חיפוש בארכיון השיעורים

parashat Noach - The Covenant, Rainbow and Tzitzit

מרן רה"י הרב שבתי סבתו | ה חשון התשפא | 23.10.2020

Parashat Noach

פר' נח


הברית הקשת והציצית
The Covenant, Rainbow and Tzitzit



The Covenant of the Rainbow

In this article, we seek to present a unique approach to the phenomenon of the rainbow and its significance as a sign of G-d's promise not to destroy the world.


The early generations of the world “corrupted [their] way upon the earth” (B'reshit 6, 12), thus bringing about the Great Flood and world's near-total obliteration. Even before the Flood occurred, however, Hashem informed Noach that he would later forge a covenant with him:

וַאֲנִי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ... כֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ יִגְוָע.
וַהֲקִמֹתִי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אִתָּךְ...
Behold I will bring the flood, water upon the earth… all that is upon the earth
will perish. And I will fulfill My covenant with you…
(B'reshit 6,17-18)


The covenant is to include, on the one hand, a commitment on G-d's part not to destroy the world again, and on the other hand, a parallel commitment by humanity to populate and rebuild the world. Each side in this bilateral agreement obligates himself toward a common goal: the building and development of a material world that is more ethical than its predecessor. It will be a world in which "Hashem will rejoice in His creations" (Psalms 104,31).


The bilateral nature of this agreement is noted in the Torah. Man's obligation is this: "And you, be fruitful and multiply, swarm upon the earth and multiply thereon." (9,7) And Hashem's responsibility will be: "And I: behold, I establish My covenant… and there will never again be a flood to destroy the earth." (verses 9-11) And the bottom line is:

זֹאת אוֹת הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם
This is the sign of the Covenant that I place between Myself and you. (verse 12)


Hashem demanded that mankind show Him that it was accepting upon itself its side of the bargain. He wanted to see a sign that a new generation had arisen that would recognize and appreciate the gift of life G-d had given them. This sign was presented by Noach, who showed his gratefulness for his miraculous salvation by offering a sacrifice (8,20). This show of gratefulness planted the first buds of a new generation that appreciates and thanks G-d, and that is ethical and upright – in total contrast to the evil and corrupt generation that was destroyed by the flood. Noach's gesture led to the Divine commitment to preserve the world:

וַיָּרַח ה' אֶת רֵיחַ הַנִּיחֹחַ, וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל לִבּוֹ, לֹא אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה...
וְלֹא אֹסִף עוֹד לְהַכּוֹת אֶת כָּל חַי כַּאֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי

G-d smelled the sweet savor, and said to Himself:
I will not again curse the earth… and I will not again smite all life as I did.


Noach's commitment comprised a set of seven mitzvot, known as the Noachide Commandments. The central axis around which they revolve is this: "And you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly upon the earth and multiply in it." (9,7)


Noach and sons must settle the destroyed world, increase its population, and ensure its development. Quite clearly, this implies a parallel ban on murder, which diminishes and weakens the population! In fact, the crime of murder is heavily emphasized in
G-d's warning to Noach's descendants: "He who sheds the blood of man, through man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (verse 6) And this is the source of the ban on ever min hachai, eating an organ of a live animal: "But flesh with its soul, its blood, you shall not eat" (verse 4) – meaning, as long as its soul is still a part of it, do not eat its meat.


On the other hand, for the first time, some types of meat will now be permitted. We know that Adam had been instructed to eat only that which grows from the ground:

הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כָּל עֵשֶׂב זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע...
וְאֶת כָּל הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ פְרִי עֵץ... לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה

Behold I have given you every seed bearing herb…
and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.


But the children of Noach were told:

כָּל רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא חַי לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה, כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כֹּל
Every living moving thing shall be yours to eat; like the green vegetation,
I have given you all.


Thus, in the framework of the Covenant of the Rainbow, Noach and sons are obligated to develop the world, not murder, and not eat organs of a live animal – but they are permitted to eat meat. Is there a connection between the central commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" and the dispensation to eat meat? Indeed there is, from two angles:

  1. There are many places in which local plants are edible only to animals. If man is to prosper and thrive there as well, he cannot be limited to vegetarianism. The Torah therefore allows hunting for food, thus expanding the supply of suitable places for man to live and facilitating a population increase there as well. In this way, the Divine command to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" is enhanced.
  2. If animals were allowed to multiply naturally without being consumed by men, they would eat all the plant life, leaving an insufficient amount for humanity. The Torah's permission to engage in hunting cuts back on the propagation of animals.


In short, the covenant between G-d and Noach emphasizes their mutual obligations for the continued existence and development of the world.



The Sign of the Rainbow

אֶת קַשְׁתִּי נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץ
My rainbow I have placed in the cloud,
and it will be a sign of the covenant between Me and the world.


The Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah, raises an important question regarding the entire concept of the rainbow as a Divine sign. The Torah implies that the first time a rainbow ever appeared was after the great flood. But in fact, we know that rainbows are governed by natural laws of physics that G-d put in place on the very first days of Creation! Specifically, as every beginning physics student knows, white light that encounters a prism is refracted into seven colors. Similarly, when the sun's rays hit water drops scattered in the air, they break into what we perceive as a seven-color arc – a rainbow in the sky! How, then, are we to understand the above verse?


