Parshat Noah

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

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.

—Genesis 9:16

A teacher of mine once remarked on the absurdity, in his opinion, of using Noah’s ark as a decorative motif for children’s spaces. Why is a story of destruction, emotional turmoil, and family betrayal portrayed in bright cartoon characters? Why commercialize the few verses about animals and skip over the main reason of the flood – God destroying the world? Life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, especially because the unicorns never made it on the ark.

Typically, I focus on the deeper, more problematic aspects of a text like this one. Noah did not stand up for his friends and community, saving only his family from destruction. Noah’s sons have a complicated dynamic with their father and each other, resulting in feuding nations in future generations. These are a few of the complexities in this Torah reading and I appreciate learning and teaching about them.

But not today. Today I want a rainbow. I want the bright, colorful outcome of a storm, the sign that better things are coming. Life is filled with ups and downs; some we can control and most we cannot. For me, the enduring lesson of this Torah portion is God’s promise that the whole world will not end, no matter how bad the situation seems in the moment.

The rainbow was the symbol of God’s promise to not destroy the earth, not wipe out humanity because it isn’t proceeding according to plan. It was the sign of the first covenant made between God and humans. It is here where we first see a reciprocal relationship and God acknowledging accountability in this joint endeavor of Creation. It not only reminds humans of their role, it serves as a reminder to God of God’s obligation to humanity to not wipe us out, not destroy us, and have patience as we mess up time and time again.