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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Noach (Genesis 9:1-17) – The Many Colours of the Rainbow

>I do not remember many specific lessons from my primary school experience, but the mnemonic devices we were taught have stuck with me. For the four directions of the compass I always recall ‘Never Eat Soggy Wheetabix’ and ‘Naughty Elephants Squirt Water’. And for the colours of the rainbow I have never forgotten: ‘Richard Of York Gained Battles In Vain’, or my teacher Mrs Rose’s own creation: ‘Run Over Your Grandma Because It’s Violent’ (it’s a little peculiar, but it clearly worked as a memory tool).

The mnemonic device is useful for learning the order of the colours of the rainbow, but knowing the colours and actually seeing a rainbow is something completely different. Over the weekend while listening to the Ryder Cup coverage on the Radio, the golf reporting was temporarily interrupted as the presenter tried to describe the beautiful rainbow he was witnessing at Celtic Manor. He was so moved by this vision of nature that he actually suggested a poet would be best equipped to describe it.

The first recorded rainbow is the one shown to Noach by God as a symbol of their covenant: ‘I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between me and the earth’ (Genesis 9:13). There was something redemptive about that first rainbow and all it represented. The flood, which Noach experienced, was a cataclysmic event, which brought the earth to the brink of destruction. Noach, his family, and the animals from the ark, were the surviving remnant of a destroyed planet.

Having saved Noach and his family, God enters into a new covenant with humanity. This includes the prohibition against eating live flesh (Genesis 9:4), the law against shedding another person’s blood (Genesis 9:6) and the instruction to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:7). The rainbow is a reminder of the covenant which god entered into with Noach, not just for us, but also for God, who will see the rainbow: ‘And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh’ (Genesis 9:15).

We often focus on the covenant between God and Abraham (mentioned from Genesis 15:18), as this is our particular birthright as Jews. We often forget that there was first a covenant with all of humanity, and no particular group or religion. In Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 we are told that the entire world was created from Adam so that no person would say my father was greater than yours. Just in case there was any doubt, the story of Noach provides the same function, so that we are all descended from Adam and Eve, through the line of Noach.

The Torah makes a wonderful statement about God’s relationship with all of humanity by asserting a universal covenant before focussing on a specific one. God is in a relationship with all human beings, not one or other specific religious or ethnic group. And the rainbow is the perfect symbol to represent that covenant.

The rainbow brings together seven different colours, creating a whole, which is significantly more spectacular and beautiful than the sum of its parts. It is representative of the different elements which make up the human race. We come in all shapes, sizes, colours, creeds, religions and races. Each group possesses an individual beauty, but it is together that humanity is truly spectacular and awe inspiring.

I know that whenever I see a rainbow I am frozen in my tracks, stopping to admire the beauty of God’s creation. We don’t get to see them everyday, and the weather conditions have to be just right to create one; but there are few things in nature as beautiful as the rainbow, and there are few things in the world as beautiful as humanity coming together in love and unity.

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