Catharsis of Color

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

And so Noah, in his new role in a recreated world, takes his first faltering and imperfect steps, like a drunken sailor early in the morning. It is no wonder that he stumbled. He stood isolated on a lonely planet, whosepast had been erased forever. From where was Noah to draw the emotional strength and inspiration to carry on without being crushed by hopelessness? Mankind had failed the world and the world had failed mankind. And so, when he emerged from the ark, Noah received from God a gift not of this world, a most precious thing: the gift of hope. From the very clouds which brought the flood, a rainbow appeared.

What was the meaning of this spectacular and enigmatic symbol? For centuries commentators have struggled to decipher it. Ostensibly, the rainbow is an assurance that man will never again suffer the ultimate slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; the rainbow is the unforgettable sign of the covenant. But is it merely a symbol?

Before the flood we are told “Noah walked with God”(Gen. 6:9); now, after the trauma of the flood, Noah was left bereft of spirituality. When he reached his lowest point, Noah was given the emblem of hopeful reawakening. Apres le deluge , the rainbow allowed him to reconnect with the divine. For, the secret of the rainbow is in the power of color, the catharsis of beauty, and in the healing experience of the aesthetic. These awaken in our souls the transcendental yearning for what lies somewhere overthe rainbow. This we have been taught by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik in his essay “Exaltation of God and Redeeming the Aesthetic”:

The apprehension of beauty elevates the mind, cleanses the spirit, and at least for a moment, ennobles the heart. A man feels overcome by the impact of beauty. However, he is not crushed by it; on the contrary, he recovers a sense of worthiness and dignity…Only through coming in contact with the beautiful and exalted may one apprehend God instead of comprehending Him, feel the embrace of the Creator, and the warm breath of infinity hovering over finite creation.(Soloveitchik, 55,59)

The startling beauty of the rainbow ennobled Noah’s heart, enabling him to apprehend God. It would always serve to remind him of the new, immutable covenant. And yet, interestingly, the biblical text relates the experience to God’s memory as well:

When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember My covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. (Gen. 9:12-15)

The verse implies that in addition to remembering His covenant, God also remembers that He had destroyed all flesh. This recollection holds within it what Edith Wyschograd has termed the “double disclosiveness of memory.”

To remember is to grasp occurrences in the manner of holding-in-front-of-oneself not only that which was but that which could have been. It is this double disclosiveness of memory, its inclusion of paths not taken, that place possibility within the conspectus of the past. (Wyschograd, 24)

The Omniscient One could have sustained no greater disappointment than being compelled to destroy all that He had created, knowing as only He could have known the full range of possibilities of all those paths not taken. On Rosh Hashanah, the day of Zichron Teru’ah, of resounding memories (Lev. 23:24), we too recall what was and what might have been. This painful realization fills us with guilt and disappointment. We shield ourselves with liturgical allusions to our illustrious ancestors, hoping to focus upon them and deflect attention from our inadequacies. Yet in the Zichronot, pride of place is given to Noah: “God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and God caused a wind to blow across the earth, and the waters subsided” (Gen. 8:1). God compassionately remembered his creatures for life. If love and mercy undergird His memory, then we can be hopeful that we may be graced with a fresh start.

The significance of the story of Noah as a message of hope for renewal was clear to another generation of survivors, millennia ago. The prophet Isaiah, formulating his prophecy of consolation for survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem, placed before them the memory of God’s promise to Noah as a model of how their own hopes and dreams for a new life might come to fruition:

For a little while I forsook you
But with vast love I will bring you back.
In slight anger for a moment
I hid My face from you
But with kindness everlasting
I will take you back in love.
For this to Me is like the waters of Noah,
As I swore that the waters of Noah
Nevermore would flood the earth
So I swear that I will not be angry with you
or rebuke you.
For the mountains may move
and the hills be shaken,
But my loyalty shall never move form you.
Nor My covenant of friendship be shaken
Said the Lord who takes you back in love. (Isa. 54:7-10)

Perhaps as he spoke these immortal words of consolation, Isaiah was pointing to a rainbow over Jerusalem, a luminous symbol of God’s everlasting love. The ancient sign of God’s covenant with all mankind was given new meaning in that era of anticipation, as a mark of His love for Israel. A new facet of the covenant was revealed at that moment, but it was not to be the last word of hope. We are all descendants of Noah; we are all children of survivors. In every generation we look up into the heavens, searching the clouds for a sign that the hue and cry of our lives will be transformed into all of the colors of the rainbow, allowing us once again to begin anew.

Excerpt from Waiting for Rain: Reflections at the Turning of the Year by Bryna Jocheved Levy,(2008) .

(שם מעבר לקשת)

זוהר שמות ח״ב דף צט ע״א. ויבא משה בתוך הענן ויעל אל ההר וגו׳.(שמ’ כד:טז) זהו הענן שכתוב בו את קשתי נתתי בענן והקשת הזה פשט לבושיו ונתן אותם למשה ובהלבוש הזה עלה משה להר וראה מה שראה ונהנה מהכל.