Rainbows

Rainbows

Rainbows (Keshet)

קשת

Seeing a rainbow creates a sense of enchantment and rainbow colors in the heavens have long stirred the human imagination. A rainbow is not a physical object, but an “optical and meteorological phenomena” that shows us the spectrum of visible light, often dramatically set in the clouds or against a waterfall. The most beautiful natural settings are often the most fertile grounds for rainbows, but their magic can surprise us anywhere, causing us to pause and connect with our surroundings.

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The First Rainbow in the Torah

The First Rainbow in the Torah

At the end of the story of the Great Flood (which begins in Genesis 6:9), God declares that the rainbow is a sign of the covenant between God and the entire earth, that God will never again destroy the earth with a cataclysmic flood. God said, "This is the sign of the...

Rainbows in Jewish Mysticism

Rainbows in Jewish Mysticism

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. Ezekiel's vision lead to the association of the rainbow with...

A Blessing for Rainbows

A Blessing for Rainbows

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...

Ot: A Sign

Ot: A Sign

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...

A Rainbow of Hope

A Rainbow of Hope

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...

Rainbow Tallit

Rainbow Tallit

Wrapping oneself in a tallit (prayer shawl) for prayer and meditation is a beautiful way to create a sacred space, to feel the embrace of the divine. Not too long ago, all tallitot (Jewish prayer shawls) were white with black, or maybe blue stripes. Rabbi Zalman...

Light

Light

Light (Ohr)

אור

Need a moment of retreat, a micro-Shabbat? Stop and look at some natural light (or at night, go out and look at the night sky).  I have always been transfixed by light. Gazing at the dappled sunlight and shadow in a creek near my house, watching the sunlight dance and sparkle on a pool of water, or contemplating the changing hues of a sunset or sunrise, all of these rays of light seem to connect immediately to my soul.  We experience light both physically and spiritually. On a physical level, sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, growth, and for life on earth to exist. Light sets our body clocks and regulates our circadian rhythms. On a symbolic level, light has a universal meaning of goodness, awakening, and hope, associated with warmth and healing.

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, describes light as a pervasive symbol in Jewish theology and tradition, where it is “the primary link between divine and human worlds.” Since God’s first act of creation is to create light, light is associated with creative power. In mystical thought, divinity is pictured as a source of endless light: Ohr Ein Sof. Light is a symbol of Torah, “For a commandment is a lamp, and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23). Light also has a moral association; the people of Israel are called upon to be an ethical example, “a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 24:6).

 

Meander down the path in this Gateway of Light to explore the symbol of light in Jewish tradition and in your life.

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Or Zarua: Let the Light In

Or Zarua: Let the Light In

Light is sown for the righteous and gladness for the upright in heart.  --Psalm 97:11 Original song by Shir Yaakov “Light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. In that way it reminds us of God."...

The Creation of Light in the Torah

The Creation of Light in the Torah

The book of Genesis shows the creation of light in two phases, first Light itself, then luminaries. . . Genesis 1:1-5 God creates Light: As God began creating the heavens and the earth—and the earth was unformed and void, with darkness on the face of the deep, and a...

Where to find the hidden light

Where to find the hidden light

The Hidden Light: It seems an oxymoron. Light shines and reveals what is hidden. How can a light be hidden, and where might we find it again? According to the Torah, light was created on Day One of Creation, but the sun and other heavenly luminaries were not created...

The Miracle of Light: Hidden in Plain Sight

The Miracle of Light: Hidden in Plain Sight

I heard the following Midrash repeatedly from my teacher, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi: Rabbi Simeon ben Yehozadak asked Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman, saying: "Since I hear that you are a master of Aggadah [sacred lore], tell me how light was created." Rabbi Samuel bar...

Light in Jewish Mysticism

Light in Jewish Mysticism

There are many Jewish mystical concepts and doctrines that center on the metaphor of light. Classic Kabbalistic works often have names that focus on light, such as Sefer Ha-Bahir (the Book of Brightness) or the Zohar (the Brilliance). Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite,...

Darkness

Darkness

Darkness (Hoshech)

חושך

We tend to equate light with good and darkness with bad. But darkness is the inseparable partner of light; indeed, we cannot see one without the other. Our modern world is lit up 24 hours a day; even when we turn off the lights at bedtime, our homes glow with blinking lights from our various electronic devices. We need dark nights as much as sunny days, to maintain our circadian rhythms, allow us rest and promote our health. 

On a spiritual level, we may fear darkness because it symbolizes times of struggle or even despair. Yet we know from life experience that it is often those dark times of life that forge our greatest growth.

Conversely, darkness may be a gift, inviting us to restfulness, inwardness, intimacy. Natural beauty, art, and aesthetics require a balance of light and shadow. Modern theologians of many faiths are recognizing that darkness is just as necessary to our growth as light.

God “forms light and creates darkness” (Isaiah 45:7, quoted in the traditional Jewish morning prayers). Indeed, according to the Torah’s account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, darkness exists before light is created. There is evening before there is morning, and so all Jewish holy days begin with sunset and not with sunrise.

So head out into the night and explore this Gateway of Darkness to explore the symbolism of darkness and night in Jewish Tradition and in your own life.

