SALT - Monday, 29 Tishrei 5780 - October 28, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Noach that after Noach exited the ark following the flood, God promised to never again flood the earth, and He announced that the rainbow would serve as a sign of this eternal promise.  He said, “The rainbow will appear in the cloud, and I shall see it, to remember the eternal covenant between God and all living beings…”  (9:16).
            One of the questions that arise concerning this verse is the notion that God will be “reminded” of the covenant by looking at the rainbow.  Quite obviously, God does not need any reminders, and it thus seems strange that God will speak of Himself as being reminded by the sight of the rainbow that He had promised to never bring another flood to destroy the world.    And besides, if He is the one placing the rainbow in the sky, then He of course does not need to see it to be reminded of His covenant.
            The simplest explanation, perhaps, is that offered by the Radak (to 9:15), who applies here the principle of “dibera Torah ki-lshon benei adam” – the Torah speaks in human terms.  Of course, God does not need to be reminded of anything, but the Torah here anthropomorphizes God, speaking of Him as though He is “reminded,” because “remembering” is something relatable to us humans based on our experience.
            Rav Saadia Gaon avoids this problem by boldly reading the word “u-r’itiha” (“and I shall see it”) as “ve-her’itiha” – “I shall show it.”  In his view, God said not that He would see the rainbow, but rather that He would show the rainbow to mankind, to remind them – and not Himself – of His eternal promise to never again flood the earth.
            Another creative solution is offered by Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg, in his Ha-ketav Ve-ha-kabbala, where he demonstrates that the verb r.a.h., which normally means “see,” can also mean “choose.”  For example, when Avraham and Yitzchak were traveling to Mount Moriah where Avraham was commanded to sacrifice his son, he said to Yitzchak, “Elokim yir’eh lo ha-seh le-ola” – “God will choose for Himself the sheep for the offering” (Bereishit 22:8).  And when Yosef suggested to Pharaoh that he appoint an official to oversee the storage of grain during the seven surplus years, he said, “Ve-ata yeireh Pharaoh ish navon ve-chakham” – “And now Pharaoh shall choose an intelligent, wise man” (Bereishit 41:33).  Another example is the Torah’s command in Sefer Devarim (12:13) not to offer sacrifices outside the Beit Ha-mikdash: “Hishamer lekha pen ta’aleh olotekha be-khol makom asher tir’eh” – “Be sure not to bring your offerings anywhere that you choose.”  Here, too, Rav Mecklenberg suggests, God proclaimed that He has chosen the rainbow to serve as the reminder to the world of His eternal covenant to never again bring the flood.  It is we, not God, who needs this reminder, and this verse speaks not of God seeing the rainbow to be reminded, but rather of His selecting the rainbow as the medium through which we are reminded of His promise.