The rainbow is also a mystical symbol. The prophet Ezekiel, in exile in Babylonia (6th Century BCE), had an ecstatic vision of God and compared the brightness of this vision to the appearance of a rainbow.
The Sages of the Talmud composed many berachot (blessings) to be recited for nature’s wonders and pleasures, including one for seeing a rainbow (a full arc in the sky):
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, zokher ha-brit, ve-ne-eman be-vrito ve-kayem at ma’amaro.
ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם, זוכר הברית ונאמן בבריתו וקים במאמרו
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, sovereign of the world, who remembers the Covenant and is faithful to the covenant and keeps the divine promise (made in the Noah story).
by Nessa Rapoport
A Friday afternoon in midsummer, the huge sky smudged by mist yet oddly bright. I was on holiday, alone in a cafe overlooking the harbor. My excellent husband had taken the children to swim, lending me that rare gift in a working mother’s life, a quotient of solitude.
But hamu me’ei: My gut was roiling, breath constricted by terror. I was — in this beatitude — falling with no net, down, down, into the depths. A friend was abruptly ill, and I did not know how to live without her.
Please. Please, please.
I was off from my own congregation the week after the Holidays and prayed at a lovely Reform temple in the Berkshires. Despite enjoying my break, I felt burdened by a loss of hope around the violent situation in Israel. As I prayed the Amidah, the standing prayer, my eyes lit on a footnote with a message from the beyond:
Sunrise Rainbows in Kailua
I awoke in Kailua, the Island of Oahu, Hawaii, to a chorus of tropical birds singing loudly and melodiously, and distant waves in the background. The scent of plumeria and the local varieties of jasmine and gardenia continually perfumed the air. I made my way to the upper deck of the house where we were staying and watched the sunrise over the Pacific to the east: first a glowing purple horizon, then gray clouds tinting pink, finally a giant ball of orange fire lifting into the heavens.
The rainbow, with it’s varied and beautiful refracted hues has become the symbol of diversity, including in our Jewish communities: diversity of gender identity and sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, and physical or intellectual ability, among many other factors. The Torah teaches that every human being is created in the divine image. Check into these organizations that foster diversity and inclusiveness in the Jewish world (I love noting how often retreats and camps are part of the work!):
The Rainbow Covenant & the Planet
Although we often first learn the story of Noah as children, as if it is just a colorful tale of a floating zoo, it is actually a terrifying story of destruction, chaos, and survival. After Noah, his family, and the animals survive the Great Flood, God chooses the rainbow, an existing natural phenomena, as the sign of a covenant of forbearance not just with one person or even a nation, but with the entire planet.
As if rainbows weren’t beautiful enough by themselves, an amazing moment of wonder…
— US Dept of Interior (@Interior) December 12, 2016
A hike paid off for Rabbi Naomi Levy, with this awesome view of a rainbow amid a waterfall at Yosemite National Park
What does the Rainbow symbol mean in your life?
Is there a time that a rainbow lifted your spirits to a moment of enchantment or transcendence?