The Covenant of the Rainbow by Rabbi Ezra Wiener


The difficulties that emerge from the juxtaposition of two or more seemingly unrelated topics in the Torah frequently generate Halachic and/or philosophical connections between the topics.  Parshat Noach is no different in this regard.

Upon his departure from the תיבה, Noach erects a Mizbeach and offers Korbanot.  (Although the notion of bringing an offering was introduced previously by Kayin and Hevel, it is Noach who establishes a precedent for the offering of an Olah on a Mizbeach.)  Hashem then smells the ריח ניחוח and is resolved not to “curse the ground anymore for the sake of man.”  This is followed by a blessing to be fruitful and multiply which in turn is followed by a guarantee that the beasts will be instilled with fear of man and man is permitted to eat all moving creatures.  At this juncture, Noach is commanded regarding the prohibition of suicide, the response that Hashem exhibits, and the way a court should act towards a murderer.  The section concludes with the establishment of a covenant via the testimony of the קשת (rainbow).

In addition to the difficulty in establishing a correlation between these episodes and commandments, another problem at the beginning of the Parsha becomes evident: Was it necessary for the Torah to describe the measurements of the תיבה in such detail?

In truth, this last difficulty may not be of much concern to us, as we are quite used to detailed measurements, specifically in the construction of the Mishkan and its vessels.

This echo of the Mishkan, which accompanies the description of the long, arduous task of building the תיבה, may present us with a solution to our original problem. 

The Mishkan epitomizes the human being’s need for a physical manifestation of Kedusha, and the Korbanot represent the human being’s desire and capability to sanctify himself through the mundane and the physical.  It is when only Noach takes the initiative to offer Korbanot from such a limited stock, demonstrating the human’s capability to sanctify the physical world, that Hashem vows not to bring destruction to the world.  Noach’s actions therefore merit a blessing to procreate, as this is the type of “new world” that Hashem sees fit to have its inhabitants multiply within.  As Noach demonstrates the ability to use animals for a holy purpose, Hashem in turn gives Noach permission to consume animals and other living creatures even for unholy purposes.  This can only be a reality if the animals indeed are fearful of the humans.  There is one concern, however, with the innovation of sacrificing animals; As the nations of the world were eventually to introduce the sacrifice of human beings as a religious practice and as a primary manifestation of the sanctification of the physical, Hashem cautions Noach that this next step in the sanctification process is antireligious and unholy.  The human being is created in the image of Hashem and that image is to be preserved by refraining from taking one’s own life and by insuring that punishment is exacted for those who do not deem precious the life of a human being.

What better representation of man’s ability to elevate the Earth and its creatures to spiritual heights, and more specifically to offer them to Hashem, than the rainbow, which stretches from the earth to the heavens?

Love or Fear by Yehuda Turetsky

Selichot by Daniel Wenger