ESSAY: The Era of the Rainbow
A water-droplet catches a ray of light, unleashing the spectrum
of colors it contains and displaying them in an arc across
the sky. But for the first 1,656 years of history, this natural
occurrence did not occur
INSIGHTS: The Last Jew
The holiest place on earth is on a Jerusalem mountaintop;
its most ordinary and most important place is a 15-days
journey away, in a field on the banks of the Euphrates
The Era of the Rainbow
And G-d spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying:
... This shall be the sign of the covenant which I am
making between Me and you and every living creature that is
with you, for all generations.
My rainbow I have set in the cloud.... When the rainbow shall
be seen in the cloud, I shall remember My covenant.... Never
again shall the waters become a flood to destroy all flesh.
The rainbow, of course, is a natural phenomenon. Rays of
sunlight pass through water droplets suspended in the atmosphere;
the clear, crystal-like droplets refract the light, unleashing
the spectrum of colors it contains and displaying them in
an arc across the misty skies.
Yet before the Flood, this natural occurrence did not occur.
There was something about the interaction between the moisture
in the earths atmosphere and the light emanating from
the sun that failed to produce a rainbow. It was only after
the Flood that the dynamics that create a rainbow were set
in place by the Creator as a sign of His newly-formed covenant
with His creation.
The spiritual and the physical are two faces of the same
reality. This change in the physical nature of the interaction
between water and light reflects a deeper, spiritual difference
between the pre- and post-Flood worlds, and the resultant
difference in G-ds manner of dealing with a corrupted
An examination of the Torahs account of the first twenty
generations of history reveals two primary differences between
the world before the Flood and the post-Flood era.
The pre-Flood generations enjoyed long liveswe find
people living into their 8th, 9th and 10th centuries (Noahs
grandfather, Methuselah, lived 969 years; his father, Lemech,
777 years; Noah himself, 950 years). The Zohar explains that this was an era of
divine benevolence, in which life, health and prosperity flowed
freely and indiscriminately from Above.
Following the Flood, we see a steady decline in the human
lifespan. Within ten generations, Abraham
is old at the age of 100.
The second difference is one that seems at odds with, and
even contradictory to, the first: after the Flood, the world
gained a stability and permanence it did not enjoy in the
pre-Flood era. Before the Flood, the worlds very existence
was contingent upon its moral state. When humanity disintegrated
into corruption and violence, G-d said to Noah:
The end of all flesh is come before Me, for the earth
is filled with violence through them; behold, I shall destroy
them and the earth.
Following the Flood, G-d vowed:
I will not again curse the earth because of man.... neither
will I again smite everything living, as I have done. For
all days of the earth, [the seasons for] seed time and harvest,
cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not
No longer would the cycles of life and nature totter on the
verge of extinction whenever man strays from his G-d. The
post-Flood world is a world whose existence is assured, a
world that is desired by its Creator regardless of its present
state of conformity to His will.
And the guarantor of this assurance, the symbol of this new
stability, is the rainbow.
An Opaque World
Before the Flood, mans role in creation lay primarily
in reacting to G-ds involvement in the world.
The flow of divine vitality into the world was plentiful and
uninhibited, enabling man to attain great material and spiritual
heights; but these achievements were merely mans acceptance
of what was being bestowed upon him from Above, rather than
the fruits of his own initiative.
The pre-Flood world was like a brilliant pupil who grasps
the most profound teachings of his master, but who lacks the
ability to conceive of a single original thought of his own.
So once corruptedonce it had distanced itself from its
Master and disavowed its relationship with Himit lost
the basis for its existence. When man ceased to respond, the
world held no further use for the Creator.
After the Flood, G-d imbued the world with a new potentialthe
potential to create. He granted it the ability to take what
it receives from Above and develop it, extend it, and expand
upon it. The world was now like a disciple who had been trained
by his master to think on his own, to take the ideas which
he learns and apply them to new areas. Man was now able not
only to absorb the divine input into his life but also to
unleash its potential in new, unprecedented ways.
Such a world is in many ways a weaker world than
one that is wholly sustained by divine grace. It is more independent,
and thus more subject to the limitations and mortality of
the human state. Hence the shorter lifespans of the post-Flood
generations. But in the final analysis, such a world is more
enduring: even when it loses sight of its origin and purpose,
it retains the ability to rehabilitate itself and restore
its relationship with its Creator. Because it possesses an
independent potential for self-renewal, it can always reawaken
this potential, even after it has been suppressed and lain
dormant for generations.
The rainbow is the natural event that exemplifies the new
post-Flood order. Moisture rises from the earth to form clouds
and raindrops, which catch the light of the sun. A less refined
substance would merely absorb the light; but the purity and
translucency of these droplets allows them to focus and channel
the rays they capture in such a way that reveals the many
colors implicit within each ray of sunlight.
The pre-Flood world lacked the rainbow. There was nothing
in or about it that could rise from below to interact with
and develop what it received from Above. Such was its spiritual
nature; as a result, the conditions for a physical rainbow
also failed to developthe mist it raised could only
absorb, but not refract, the light of the sun.
