Rainbow - A Sign of Individuality
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
I have always been taught that a rainbow is a sign of the covenant that G-d made with Noach that He will never again bring a flood to destroy the world. The way I understand it is that whenever we see a rainbow, we are to know that man is not acting as he should and G-d is thinking of destroying the world (but will not do so because of His promise). I find this idea difficult to swallow: The world today may have a lot of evil in it but surely we are not as bad as the generation of the flood where everything had become corrupted. There is so much good in today's world so why is G-d so often thinking of destroying it?
Throughout Tanach we read of many evil people and societies who suffered great consequences for their wrongdoings. But all of this was a form of punishment. Because they sinned greatly, they were punished severely. The flood was not just a punishment. The Torah relates that when G-d saw how wicked the world had become He said "I will dissolve man and all living things that I have created for I have reconsidered having made them". G-d so-to-say regretted having made the world and found no reason for its continued existence. G-d may have wiped out whole cities (like Sdom) as a punishment for their wrongdoings but nowhere do we find that G-d "regrets" having made such a place.
This explains why the flood destroyed every living creature - even though there must have been some which were not so wicked - because the flood was not a form of punishment where G-d was going to judge each being and determine whether it deserved to live or die, rather it was a deep regret on the creation of the world itself. Once G-d "regrets" having made the world, automatically every living being ceases to exist. (And the only reason that G-d saved Noach and his family was because G-d wanted to build a new world through them).
Based on this distinction between the flood and all other punishments in history, we understand the depth of G-d's covenant with Noach that He will never again destroy the entire world: What G-d was really promising Noach was that He will never again judge any place in the world on a collective basis. G-d promised that from then on there would be a clear system of justice where every individual and being would be judged on its own merit and based on that alone would its fate be determined. Consequently, because there will always be some good people in the world, the entire world cannot be destroyed.
So when we see a rainbow, it is not a sign that G-d is thinking of destroying the entire world. What the rainbow is telling us is that though there may be a single location (maybe even a single village) where the general populace are so bad that G-d regrets their being and wishes to deal with them as He did with the entire world at the time of the flood, ceasing their existence without judging them on a case by case basis - He will not do so because He has made a covenant that every being be judged on its own merit.