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Ambiance: Forest at Night

Ambiance: Forest at Night

Featured photo: "Sunset" by Laurence Louis, via Flickr   Learn about "Dark Nights of the Soul" in the Torah, or teturn to the Gateway of Darkness

Dark Nights of the Soul

Dark Nights of the Soul

Many pivotal biblical encounters with the Divine take place during the darkness of night, when dreams, blessings and visions are imparted. and one of the most important is when our forefather Jacob wrestles with a mysterious stranger. Jacob (Ya'akov) was left alone....

You Want it Darker, by Leonard Cohen

Enter the darkness of the human experience in the powerful music of Leonard Cohen, of blessed memory, from his last album, interspersed with the Hebrew word, "Hineni," here I am, and words from the Kaddish, "Magnified and Sanctified." Continue to learn about facing...

Enter the Darkness to Greet the Dawn

Enter the Darkness to Greet the Dawn

Can we face the darkness of our own depths? Individuals and societies who can't face their own shadow side will often project it on others. A fairly literal translation of Genesis 1:2 would be: The earth was unformed and void -- and darkness on the face of the...

Song: Evening the Evenings

Song: Evening the Evenings

"Evening the Evenings" by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael Based on the traditional Evening Prayer   Featured Image: Sunset in Chobe National Park, Botswana, Elisheva Danan Explore the Darkness Before Creation with Rabbi Fern Feldman, or return to the Gateway of...

The Darkness Before Creation

The Darkness Before Creation

When I explore my own nature, or experience the sacred, most often I feel a deepening into darkness.  Although dominating theologies create binaries, in which light is good and darkness is evil, when we recognize the multivalent nature of all that is, we see wave upon...

The Moon

The Moon

The Moon (Ha’yrah)

הירח

Gazing skyward at night and spotting the moon, I feel greeted by a friend who shows up in many different outfits and moods. Sometimes she appears as a thin crescent in the dark night, sometimes a fully glowing round beacon with a halo. Sometimes she floats above the horizon, a giant orange orb lit by the setting sun. Other nights she peeks demurely from behind a veil of shifting clouds. Most wonderfully, sometimes I gaze up in the morning or at dusk and find her winking at me then, too.

The Moon is important to life on earth, including regulation of tides, influence on nocturnal animal behavior, and even stabilization of the earth’s rotation on its axis. The Moon is also an important symbol in Jewish tradition. We base our calendar and holidays primarily on the moon and its cycles. In Rabbinic tradition, the Moon and its cycle of restoration became a symbol of the Jewish people. In Jewish mysticism. the Moon is associated with the Shechinah, the feminine Divine Presence, and with the role of women in general. Celebrating the new moon (Rosh Hodesh) and blessing the waxing moon (Kiddush Levanah) are ancient traditions that have become important expressions of contemporary Jewish spirituality.

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Moonrise in Oregon

Moonrise in Oregon

Enjoy a beautiful full moon in nature anytime with this serene and meditative video that starts with verses from Genesis. The video continues with calming views of the Oregon lake and mountains.   Explore the Moon's relationship to time and renewal, or return to...

The Moon, Jewish Time, and Renewal

The Moon, Jewish Time, and Renewal

הַחֹ֧דֶשׁ הַזֶּ֛ה לָכֶ֖ם רֹ֣אשׁ חֳדָשִׁ֑ים רִאשׁ֥וֹן הוּא֙ לָכֶ֔ם לְחָדְשֵׁ֖י הַשָּׁנָֽה׃ This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you. Exodus 12:1  :החדש הזה. הֶרְאָהוּ לְבָנָה בְּחִדּוּשָׁהּ וְאָמַר לוֹ...

Rosh Hodesh: Celebration of the New Moon

Rosh Hodesh: Celebration of the New Moon

Rosh Hodesh, also spelled Rosh Chodesh ("Ch" as in "Bach"), is the celebration of the new Hebrew month, an ancient festival finding renewal among contemporary Jews. Rosh Hodesh means the "head" or first day of the lunar month (just as "Rosh Hashanah" means the "head...

Rosh Hodesh Moon, song by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Rosh Hodesh Moon, song by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael

Its a moon song Bubbling up and over me Darkness, sets my spirit free. Rosh Hodesh, enchanted time to hallow the month Rosh Hodesh (also spelled Chodesh) the new moon, is traditionally a special day of rest and celebration for women. Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael wrote...

Midrash: How the Moon Shrank

Midrash: How the Moon Shrank

וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־שְׁנֵ֥י הַמְּאֹרֹ֖ת הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים אֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַגָּדֹל֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַיּ֔וֹם וְאֶת־הַמָּא֤וֹר הַקָּטֹן֙ לְמֶמְשֶׁ֣לֶת הַלַּ֔יְלָה וְאֵ֖ת הַכּוֹכָבִֽים׃ God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule by day and the lesser light to...

The Myth of Moon, Reinvented Over the Ages

The Myth of Moon, Reinvented Over the Ages

The midrash about the Moon's diminishment in the previous post did not remain static over the centuries, but was reinvented to reveal new meanings. Explore the changing face of this ancient legend in depth, through this fascinating article by Melila Hellner-Eshed, the...