The Ramban explains it as follows: "My rainbow – that which has always been placed in the cloud and exists in the world ever since the Six Days of Creation – I hereby render into a covenantal sign, between Myself and the earth."


The difficulty with this explanation is that the verse states, "My rainbow I have placed," and not, "My rainbow that I have placed." Let us, therefore, return to the usual interpretation, which is that Hashem is saying, "I will place a rainbow in the cloud as a covenantal sign that I will not bring another flood upon the world." How so?


At the time of the Flood, very heavy clouds covered the earth, and rain fell for 40 consecutive days without a break. No rainbow was seen during this period, because the sun's rays could not be seen through the thick clouds. What Hashem said to Noach was that He would not allow such a situation to happen again. Instead, He will thin out and diffuse the clouds, such that sunlight will be able to penetrate and form a rainbow. This will be the sign that He remembers His oath not to bring another flood upon the world.


This explanation helps us see that though the rainbow is truly a natural phenomenon that began well before Noach's times, G-d arranged it so that from then on, it could actually be seen by mortal men, and thus serve as a sign that G-d does not want the rain to continue to fall and become a flood.



Rainbow and Remembrance

Still, the verses describing the Covenant of the Rainbow (B'reshit 9,8-17) appear difficult to understand, from several angles. Let us focus first on this:

וְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָן, וּרְאִיתִיהָ לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם
בֵּין אֱ-לֹהִים וּבֵין כָּל נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה בְּכָל בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֶץ
The rainbow will be in the clouds, and I will see it to remember the eternal covenant between G-d and every living soul in all flesh that is on the earth. (verse 16)


Question 1: "I will see it to remember the eternal covenant" - Does G-d need to see the rainbow in order to remember His covenant with life? "Forgetting" is not in G-d's vocabulary!


Question 2:  "I will see it… the covenant between G-d and…" Why does G-d begin in first person form, and end by referring to Himself in the third person?


Question 3: What does this verse add to what we read previously:

... וְנִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָן. וְזָכַרְתִּי אֶת בְּרִיתִי אֲשֶׁר בֵּינִי וּבֵינֵיכֶם...
The rainbow will be seen in the clouds,
and I will remember the covenant between Myself and you…
(verses 14-15)

Question 4: The entire passage is spoken by Hashem to Noach. Why, then, in verse 17, does the Torah suddenly interrupt the Divine speech to say once again, "G-d said to Noach, This is the sign of the covenant…"


To answer these difficulties, let us take another look at the verses:

  1. First, G-d informs Noach and sons of their basic obligation: "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth." (verse 7)
  2. G-d then states His own obligation, in general terms: "I will establish My covenant with you." (verse 9)
  3. With whom exactly is G-d making the Covenant? "…with you and with your descendants after you." (verse 9)
  4. – and not only with human beings, but also with animal life: "…and every living creature with you among the birds, the livestock, and all the beasts of the earth." (verse 10)
  5. Next, Noach hears what exactly the Covenant requires of G-d: "I will establish My covenant with you, and all life will never be cut short by the waters of a flood. There will never again be a flood to destroy the earth." (verse 11)
  6. Hashem then declares the permanence of His sign: "This is the sign of the Covenant that I am giving… for eternal generations." (verse 12)
  7. What is that sign? "My rainbow I have placed in the cloud, and it will be a covenantal sign between Me and the earth" (verse 13)
  8. G-d then announces that when the clouds amass for rainfall, He will make sure to disperse them in time, so that the sun's rays can penetrate and produce a rainbow: "When I bring clouds upon the earth, the rainbow will be seen in the clouds." (verse 14)
  9. The rainbow will not be a reminder to G-d of His covenant with the world, but rather a testament to the fact that He remembers it: "I will remember My covenant between Me and you…" (verse 15). This answers our first question above.
  10. The dispersal of the clouds and the shining of the sun will prevent the rain from continuing to fall and possibly cause a flood: "the waters shall not again become a flood to destroy all flesh." (verse 15)


The Torah does not say so, but this is the end of G-d's speech to Noach. The next verse has no introduction, and, contrary to what we thought above in Question 2, is stated by Noach:

וְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָן וּרְאִיתִיהָ לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם
בֵּין אֱ-לֹהִים וּבֵין כָּל נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה בְּכָל בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֶץ
The rainbow will be in the clouds, and I will see it to remember the eternal covenant between G-d and every living soul in all flesh that is on the earth. (verse 16)

This answers our second, third and fourth questions! It is Noach, not G-d, who says this verse; he commits himself to see the rainbow when it appears in the heavens, and thus to remember the covenant between Hashem and His creations, and to remember to fulfill his end of the bargain of developing the world. When the two sides conclude their statements of mutual obligations, Hashem sums up the covenant and displays its eternal sign – and this is why verse 17 states again "G-d said to Noach":

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱ-לֹהִים אֶל נֹחַ, זֹאת אוֹת הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר הֲקִמֹתִי בֵּינִי וּבֵין כָּל בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר עַל הָאָרֶץ
G-d said to Noach: "This is the sign of the covenant
that I have established between Me and all flesh that is upon the earth."
(verse 17)


By concentrating on the succession of verses in this manner, and attributing verse 16 to Noach, we have answered all of our above questions.



