December 8, 2023 |

Reflecting the rainbow's light back to the heavens

One of the most significant questions that a person has to deal with is the basic nature of human beings: Are they good or bad?

When humankind is created, the Torah tells us that people were created in God's image. When we proceed to the portion on Noah, we get a more specific but very pessimistic answer to the question at hand: "God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all flesh had corrupted its ways on earth." (Gen. 6:12)

Therefore, God sorrowfully decides to clean the world and start over again, almost from scratch. However, despite the massive amount water used, the attempt to "clean-up" the world did not succeed: "Never again will I doom the earth because of man, since the devising of man's mind are evil from his youth" (Gen. 8:21)

However, we need to take these harsh statements in the proper perspective since they are all spoken by God who is using a standard which humans cannot hope to attain. If the flood didn't change human nature, God's understanding that when his image was transferred into a material form something was lost is increased. God now understands that the world cannot be ruled only from the "Throne of Justice." It is necessary to reveal the attribute of Mercy.

The fact that until now God has revealed only the attribute of Justice, may also explain one of the commentators' most common questions about Noah: Why didn't he argue with God as Abraham would or appeal for mercy as Moses would? Perhaps, never having seen God's attribute of mercy, Noah thinks that there is no choice but to be silently obedient in order to avoid being washed away by the flood, together with the rest of his generation.

The new covenant is signed with a rainbow - a point of light from on high shining down on the earth. This brings about a change in humankind as well. Revelation of God's merciful characteristics elicits the first recorded act of human loving-kindness that sanctifies of God's name.

Shortly after the flood, comes one of the most embarrassing moments in the Torah:

Noah, the tiller of soil was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and uncovered himself in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. Shem and Japeth took a cloth, placed it against both their backs and, walking backwards, they covered their father's nakedness; their faces were turned away, so they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah woke up from his wine and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, 'Cursed be Canaan . . . Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem." (Gen. 9:20-26)

Note the phrases: "Cursed be Canaan" but "BLESSED BE THE LORD, GOD OF SHEM!"

The merciful and kind way that Shem and Yephet have prompted Noah to praise God. The act of mercy brings holiness into the world and reflects the rainbow's light back to the heavens.

Acts of loving-kindness are the human tool for repairing the world and bringing God's presence into our lives. Instead of a classic, Hasidic-type story to illustrate this point, let me tell a story that happened in Kfar Saba this week:

Someone offered a store owner a product similar to one that he already carries, the same quality at a better price. He replied that he is not even interested in discussing the matter although he knows that the brand he is selling is expensive. He explained that he has purchased this product for many years from a certain person who has since passed away. Now he buys it from his widow who relies on this income. The salesperson quickly understood that there was indeed nothing to discuss and went on to other issues.

At that moment human consideration for another person's plight brought holiness into the world and counterbalanced a small part of all the violence and evil we see around us.

In each of our daily lives, there are opportunities for this kind of loving-kindness and sanctification. May we have the wisdom to recognize them and the will to take proper advantage of the moment.

Shoshana Michael-Zucker


Shoshana Michael Zucker

Joined: September 27, 2007

A professional translator, wife and mother of three, I more a self-educated than a formally educated Jew. Most of my divrei torah are given in Hebrew but when I have time I do translate some.

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