Third Temple Torah, True Teachings

Noah's Rainbow Menorah

by Rabbi Aba Wagensberg

The rainbow has become a universal symbol of peace and harmony. When we look at the origins of the rainbow, this symbolism is surprising. The Torah clearly states (Gen. 9:13–15) that the rainbow exists in order to remind humanity that Hashem will never again allow a devastating Flood to destroy the earth. Why, when the rainbow is so closely linked to destruction, have people chosen it as a symbol of peace?

Furthermore, the Mishna (Chagiga 11b) teaches that, if a person lacks pity on G-d's honor, it would be better that he had never come into the world. What sort of person does not have pity on G-d's honor? According to R' Aba (Chagiga 16a), this Mishna refers to people who gaze at a rainbow. This statement requires explanation. What is so terrible about staring at a rainbow?

The Gemara (Chagiga 16a, citing Ezekiel 1:28) explains that the Divine Presence rests on the rainbow. Therefore, one who gazes at a rainbow is considered to be staring at the Divine Presence. This brazen and disrespectful behavior is understood as not having pity on G-d's honor, which leads us to another question: of all the countless beautiful and awe-inspiring Creations in the world, why is the rainbow most associated with G-d's Divine Presence?

Additionally, in the first blessing of the Amidah, we refer to "the G-d of (Elokei) Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov." The repetition seems superfluous, when we could have simply said, "The G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov." Why does the text of the prayer mention G-d's Name two extra times? Isn't this taking G-d's Name in vain?

According to the Baal Shem Tov (Vayeitzei, 6 and 7), we can learn from each repetition of Elokei that each Patriarch had a unique approach to serving Hashem. Avraham was not the only one who had a unique relationship with Elokei (Hashem); Yitzchak and Yaakov also had individual approaches to the Divine. In fact, this was true not only of the Patriarchs, but of all the seven Shepherds (Ushpizin). Each of these extraordinary figures had his own unique way of serving G-d, as well as his own personal technique for reaching out to the masses and bringing them closer to Hashem. Let us examine each figure individually.1

AVRAHAM is known as the pillar of chesed. The classic image of Avraham is that of an extroverted character, constantly inviting guests to stop into his tent and have a bite to eat. In this warm atmosphere, over a delicious meal, Avraham could gently encourage his guests to thank Hashem for all the goodness in their lives. By speaking to his guests' stomachs first, Avraham was able to bring them to an awareness of G-d physically.

YITZCHAK represents gevurah, a stricter and more restrained quality. The Torah has very little to say about Yitzchak (which in itself speaks volumes), but the sense we get is of an intense introvert. Unlike his father, Yitzchak spent his days in deep meditation inside his tent, connecting to Hashem. Yitzchak's very essence created such a powerful energy that it influenced passerby to serve Hashem. We see an example of this when the Torah tells us that Yitzchak went out "to speak (lasuach) in the field (ba-sadeh)" (Gen. 24:63). Strangely, the verse doesn't mention to whom he is speaking or what he says. The Talmud (Brachot 26b) explains that the word sicha (related to lasuach) is a reference to prayer (see Psalms 102:1). It seems, then, that Yitzchak was praying.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Maharan Tenyana 11) explains that the letter bet as a prefix, which usually means "in," can also mean "with." If so, we can understand that when Yitzchak went out to pray ba-sadeh, he was praying with the field! In other words, his prayer was so intense that nature itself felt compelled to join in! This was the powerful impact that Yitzchak had on his surroundings. The Torah tells us that when Rivka approached and saw Yitzchak praying, she was so overwhelmed that she fell off her camel (Gen. 24:64). Yitzchak, through his powerful connection to G-d, spoke to people's hearts emotionally.

YAAKOV is known as the pillar of Torah, as the verse says, "Give truth to Yaakov" (Micha 7:20). Torah is synonymous with truth. Yaakov's way of influencing people was to speak to their minds intellectually.

Once the Patriarchs took care of people's stomachs, hearts and minds, what could be left? MOSHE addressed the question of what to do if, despite the efforts of the Patriarchs, the people still were not moving towards Hashem. Through Moshe, the Jewish people merited to have Hashem brought directly to them (as it were). The revelation at Sinai, which took place in Moshe's merit, can be seen as a verification of everything the Patriarchs expressed.