The Rainbow and the Tzitzit

The passage of Tzitzit that we recite in Kriat Shma was transmitted to Moshe Rabbeinu in Parashat Shlach, immediately after Israel was told its heavy punishment for the Sin of the Spies. Hashem said that the entire generation that left Egypt – all those aged 20 and over, except for Calev ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun – would die in the desert and would not merit to enter the Land of Israel.


The trauma and shock that then reverberated throughout the nation was similar to that felt when the decree of the Flood was handed down to Noach's generation. And just like after the Flood, when G-d promised that He would never repeat such a punishment, so too, after the heavy punishment meted out to the generation of the Exodus, G-d taught them how to deal with it: How to protect themselves, how to always remember the miracles and wonders that Hashem had wrought for them in the desert, and how not to again fear the inhabitants of the Land.


And what is the strategy? To wear and see tzitzit. The techelet (blue) color of the tzitzit teaches the Nation of Israel to reflect upon the blue sky and to remember how G-d leads and guides them supernaturally – and thus not to fear whatever their mortal eyes might see.


When we compare the Rainbow Covenant passage with that of tzitzit, we see that they parallel each other, almost verse for verse, most remarkably. The rainbow of colors in the heavens reminds us of the magnificent colors all around in flowers, trees, butterflies, and fish; it symbolizes also Divine protection of the world against another devastation. At the same time, the blue of the tzitzit directs our attention to the blue skies and the mitzvot of the G-d of Israel Who dwells above. Again we emphasize that man's part in the Rainbow Covenant is to build up the world, while tzitzit tells us that Bnei Yisrael are to be dedicated and sanctified unto Hashem. Their respective verses correspond perfectly:




The Rainbow
B'reshit 9

The Tzitzit
Bamidbar 15



G-d grants an eternal sign, and gives
an eternal commandment

This is the sign of the Covenant that I make … for eternal generations. (verse 12)

…[Bnei Yisrael] shall make for themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations… (verse 38)



Specifying the sign

I have set My rainbow in the cloud… (13)

and they shall put on the tzitzit of each corner a thread of blue. (38)



The permanence of the sign

and it shall be for a sign of a Covenant between Myself and the earth. (13)

And it shall be unto you for tzitzit…  (39)



They shall
be seen

…and the bow shall be seen in the cloud. (14)

and you shall see it… (39)





I will remember My Covenant between Me and you… (15)

and you shall remember all G-d’s commandments, and you shall perform them… (39)



Covenental obligations

and the waters shall not again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (15)

and do not stray after your heart and after your eyes... (39)


of the remembrance

The bow shall be in the clouds; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting Covenant between G-d and every living creature… (16)

This, in order that you remember and perform all My commandments, and you shall be holy unto your G-d. (40)




This is the sign of the Covenant that I have established between Myself and all flesh that is upon the earth. (17)


… I am the Lord your G-d. (41)




The Colors of the Rainbow

Let us take note that techelet is one of the seven colors of the rainbow: Violet, indigo (deep blue), blue (techelet), green, yellow, orange, red. Amazingly, the Torah's rainbow passage contains the word brit, "covenant," exactly seven times – the number of colors in a rainbow. Some of those mentions are immediately preceded by the word ot, "sign" – and which ones are they?

  • The third time, in verse 12: זאת אות הברית, this is the sign of the covenant;
  • The fourth time, in verse 13: את קשתי נתתי בענן והיתה לאות ברית, My rainbow I have placed in the clouds and it will be a covenantal sign;
  • The seventh time, in verse 17: ויאמר אלוקים אל נח, זאת אות הברית..., G-d said to Noach, this is the covenantal sign…


Remarkably, the corresponding colors, i.e., the third, fourth and seventh colors in the rainbow, are techelet, green and red. These are the three Primary Colors in Light; combinations of blue, green and red can provide nearly every color.[1]


Let us conclude with one additional revelation: Verse 12, in which the rainbow is mentioned as being an eternal sign for all generations, is the third mention of the word brit, covenant, in this passage. The third color in the spectrum is techelet - telling us that there is a strong link between the color techelet and eternal generations – precisely as we read in the passage of tzitzit:

וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת
…they [Bnei Yisrael] shall make for themselves tzitzit
on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations,
and they shall place on the fringes a strand of techelet.
(Bamidbar 15,38)


All of these remarkable allusions reveal before us the special bonds that link Hashem with Israel; those that link the act of Creation with the acts of the mitzvot; and those that link G-d's obligations to us with ours towards Him.




[1] We distinguish between two sets of Primary Colors: those of light (blue, red, and green) and those of painting (blue, red, and yellow). Mixing the latter produces black, which is the absence of light, while combining primary colored lights gives white.



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