The Flood! A story found in so many cultures. Genesis unpacks it with a challenge that speaks to us. In conversations with elders in workshops and classes these last 8 months, often people speak to the fact that they have been flooded with emotion. Anxiety, fear, concern and others seem to overwhelm people at various times. It almost seems, to some, that we are on that ark with no land in sight as we try to navigate the shelter in place of the pandemic. When will this end? When can we get off this boat?
There is much to discuss in this passage. Noah being a “righteous man” in “his” generation as well as the post flood encounter of Noah’s son’s with their naked drunk dad. And then there is the rainbow! What an interesting symbol and statement by God that this was a sign that God understood that maybe it was a mistake to destory the world and all that was in it. SO our rainbow is a sign of hope? A sign of future? A sign that as disaster ends, it is up to us to fix what is wrong in the world.
Rabbi Noah Arnow, writing in a recent My Jewish Learning post on this passage cites several more recent commentators on the meaning of the rainbow. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch noted that the rainbow could stand, with its’ colors, for the diversity of people that we encounter. How fitting is that in a world and country that has so many different faces. How relevant is that to our own Jewish community as our diversity of faces is evolving. Likewise, Rabbi Sholom Riskin is cited as understanding that the rainbow is one half of a circle and he then sees the role of each of us, mankind, to complete that circle. In other words, to channel Pirke Avot, while we are not asked to complete the task of creation, we are charged with taking care of our own piece of the world.
There are, as you can imagine, many interpretations of the Flood story and the rainbow. I think that for our generation, in this time, we need to focus on that message of hope. We will emerge from this pandemic. It is a flood of bad news and isolation and even death. However, even in isolation we can challenge ourselves to see in what way we can complete the rainbow’s circle. I think that this passage can teach us that in this current flood of pandemic reality, there is still hope. This will end. This flood will cease. How we emerge from this experience will be a test for us, and society, of how we move to a better tomorrow. Our “rainbow connection” can be one of hope, just as the rainbow in Genesis was a sign of hope and future. Again, the choice of how we see that future, and our role in it, rests with us.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.