: ללמד To Teach: We all struggle with finding the balance between our daily lives, family, technology and a myriad of other things.  Think about your own life and where you’d like to achieve greater balance.  If you’re thinking about balancing mitzvot, consider It’s a Mitzvah by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson.  If you’re looking for balance in meditation or time to cool down, tryThe Busy Soul: Ten-Minute Spiritual Workouts from Jewish Tradition by Rabbi Terry Bookman.  If you’re looking for time management, try 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (He also has a version for teens). 
לשמור  To Keep:  לעשות  To Do: Balance is often about knowing your limits.  If you’re feeling off kilter in your home, or notice your kids slipping towards one extreme, sit down together and discuss this.  What does a balanced day look like?  How do you achieve balance in your own family life?  The best way to teach moderation and balance to our kids is to model it ourselves.