Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More Post Noach thoughts.

by Lurker

A couple of thoughts on Noah's rainbow:

Is the rainbow "bad"?

Ever since I was a child, I have been taught in yeshiva that the rainbow is a "bad" sign, rather than "good", because even though it represents God's promise not to destroy the earth, it also indicates that God is angry at us for our sins.

Frankly, I find this notion that the rainbow is a "bad" sign to be perplexing. On Yom Kippur, we believe that God, after having reviewed all our many sins, nevertheless forgives us, and spares us punishment. So in that case (using the flawed logic above), Yom Kippur must be a "bad" thing, since it centers around our sins, for which we deserve punishment. Haza"l, of course, did not see things that way: In fact, R. Shimon b. Gamliel said (Mishna Taanit 4:8) that Yom Kippur was one of the two most joyous days of the year -- in celebration of the very fact that we gained God's forgiveness on that day.

The rainbow, then, is like Yom Kippur. It, too, indicates that we have sinned -- and that God, in his mercy, chooses nevertheless to forgive us. Therefore, like Yom Kippur, the rainbow, too, ought to be seen as a happy, joyous thing -- and not a "bad" thing.

Were there rainbows before Noah?

Rashi (as opposed to the Ramban) posits that the first rainbow that ever existed was the one witnessed by Noah. And presumably, Rashi feels compelled to say this because he finds it untenable to believe that rainbows already existed previously -- since the rainbow is described by God, after the Flood, as a sign that He will not destroy the world again. Therefore, Rashi seems to be saying, the rainbow must have been something "new under the sun", first created at the time of Noah, rather than having been a pre-existing part of the original Creation.

However, it should be pointed out that there exists a completely different school of though in Haza"l -- one that says that the laws of nature are permanent and inviolate, and that these laws have never changed since Creation -- not even in the context of things that are commonly regarded as "miracles". This idea is the basis for the mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:9) which tells us that the following ten things were created during the six days of Creation: The pit that swallowed Korah, Miriam's well, the mouth of Bilam's talking donkey, the manna that fell in the desert, Moshe's staff, the shamir (with which the Temple was built), the alphabet, the inscription of the Ten Commandments, the two tablets of the Ten Commandments -- and the rainbow.

This mishna is saying that nature doesn't change, ever: Even things we call "miracles" do not actually constitute changes in the order of nature, but rather, were built into the fabric of the universe from the very beginning. And by including the rainbow in the list, this mishna is rejecting Rashi's idea that the rainbow was something "new under the sun", and supporting the Ramban's contention that it was, in fact, always part of nature.


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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't think so. On the contrary the ramban says reluctantly that the rainbow had appeared previously because it seems to contradict this chazal. I.e. the rainbow was built into nature but had never appeared before, just as a talking donkey never appeared before bilaam's donkey appeared, and there was no manna prior to being seen in the desert, and etc these things appear as miracles but were created as per avos - the interpretation here is influenced by rambam but is implying in any case that these are first time appearances. The ramban is saying contra chazal that the rainbow did appear previously. the mishna is explaining MIRACLES built into nature (as per rambam) - ramban is saying this is a natural event and you can create a rainbow yourself since its just a natural process

Neshama said...

Just like on Yom Echad EVERYTHING was created, but only later (Yom Sheni, etc.) were the details brought into fruition/reality; such as rain only after Adam davened for it, and of course, Moshiach who will only appear when 'the time is right'. And as you noted, those 10 items were created during the six days, but actually they only appeared for the FIRST time much later on.

So in defense of Rashi (as if he needs me to defend) I posit that the rainbow only appeared for the FIRST TIME because of Noah and Hashem's pledge (even tho it was created much earlier). Midrash Rabbah says that it didn't appear before Noah's time.

I don't think the Mishna is rejecting Rashi's idea, it's only how it is being read. Actually, both are correct, if you widen your perspective.

PS Should you even think so, please forgive me for treading into man's territory.

Anonymous said...

The difference between Yom Kippur and the rainbow is that on Yom Kippur, we hope that H-shem will forgive us, as we have worked and worked on teshuva and improving ourselves.
Regarding the rainbow, it's a negative sign, because H-shem had previously promised Noach that He would never again destroy the world-and the rainbow is symbolic of this. Meaning that H-shem shows a rainbow when He wants to destroy the world but previously promised Noach that this would never occur henceforth.
On Yom Kippur we improve ourselves and do teshuva and because of our effort and sincere regeret over our sins, we hope H-shem will forgive us. We don't see anything like this by a rainbow.H-shem WANTS to destroy us but can't because of a previous 'vow'.

Anonymous said...

rashi is not disagreeing with the mishna. the mishna is implying that the rainbow appeared for the first time in noah's day. ramban says, no, it was built into nature as a phenomenon that happened before noah too. ramban is disagreeing with chazal here.

Anonymous said...

Poor Lurker, having grown up thinking that rainbows are a bad sign. Its not that Noah's rainbow was the first one ever. It was special because it appeared at a very opportune time. (Just like the Red Sea split just in time. Only there weren't any fruit trees sticking out of the sides of the rainbow).

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Poor Lurker? Its taught all over the place that rainbows are a bad sign.

Anonymous said...

Such piss poor education!

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