Everyone has a rainbow story. The first time you saw one. The time you saw a double rainbow. They are stunning and magical and ethereal and fragile; they make you stop and really look. I once saw a triple rainbow. I was at a folk festival, back when I toured as a folk musician, and was camping with my very young daughters. Naturally, seeing as how it was a festival, it rained. When it finally stopped, I was sitting on the hillside listening to the music on the main stage below, and three rainbows appeared over the stage. I have never seen anything like it before or since.
This summer, our nephew got married out at my sister’s farm. Friday night, we were making Kiddush in the living room, and not on the porch, because it was raining. As soon as the rain stopped, we all went outside and saw a double rainbow over the valley. We broke into laughter and exclamations of joy, taking it to be a great sign for the bride and groom, for their marriage and their future together.
I once saw a rainbow’s end, where it “landed” in a field, just in front of a cow. I saw a multi-colored cow.
Rainbows are a sign. This week’s parasha tells us that, in the story of Noah. “I have set My bow in the clouds and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.” (Gen 9:13) God has just finished destroying the earth through a great flood. There are floods in other creation stories, too, and the rainbow holds a place in other cultural tales. Sometimes they’re the pathway between Heaven and Earth, for the gods to travel on. They are a bridge, a link between our earthly existence and the sparkling heavens.
There is a Native American tradition that says the rainbow signals a time when all people will come together as one. People will put aside their differences and heal Mother Earth. I can see the connection between our tradition and theirs. God promised to never destroy the earth again, that it was our sacred duty to multiply. But it’s not only dominion over the earth; God lays out the principle of not eating the life-blood of any living animal. Notice and respect the line of distinguishing life and death. Notice the link between now and the future.
Notice and respect the way rainbows fade in and out of sight, depending on how much sunlight is shining, what’s in the way, and if you catch the light just right. So much of what is beautiful and precious and rare is just like that. Not every rainstorm ends with a rainbow. The sun has to come out, just so. When we have life-storms, and the sun comes out just so, those rainbows shine into our souls and hearts; we can see the fragile, sacred beauty that follows as a promise of hope.