After the people experienced the Divine revelation at Sinai, suddenly a new issue arose. Moshe had clearly shown the people that Hashem existed - but He seemed so great and powerful that the people felt unworthy of approaching Him. AHARON addressed this issue by showing the people how great they really were. Aharon, in his role as the High Priest, entered the Holy of Holies every year. All the miracles that had taken place at Sinai took place daily inside the Holy of Holies - yet Aharon was able to walk right in.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 41a) teaches that an appointed representative is like oneself; thus, on some level, every Jewish person enters the Holy of Holies each year. This shows us that we can approach Hashem, because our soul is literally a spark of Divine energy. Although we must realize how powerful Hashem is, we must also remember that He invested a spark of Himself within each one of us - so imagine how powerful and great we are! Through speaking to people's souls, Aharon was able to uplift them spiritually.

YOSEF personifies the power of inner strength. At the age of seventeen, he found himself in Potiphar's house, where an attractive woman tried to seduce him daily. Despite this powerful temptation, Yosef refused to engage in immorality. Every Jew has the same inner determination that Yosef demonstrated. Although we are familiar with the Jewish people being called "the children of Israel," we are also referred to as "Yosef" (see Psalms 80:2). In fact, the Torah introduces Yosef with the words, "These are the generations of Yaakov: Yosef . . ." (Gen. 37:2). We can learn from the juxtaposition of Yaakov's name with Yosef's that the two are equated. Just as we are b'nei Yisrael, so too are we b'nei Yosef. Yosef spoke to people's wills, internally.

DAVID teaches us perhaps the most important lesson of all. We may have learned to see Hashem through any or all of the previous approaches - but what happens when we make a mistake? The relationship between David and Batsheva, although beyond the scope of this discussion, certainly seems to have been a major error on David's part. When Nathan the prophet proved to David that he had acted wrongly, David himself admitted, "I have sinned."

Nevertheless, even after such an error, David did not allow himself to be crushed by guilt and remorse, but rather picked himself up again. The verse teaches that a righteous person falls seven times and gets back up (Proverbs 24:16). This is what distinguishes righteous people from the less righteous. The difference between success and failure lies in getting back up!

Why does the verse specify that a righteous person falls seven times? The number seven represents nature, since G-d created the natural world in seven days. We could even suggest that the word "seven" (sheva) be read instead as "nature" (teva) - meaning that, according to nature, a righteous person will fall. The whole test is in whether a person is able to get up again after the fall. Surely it is not coincidental that the author of this verse is Shlomo - not only David's son, but the product of his relationship with Batsheva! Thus, David, through his ability to pick himself up after a fall, spoke to people's consciousness.

The power to serve G-d according to one's individual strengths is not unique to the Patriarchs and the seven Ushpizin. Each of the twelve Tribes had an individual path, as well. Every Tribe had a different flag, emblem, color, and stone on the Priestly breastplate, representing each Tribe's unique function and mission within the framework of Torah and halacha (Jewish law). Certain Tribes focused on Torah study as a way to serve Hashem; others served Hashem militarily, financially, and so on.

This idea will help us understand the essence of the rainbow, as well. The rainbow is formed in the shape of a mountain, as it says in Psalms, "Who will ascend to the mountain of G-d?" (Psalms 24:3). The rainbow, with its feet on the ground, arches upward, and thus represents a spiritual mountain reaching towards Hashem.

We could suggest that this is why the Divine Presence rests on the rainbow. First of all, a rainbow is not just one color; it is a combination of many colors, and all the colors are united in their ascent toward Hashem. The seven different colors of the rainbow hint to the seven Ushpizin, each with his own unique path. Hashem gave every person different strengths and abilities because He appreciates the need for individuality. We are not intended to imitate one another, but rather to develop our own unique mission in the world.

Furthermore, each color in the rainbow lies adjacent to the next. The beauty of the rainbow is created through the coherence and harmony of its component parts. Each color works together with the other colors. This, too, is a lesson for us. Each group of authentic Judaism must not only tolerate and respect the other groups, but honestly appreciate them, and not invalidate them for petty reasons. If we are working together, we should not be threatened by the presence of groups that emphasize different areas of Divine service. The colors of a rainbow work side by side, in harmony, to create a coherent whole.

