Noach 5779

RABBI YONAH DICK

ותמלא הארץ חמס, “and the land became filled with thievery” (Bereishis 6:11). Rashi, quoting Chazal, comments that although there were other sins contributing to G-d’s decision to destroy the world through the Mabul, the ultimate verdict was sealed as a result of their thievery.
וירא אלקים את הארץ והנה נשחתה, “and G-d saw that the land had become destroyed” (ibid 6:12). The Pasuk implies that the land had already become destroyed. Sforno explains that indeed the devastation rendered via the Mabul had already begun. A society of people who are interested only in themselves has no continuity; it is doomed to fail. G-d’s bringing the Mabul only hastened their eventual demise.
Hashem commanded Noach to construct the Teivah. Into this Teivah he was to bring species of the entire living world. Animals, reptiles, birds, and insects would all be housed in there. The Teivah was not simply a means of escape from world destruction. The Teivah contained a new humanity, a new beginning. Noach was to provide and feed all the creatures in the Teivah for the duration of their stay in it. A year’s time was spent feeding and nourishing the new world.
Indeed, the Midrash teaches that Noach was consumed by this task to the extent of exhaustion. But this was not just an act of preservation. Hashem did not appoint Noach as head zoo-keeper for lack of alternative options. The purpose was to lay a foundation for the new world.
The foundation upon which the new world in the Teivah would be laid was “Chesed,” acts of kindness. The old world, the pre-Mabul civilization, had been destroyed through “Chamas,” acts of selfishness, a preoccupation with self. The new world, the post-Mabul society, was to be built upon acts of benevolence and caring. Noach is instructed to feed the creatures in the Teivah not as world preservation in a physical sense, but as a way to ensure the preservation of the future mankind, thereby inculcating and ingraining kindness and compassion into man as a way of life. Noach’s complete absorption in his task forged kindness into an ideal to be lived rather than something to simply be done.
This idea, the concept of a world based upon kindness, goes deeper. The Pasuk (Tehillim 89:3) states עולם חסד יבנה, “a world of kindness will be built.” Kindness builds worlds. Why so? Kindness is the act of looking beyond oneself. An individual consumed by self will be unable to perceive the others around him. Only after one is able to put his own self-interests aside will he be able to see the needs of others.
Chesed requires one to reach beyond himself. That is the act of Creation. Every act of Creation is the process of fashioning an entity outside oneself. The commentators point out that the Hebrew word “בריאה”, to create, is based upon the Aramaic word “בר”, which means “outside.” Inasmuch as kindness is the act of going outside oneself, it becomes the tool with which to build.
Noach builds the Teivah, constructing a capsule to be filled with acts of goodness. Thus he lays the foundation for a new world – a world that would perpetuate the ideals of giving. Such a world would merit a Covenant-of-Continuity. Kindness is everlasting.


RABBI REUVEN GERSON

ויאמר אלהים אל נח ואל בניו אתו לאמר…: זאת אות הברית אשר אני נתן ביני וביניכם ובין כל נפש חיה אשר אתכם לדרת עולם: את קשתי נתתי בענן… ונראתה הקשת בענן: וזכרתי את בריתי… ולא יהיה עוד המים למבול לשחת כל בשר (בראשית ט)

And G-d spoke to Noach and to his sons with him, saying: “…This will be the sign of the covenant which
I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all generations.
My rainbow I have set in the cloud… When the rainbow will be seen in the cloud, I will remember
My covenant… Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Bereishis 9)

The covenant that G-d made was so important that Chazal instituted a special Bracha to be recited on seeing a rainbow.
The Pesukim imply that the rainbow was created after the Mabul, as a covenant. Indeed, the Ibn Ezra explains the verse this way, disputing an earlier interpretation of the Pasuk from Rav Saadia Gaon.
Rav Yonason Eybeschutz also writes that the consistency of the air and the atmosphere before the flood was so pure and ethereal that the light was not refracted and therefore no rainbow was created. Only after the flood, with the changes in the nature of the world, was a rainbow possible. This question had already been asked by the Ramban in his commentary. “However, we are compelled to believe the words of the Greeks, that the light of the sun through moist air creates a rainbow, since taking a vessel of water before the sun will cause something similar in appearance to a rainbow.”
The Ramban proceeds to explain that the rainbow indeed existed since Creation, but now, after the Mabul, it became the testimony to the covenant. In other words, an already existing item now assumed a role as a testament and a reminder to an agreement or covenant. The Ramban demonstrates that there are many other examples of this in Chumash.
The Shelah HaKodesh writes in a similar manner, that the lunar eclipse, although a predictable phenomenon, is also deemed a sign from G-d.
Seeing a rainbow should evoke mixed feelings in us. On the one hand, it is a beautiful phenomenon of nature that truly demonstrates the Nifla’os haBorei, Hashem’s wondrous creation. As the Gemara (Brachos 59a) records, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said, “One who sees a rainbow in a cloud should fall on his face, as the verse states, כמראה הקשת אשר יהיה בענן ביום הגשם כן מראה הנגה סביב הוא מראה דמות כבוד ה’, “As the rainbow appears in the cloud on a rainy day, so appeared the brilliant surrounding light; this is the image of the Honor of Hashem (Yechezkel 1:28).” Although this is not Halacha, it is still clear that the rainbow is a positive metaphor. It is also used to describe the Kohein Gadol when he exits the Kodesh Hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.
But the rainbow also serves as a reminder that the world’s survival is contingent on the covenant, and when we see it, we should fear the potential destruction of the world. For this reason, in the era of the Gemara, it was a source of pride for one to have lived in a generation when a rainbow never appeared (Kesubos 77b), as it intimated that that generation was never threatened with destruction!
Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch concludes the laws of reciting the Bracha on the rainbow with the following: “And it is prohibited to gaze at it (the rainbow) more than necessary.” The Gemara (Chagiga 16a) reports that gazing at the rainbow is bad for one’s eyes.
As a matter of fact, the Rishonim ask this question: How can one look at the rainbow to recite the Bracha, if gazing at it is harmful? They answer that it is only harmful to gaze at a rainbow, but not to notice it or glance at it. Thus, when noticing it, one should recite the Bracha, but not look at it again afterwards (Rosh, cited by Avudraham).
The Chayei Odom (Klal 63:4) mentions, “I saw in a work, whose name I no longer remember, that one should not tell someone else that he saw a rainbow, since this is disparaging information.” The Mishna Berurah and the Kaf Hachayim both quote him.