I was driving a carpool full of kids to school this morning when we saw a magnificent rainbow. I’m not using the term lightly. This was a picture perfect, brightly hued, straight-outta-wonderland rainbow. It stretched out end to end over the highway in front of us. A perfect bow.
We oohed and ahhed over it and speculated if we could reach it. And then came the inevitable comment:
“You’re not supposed to look at a rainbow. It means that God wants to destroy the world but he remembered that he promised not to. It’s a bad sign.”
It’s the line that every kid who ever went to Yeshiva Day School knows well. The rainbow that appeared after the great flood was a sign for Noah that God would never destroy the world again. Therefore, if a rainbow appeared in the sky, clearly it was a warning that God was just about to kill us all, but then, plot twist! He remembered his promise. I grew up thinking that rainbows were the end of the world. And if there was a double rainbow? God help us all. Start stockpiling rice and beans.
I don’t know where this whole thing started, but I’m willing to bet it was with some disgruntled Bubby who wanted to scare the little kids and suck the fun out of every aspect of life. I also can’t figure out how it has been perpetuated, generation after generation, with no one even questioning it. The more religious you were, the faster you turned away from the rainbow.
Ironically, the weekend that the story of Noah is read in synagogue, those same rainbow-haters are busy baking rainbow challah, rainbow cake, and rainbow cookies. You’d think that would be the last thing you’d want on your Shabbat table. It’s practically begging for the apocalypse.
I’m kind of over the whole don’t look at a rainbow thing. In fact, I have trouble believing that God would give us something so beautiful and awe inspiring in order for us to look away. I started telling my kids that it isn’t a sign of impending doom, it’s a sign of love. Of beauty. A reminder that the storms will end, the rains will subside, and God will be hanging around, letting us know he’s still there.
I’m old and jaded, but I still get excited about rainbows. I still look up in astonishment that colors are painted across the sky. It’s a magical moment, even though I know the basic science behind it. Listening to elementary school kids gasp in wonder at a rainbow only to have them turn away and hide their eyes for fear of “something bad happening” breaks my heart a bit.
There are plenty of opportunities to find death and destruction and bad signs. Plenty of places to see darkness instead of light. I’m not buying the the whole rainbow myth anymore. I haven’t for a while. If there is beauty in this world, if there is something that creates joy, we need to embrace it, not turn away. There are people who will call me a heretic over this, but I’m okay with that. After all, if you live in a world without rainbows, I’m not interested in being in it.
And there definitely won’t be room for you in my ark.