Several commentators claim that the Jewish people, upon their redemption from Egypt, did not cross through the Red Sea in a straight line. Instead, they crossed in a semicircular formation, exiting the Sea on the same side they entered (see Rambam, Avot 5:4 and Tosafot in Eruchin 15a, divrei hamatchil k'shem). According to the midrash (Mechilta, Beshalach 1:5), the twelve Tribes of Israel crossed the Sea in twelve separate tunnels. If we imagine these twelve tunnels curving through the Sea in a semicircle, it is evident that the Jewish people crossed the Sea in the form of a rainbow!

Apparently, this is Hashem's vision for the Jewish people. He so values the unity among different Torah approaches that He rests His Divine Presence on the rainbow. We can learn from the rainbow that, when we recognize the need for different approaches and appreciate what each one has to offer, Hashem will also rest His Presence on us.

Just as an army is composed of many separate divisions - the ground troops, the navy, the air force, and so on - all the separate divisions work together, because they are all on the same team. A communication failure between the air force and the ground troops could result in disaster! On a practical level, we can consider ourselves to be Hashem's army. Although every subgroup of the Jewish people takes orders from the same General, we each serve Him differently. When we invalidate other Torah approaches only because we personally do not relate to them, we destroy ourselves through "friendly fire." The rainbow shows us that there is enough flexibility within the context of Torah and halacha to allow for many approaches to Judaism.

In the context of the Flood, the rainbow is a sign that humanity deserves destruction; however, the rainbow also teaches us how to avoid this punishment. Destruction of the Jewish people is a result of our failure to appreciate the _expression of individuality, as well as a lack of respect for our differences. We can learn from the rainbow's coherence and harmony how to rectify this, and thus avoid destruction. This explains why the rainbow has been adopted as a sign for peace. Although the Torah presents it as a negative symbol, the rainbow can also teach us the power of unity.

We can relate all these ideas to Chanukah. The dove is also a universal symbol of peace. In the Torah's description of the aftermath of the Flood, the verse says, "The dove returned toward evening with a freshly-plucked olive leaf in its bill" (Gen. 8:11). According to the Imrei Noam (cited by the Pri Mayim Chaim), the twig that the dove carried in its bill had an olive growing on it as well. The Kli Yakar provides a support to this idea in his explanation of the verse's seemingly superfluous phrase "toward evening." He explains that, in the evening, the Ark would need light, and oil was used to illuminate it. The Talmud (Eruvin 18b, on Gen. 8:11) contains another hint that the twig carried by the dove had an olive on it. According to the Talmud, the dove wanted to say, "I would prefer to have my sustenance come directly from Hashem, even if it is as bitter as an olive, than to obtain sweet sustenance from people." The phrase "an olive," as opposed to "an olive leaf," seems to support the opinion that the twig also contained an olive.

Opinions differ regarding the source of light on the Ark. The Torah tells us that the Ark contained a Tzohar, which Rashi understands to be a window. The Chizkuni disagrees, and explains that Tzohar (related to the word yitzhar) means "olive." According to this view, Hashem commanded Noach not to build a window, but rather to gather olives for oil with which to light the Ark. This was necessary because the celestial bodies did not function during the Flood. As a result, half the world was perpetually light and half the world was perpetually dark. If the Ark were to pass into the dark side of the world, oil would need to be on hand to provide an internal source of light.

This idea is supported by the Midrash Tanchuma (Tetzaveh 5), which cites the verse in Song of Songs, "Behold, you have beautiful dove's eyes" (1:15). According to the midrash, in this verse, Hashem is telling the Jewish people, "Just as the dove brought light to the world, so should you bring light to the world. Take olive oil and kindle a light before Me, as it says, 'I command you to bring olive oil'" (Ex. 27:20). How do we know that the dove brought light to the world? As we saw from the Kli Yakar's comment, the Tanchuma extrapolates this from the verse about the olive leaf. The dove saw a connection between the darkness of evening and the need for olives, and wanted to help by bringing back something useful from dry land.

