אֶת-קַשְׁתִּי, נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן; וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית, בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ
I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between Me and the earth.
After the entire world was decimated through the flood, God made a promise to mankind. That promise was that “never again will all flesh be cut off by the flood waters and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth.” Not only were we promised our continued existence, but were also granted a sign that this covenant will be eternal, the rainbow.
Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105), citing the Medrash, informs us that in addition to the rainbow being the sign of God’s covenant it is also the signal of His disapproval of our actions. When we see a rainbow it is to tell us that if not for the promise made to Noah, the world would be deserving of a flood to destroy it.
But, why a rainbow? There could have been an infinite amount of ways of God telling us about his promise, why specifically was the rainbow chosen?
Nahmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman, 1194-1270) writes that the rainbow represents the archer’s bow. It is pointed upward in order to show that it is not aimed at us, thus representing our protection. On a more basic level, though, one can imagine the rainbow as representing an archway. Due to their geometric shape, arches are able to tolerate a great amount of weight. They are used for doorways as a way to ensure the building’s integrity so that the upper levels don’t cave in on those below them.
We are reading and hearing about terrorist attacks with increased frequency. Just this past week there was an attack in the Canadian Parliament. This latest wave of radical Islamist terrorism is based on the notion that if you do not fall into their religious worldview or have values which differ from theirs, you are less of a human being because of it. They lead by pointing their bows at us as a sign of their strength.
God, on the other hand, shows strength by withholding His wrath. He sees imperfection in His perfect world, but knows that we still have redeeming qualities which have yet to be brought to the light of day. He holds His bow upwards as if to show us that real strength comes from tolerance and patience. The rainbow is not monochrome, but encompasses all the colors of the visual spectrum. The sign of God’s promise to us is specifically through the rainbow because it represents the acceptance of diversity.