A Message From Rabbi Sandler
A rainbow… few natural phenomena are more beautiful than a rainbow. However, for the Torah-attuned among us, rainbows evoke an association to the unparalleled and utterly destructive waters of the Flood in Noah's time:
"God further said, 'This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you… I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant… between Me and you… so that the waters shall never again… destroy all flesh'" (Genesis 9).
Last week, in a session with Dr. David Kraemer, Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I learned that the Book of Jubilees, a second century CE text, connects Noah's Flood with the holiday we will celebrate beginning Thursday evening, Shavuot.
Nowhere does the Torah itself link Shavuot with the event we have come to associate it with…receiving Torah at Sinai. The Book of Jubilees provides that connection. It informs us that on Shavuot (which means "weeks," but which also can mean "oaths"), the Noah/God covenantal oath in Genesis was to be annually renewed at Mt. Sinai. In other words, the Book of Jubilees created a link between Noah/subsequent Jewish generations/God and reminds us to renew our commitment to each other (taking a "shevuah," an oath) on Shavuot.
If so, perhaps we can understand rainbows in a larger, symbolic sense than what the Book of Genesis projects. The rainbow is not only a sign of divine devotion; it can also be a sign of OUR commitment to desist from contributing to overwhelming disaster and destruction.
I believe a compelling image for today emerges.
As thinkers reflect on some of the lessons of this Coronavirus pandemic, one strand of thought is to focus on the power of Mother Nature and our relationship with her. For too long, too many of us have competed with Mother Nature and attempted to bend her will to our own. Today, we ought to recognize the folly of our ways. Wishing the Coronavirus away by ignoring the power of Mother Nature has only led to untold deaths. The only reasonable and life-affirming way to move forward is to recognize how the natural world responds not only amidst a pandemic, but at other times when we abuse Mother Nature by seeking to assert our power over her.
As we celebrate Shavuot this year, with the insights of the Book of Jubilees in mind, can we reaffirm our covenant with God and join with the Holy One in metaphorically setting a new, beautiful, and healing rainbow in the heavens?
Join the Atlanta Rabbinical Association Jewish community as we gather for a special Tikkun Leil Shavuot, a virtual night of learning on Thursday, May 28, at 6 pm to recreate receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai in celebration and observance of Shavuot. The program will feature an esteemed slate of presenters and Jewish thought leaders, including: 2018 James Beard Award Winner Michael Twitty, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (American Jewish University), Rabbi Judith Hauptman (Jewish Theological Seminary), Rabbi Josh Warshawsky, Dr. Paul Root Wolpe (Emory University) and Atlanta's own religious leaders. To register and learn more, click here.