We can assume that Noach had sufficient olives on board the Ark already, and did not need the olive brought back by the dove. The Imrei Noam explains that, instead, Noach squeezed the olive into a flask, which he sealed and gave to Shem, his most righteous son, after the Flood. Noach told Shem that the flask should be given only to the most righteous person of the next generation. Shortly afterward, the Torah tells us that Malchitzedek met with Avraham (Gen. 14:18). The Talmud (Nedarim 32b) states that Malchitzedek was Shem, and the Imrei Noam explains that Shem gave the flask to Avraham at this meeting. Avraham passed the flask down to Yitzchak, who in turn passed it down to Yaakov.

At a certain point during Yaakov's journey to meet Esav, the Torah tells us that he was "left alone" (Gen. 32:25). The Talmud (Chullin 91a) explains that Yaakov was left alone because he went to retrieve some small flasks which he had forgotten. According to the Daat Zekeinim, however, the word l'vado ("alone") can be read l'cado ("for his flask").2 Among all the flasks that Yaakov had left behind, this single flask alone - the one containing the oil that Noach had pressed - was worth risking his life to retrieve.

Yaakov eventually passed the flask down to Yosef, who told the Jewish people to give it to Moshe and Aharon, and these two leaders brought it with them to the threshold of the Land of Israel. Moshe instructed the Jews to give it to David, and until that time to keep it in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). When David laid the foundations of the First Temple, he prophetically saw the desecration that would take place in the Second Temple of the Hasmonean Period and understood that a pure flask of oil would be needed, so he hid it to be used at that time. This is the flask that provided the oil from which the Menorah was lit during the rededication of the Temple, and that miraculously burned for eight days instead of one.3

This flask of oil was particularly appropriate to the miracle of Chanukah. Since it had passed through the hands of all seven Ushpizin, it had absorbed all seven of their different approaches to Divine service, and this made it especially fitting to light the seven branches of the Menorah. The lesson goes even deeper, however. The Torah states that the Menorah had to be crafted from one single block of gold (Ex. 25:31). In other words, although it contained seven individual branches, it was one fundamental unit. So, too, with the seven Ushpizin. Although each individual had his own approach, all were unified in the service of G-d. Perhaps this is why the Menorah's branches form the shape of a rainbow.4 When all seven colors of the rainbow, seven approaches of the Ushpizin, and seven branches of the menorah unite in harmony, a light is kindled that illuminates the world.

We find that even the least-affiliated Jews often light colored candles on Chanukah. (It is interesting to note that the classic Chanukah candles are many different colors . . .) On a subconscious level, the menorah speaks to everyone. It affirms, even to those who are estranged from traditional Judaism, "I am special. I have unique qualities. I have a place here, too."

The Jewish Zodiac symbol for the month of Kislev is the bow (keshet). In Hebrew, the word keshet also means "rainbow." Unlike most other Jewish holidays, which fall out in the middle of the month, when the moon is full, Chanukah comes at the end of Kislev, when the moon is in the shape of a rainbow. According to Sefer HaToda'ah, the first time Noach saw the rainbow was in Kislev - and in truth, Noach and Chanukah are deeply connected. The letters nun and chet, which spell Noach's name, are the first letters in the phrase ner Chanukah ("Chanukah light").

Noach saw the destruction of the world by the Flood (the Mabule) firsthand and understood the reasons that brought the destruction. There was an all out violation of the 7 Noachide Laws, represented by the 7 colors of the rainbow within which there exists an extremely broad framework for individuality. Freedom for self expression in a Divinely Blessed, healthy and wholesome way is manifest only when adhering to these Heavenly guide lines. Once these G-D given laws of morality were broken, humanity began to deteriorate rapidly, thereby developing into a dysfunctional and deviant society which robbed the people of their true sense of purpose as well as there true beauty (created in the image of G-D). Only them did the final judgment occur. Noach began the process of rectification by squeezing one single olive into a flask and entrusting it to his son Shem. He intended that the oil pass through the hands of all seven Shepards5 in order that it be used in the Menorah, since the message of the Menorah can directly remedy the lack of unity among the Jewish people and the entire world.

