The Flood and the Rainbow

וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת הָאָ֖רֶץ לִפְנֵ֣י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וַתִּמָּלֵ֥א הָאָ֖רֶץ חָמָֽס׃
“The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness and violence” (Genesis 6:11).

These words appear at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Noach. Today, we are living these words as our reality. This is not an abstraction; it is literal. The Hebrew word “violence” in this verse is hamas. 

Last week, Israel was filled with Hamas, the internationally recognized terrorist organization that infiltrated its borders and wrought destruction and havoc, and with the Torah’s understanding of hamas: violence, lawlessness, devastation, and heartbreak. 

The Talmud teaches us: “To destroy one life is to destroy the entire world…to save one life is to save the entire world” (Sanhedrin 37a). Last week, when Jews were murdered in their homes, when hundreds were kidnapped, when they were humiliated, and when their communities were destroyed, so many worlds—along with the hearts of the Jewish people—were destroyed. Who could ever have thought that we would once again experience such a brutal attack, and have to feel this immense grief? I thought this type of violence against Jews was consigned to the dark pages of our history books. But today, we are living it. In the words of my colleague, Rabbi Sharon Brous, “It will take generations for us to recover from the psychic wounds we have incurred this past week.” 

The Torah tells us that God could not abide this world of violence—humanity could not recover from the wounds they were inflicting upon each other—and decided to destroy the world in a flood and begin anew. Only Noah, his family, and a few lucky pairs of animals were saved. 

As I picture Noah huddled in his ark, alone and afraid of the destruction taking place all around him, I think of my Israeli friends, hiding in their safe rooms, wondering when this nightmare will end, when it will be safe to go outside, and how they will ever begin to rebuild.

After the flood, God recognizes that destroying the earth is not a viable solution. God comes to see that there will always be incomprehensible violence and unmitigated pain caused by humans, but that there is also hope that we can do better. God says: “I will maintain My covenant with you: never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Genesis 9:12). God sets a rainbow in the sky as a sign of this promise. 

As worlds are destroyed around us, and as our hearts break as we witness the devastation, it is up to us to serve as the rainbow, the goodness that God saw in the world when God promised never again to destroy it.

I am amazed and inspired by our community at JCP. We are that rainbow. We have come together in solidarity, for each other and for our Israeli siblings, who have shared that our support means so much to them. We have called our friends, given hugs, cried, held each other’s pain, shared our grief, and prayed together. We have donated to Israeli organizations that are stepping up in this time of crisis. We have protected ourselves. We have stood by Israel as so many condoned this terrorist attack, which is an attack against Jews everywhere. 

There will be challenges ahead, many of which we are already confronting. We have to witness as people question Israel’s right to defend itself. We also have to witness a painful war, and the tragedy of civilian deaths. And we have to wonder what lies ahead. 

But through it all, my hope is that we can continue to be the rainbow, the bright spot in the darkness, the goodness that keeps our broken world afloat. 

There is so much pain and sadness for us to hold. Throughout it all, may we continue to come together during this terrible time, as our people have done for centuries. 

Shabbat shalom,