November 4, 2016
Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
It is so remarkably appropriate that it rained, hard, this week, because of course on this Shabbat we are reading the greatest rain story of all time, the tale of Noah, the truly ancient mariner, when it poured for forty days and forty nights and the world was inundated with water. Sometimes the Torah syncs up so beautifully with the natural world around us… although in the Sonoran Desert it takes more than a single hard rain to create a flood, or even a steady flow in the Rillito River. I should note that it also rained quite a bit the night of Simchat Torah ten days ago, just after we had offered the prayer for rain, the t’filat geshem, during Shemini Atzeret services that morning. Apparently, we are very good at directing divine intervention here at Temple Emanu-El, at least of the meteorological sort.
I must note that in addition to the coincidence of rain, there is another great confluence in our portion that goes, perhaps, a little deeper into current events and the present climate, although the political rather than the weather-related climate. After the flood there is a great covenant, a brit, established in our Torah portion. A covenant—what an elevated word that is!—in more prosaic terms is a contract between God and humanity. We agree to certain things, and God agrees to certain things. In this case, after the dove brings back the olive branch and the waters subside from the earth, God agrees to never again wash away humanity and all other terrestrial life through a great deluge. Noah doesn’t say that we won’t have the capacity to do so, say through creating global warming, but it does definitely testify that God won’t flood us all again. In exchange, Noah and all his descendants—that is, all of us—agree to abide by certain stipulations.
The sign of this covenant, of course, is the rainbow in the sky after a storm, favored subject of many songs and myths, from Judy Garland singing, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to the show Finian’s Rainbow to Tony Bennett warbling “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” to the Rolling Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow” to The Muppets, “The Rainbow Connection…” Heck, Kermit the Frog even started his song in The Muppets Movie by saying, “Why are there so many songs about rainbows…” But I digress.