Great Expectations by Rabbi Yosef Adler



Our Parsha describes an agonizing decision that Hashem had to make having witnessed the moral decay of all of humanity. He virtually destroys all that constituted life except Noach, his family, and representatives of the animal kingdom. At the conclusion of the מבול, Hashem establishes a covenant with Noach as a promise that He will never again destroy the world with a flood. The אות, or sign, of the covenant is the rainbow (בראשית י"ז-'ט':ח).

Commenting on one of those Pesukim, Ibn Ezra (לפסוק י"ג שם) claims that Hashem produced the rainbow for the very first time after the flood. The phrase את קשתי נתתי"", generally translated in the past tense to mean "and I placed my rainbow," should be interpreted ,הנה נתתי עתה קשתי"" "and I am presently placing my rainbow" as a symbol of my covenant. The Ramban (לפסוק י"ב שם), however, agrees with Rabbeinu Saadyah Gaon that the word נתתי"," "and I placed," indicates that the phenomenon of the rainbow already was in existence, having been produced at the very beginning of Creation. Now, after the flood, it is merely being used as the sign of the ברית, the covenant. But setting aside the grammatical question concerning the word נתתי, what difference does it really make whether the rainbow had already been in existence or was created anew for this occasion by Hashem?

Rashi (לפסוק ט"ז שם) alerts us to another irregularity here. Hashem is clearly the speaker in all of the Pesukim alluded to above. Why then does He state that the covenant is "בין אלקים ובין כל נפש חיה," "between Elokim and all living creatures," instead of stating that it is ",ביני ובין כל נפש חיה" "between Myself and all living creatures?" Rashi responds that the word Elokim is used to suggest מדת הדין, the attribute of justice, and to teach that the covenant is between the attribute of Heavenly justice and the people on earth. One may, however, suggest an alternate explanation. Hashem is perhaps reminding Himself, as it were, that He is G-d. He is the אדון עולם אשר מלך בטרם כל יציר נברא, He is the king of the universe who reigned supreme even prior to the creation of the world. Sometimes, parents, teachers and even Hashem expect so much from their children and students that they simply forget that these children are not yet parents, or teachers, and are certainly not the equal of Hashem. Presenting this message, the Pesukim then read beautifully. Hashem is indicating that the rainbow will be an eternal reminder to Himself that He is G-d and thus must react with patience and compassion to all living creatures, because they are not on His level. Perhaps this is the significance of the Ramban's insistence that the rainbow was already in existence from the beginning of Creation. Because of that fact, it serves as a reminder to Hashem Himself that one can have high expectations from one's creations and set high standards for them, but realistically, one cannot become totally frustrated, angry, and disappointed if they fail to reach those expectations and maintain those standards all the time. Since we are instructed to emulate Hashem, we would be well advised as parents and teachers to adopt a similar attitude vis'-a-vis' our own children. Only then can we assure the survival and growth of our world.

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