Judaism measures time according to two cycles: solar and lunar. The solar calendar begins in Tishrei, while the lunar calendar begins in Nisan. The Kedushat Levi explains that the month of Sivan is the third month after Nisan. Sivan is the month of Shavuot, and represents the Jewish people's acceptance of the written law. Kislev, on the other hand, is the third month after Tishrei. Kislev is the month of Chanukah, and represents the Jewish people's acceptance of the oral law. Aside from Chanukah itself being Rabbinic in origin, the Baalei Ha-Mussar found another hint to Kislev's connection to the oral law in the Talmud's statement, "What is Chanukah? Our Sages teach . . ." (Shabbos 21b). If this fragment is read as an answer to the question, we see that the essence of Chanukah is found in the oral teachings of our Sages. Thus, both Sivan and Kislev represent an acceptance of Torah.

The prerequisite for receiving the written Torah in Sivan was unity among the Jewish people. In the verse describing the Jewish people at Sinai, the word for "they encamped" is written in the singular (Ex. 19:2). Rashi explains this seeming grammatical error by stating that the Jewish people "were like one man with one heart." This unity of purpose at Sinai was further expressed by the blowing of the shofar (see Ex. 19:19). Although everyone heard the shofar blasts differently, representing the unique "calling" of each individual, all the Jewish people united to serve one G-d. And the shofar itself forms the shape of a rainbow!

Even the blasts of the shofar hint to its relationship to the rainbow. The order of the shofar blasts is tekiah, shevarim, teruah, tekiah, commonly referred to by the acronym tashrat (the resh is used for teruah to distinguish it from the tav of tekiah). The Be'er Mayim Chaim, however, suggests to use the letter tav to stand for teruah, and to use the letter kuf for tekiah. Based on this suggestion, the acronym for the shofar blasts spells keshet!

All this symbolism began with Noach. The Torah describes the Ark as a vessel with three floors (Gen. 6:16). The top floor could be called Komah elyonah; the second floor is described as Shni'im; and the third floor is called Tachti'im. Once again, the acronym of these three floors spells keshet.

We see the message of the rainbow even today, in people's personal learning preferences. Although we should all strive to be proficient in every area of Torah learning, individuals may be particularly drawn toward different subjects. Some prefer Tanach, others enjoy Mishna, and still others prefer Gemara. One who is proficient in the study of Tanach is called Koreh baTorah. The phrase Shanu chachamim ("our Sages learned") often introduces a teaching in the Mishna, while the phrase Tanu rabanan ("our Sages taught") is often used as an introduction to a new piece in the Gemara. The acronym of these phrases spells keshet as well.

The shofar represents the essential unity that prepared the Jewish people to receive the Torah in Sivan, whereas the Menorah represents the Jewish people's unity in accepting the oral law in Kislev. Thus, it is not surprising that the shofar and the Menorah both are formed in the shape of a rainbow.

May we all be blessed to emulate the seven Shepards and the twelve Tribes by approaching Hashem in our own unique way within the framework of Torah and halacha (Divine Laws, instructions for living). May we develop a deep appreciation for each other, and thus deserve to have the Divine Presence rest on us just as it rests on the rainbow.

1 According to the Kabbalah, there are different sefirot (channels) through which Divine influence filters into this world. The order of the sefirot is chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, malchut. The personalities of the 7 Shepards (Ushpizin) correspond to these sefirot, and our discussion will follow this order rather than chronological order.
2 The letters bet, in the word l'vado, and kaf, in l'cado, have very similar shapes, thus permitting such an interpretation.
3 During Chanukah, we light the Menorah on eight days adding a flame each day. If you add up the number of flames for each day (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8) except the shamus candle, the total is 36, the same as the number of hours of Divine Light (Or Ganuz) prior to the Creation. It is said that one can see a portion of this Divine Light when you gaze at the Menorah after it is lit (for approximately 30 minutes afterward). This was learned from Rabbi Eli M.
4 Even the letter that makes the difference between the words l'vado and l'cado has the shape of a rainbow!

The 7 Shepards (Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David) also known as the 7 Ushpizin (during the holiday of Sukkot the Tzohar explains that for living in the Sukka, the people of Israel merit the Shechinah, G-d's Presence, and the Ushpizin as our exalted guests)

Photos and Data © Third Temple and/or Avrahom Dovid 1980 through 2005. Parsha Highlights © Rabbi Aba Wagensberg.