Lacking a creative potential of its own, the pre-Flood world
was left without reason and right for existence when it ceased
to receive the divine effluence from Above. Then came the
Flood. The rains that destroyed a corrupted world also cleansed
it and purified it, leaving in their wake a new world with
a new nature: a world that rises to meet and transform what
is bestowed upon it; a world with the translucency
and refinement to develop the gifts it receives into new,
unprecedented vistas of color and light.
When this world goes astray, G-d sees its rainbow, and the
sight causes Him to desist from destroying it. For the rainbow
attests to the worlds new maturityits ability
to ultimately rise above its present lapse and rebuild its
relationship with its Creator.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Shabbat Noach 5721 (1960)
The Last Jew
On the seventh day of Cheshvan, fifteen days
after the conclusion of the festival [of Sukkot], one begins
to pray for rain. This is to allow the very last Jew to reach
the Euphrates River
Talmud, Taanit 10a
In many Chassidic communities, it was the custom that at
the conclusion of the Tishrei festival season, the gabbai
of the synagogue would ascend to the podium, pound on the
table and, citing Genesis 32:2, announce: And Jacob
went on his way!
When the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, the festival of
Sukkot (Tishrei 15-21) was a time of pilgrimage for all Jews,
when all came to see and be seen at the Temple,
the seat of G-ds manifest presence in the physical
world. In the days following the festival, the caravans would
stream from the holy city and make the long (physically for
some, spiritually for all) trek back to plow and pruning hook,
back to field, vineyard and orchard. The end of the first
week of the month of Cheshvan found the people of Israel once
more each under his grapevine, each under his fig tree.
Today, too, Cheshvan marks the end of a period of spiritual
focus and a return to the demands of material life. During
the month of Elul and the Days of Awe that open
the month of Tishrei, we occupied ourselves with repentance,
prayer, and charity, striving to improve our relationships
with our Creator and with our fellows. Immediately following
came Sukkot, the festival of unity and joy, and Simchat Torah,
when we celebrated our unique bond with the Almighty by rejoicing
with the Torah. Cheshvan is the month in which we return to
our pedestrian involvements after many weeks in which the
spiritual was at the forefront of our lives. Indeed, the only
distinguishing feature of this month is the fact
that it is the only month on the Jewish calendar that does
not have a single festival or special day.
In truth, however, the month of Cheshvan, by virtue of its
ordinariness, represents the very purpose of life on earth.
For the Jew does not live only for the spiritual experiences
of the festivals, merely tolerating the stretches
of ordinary days and weeks in between; on the contrarythe
holy days which dot our year exist for the sake of the so-called
mundane days of our lives.
High and Low
G-d desired a dwelling place in the lower realms.
With these words our sages describe the divine purpose in
What are the lower realms? It is common to refer
to the spiritual as higher than the material,
and to the physical universe as the lowest of
G-ds creations. But are these designations truly justified?
After all, G-d not only created all spiritual and physical
entities but also the very concepts of spirituality
and physicality. He transcends both realms equally
and, at the same time, is equally present in both, for His
all-embracing truth knows no limit or categorization. So why
should the spiritual be deemed loftier than the physical?
To understand why the physical is indeed lower
than the spiritual, we must first examine the meaning of the
term olam, the Hebrew word for world. Olam means
concealment. A world is a framework
or context within which things exist; and in order for anything
to exist, a concealment must first take place.
The reason for this is that the basic (and only) law of existence
is that there is none else besides Him
that G-d is the only true existence and that nothing exists
outside of His all-pervading reality. In order for anything
else to possess even the slightest semblance of somethingness
or selfhood, this truth must be veiled and obscured. Hence
G-ds creation of worldsconcealments
within which things may exist distinct and apart (at least
in their own conception) from the all-nullifying reality of
G-d created both higher spiritual creations and
lower physical ones. The difference between them
lies not in their essential closeness to or separateness from
G-d, but in the degree of the concealment their worlds
provide. A lesser concealment may allow for things to exist,
but these existences will be conscious of their Creator and
utterly subservient to Him, acknowledging their total dependence
upon Him. In this there are many gradations and degreesthe
greater the concealment in any given world, the more of a
self the creations of that world will possess.
In this sense, the physical world is the lowest world of
all. So great is the physical worlds concealment of
G-dliness, that the selfhood of its inhabitants is absolute:
by nature, the physical object or creature strives only for
its own preservation and advancement, regarding its own existence
as the axis around which all else revolves. The world of the
physical not only dims its divine source but obscures it entirely,
even allowing for creations that deny their own origin and
It is this lowest of worlds that is the focus of G-ds
creation. G-d wished to create an environment in which His
reality is almost entirely concealed, an environment so distant
from its source in Him that it can even contain evilelements
which resist and deny His all-pervading truth, despite the
fact that they are utterly dependent upon Him for their vitality
and existence. And in this lowly realm He desired
that we construct for Him a dwelling: a place
in which He is at home, an environment in which He is openly
and uninhibitedly Himself.
So He designed us as material creatures whose very survival
demands a great deal of interaction with the physical reality.
And He gave us the ability to direct our material lives to
serve a G-dly ideal. Every time we use the yield of our field
or business to help the needy, every time we utilize our workday
involvements as the means by which to carry out the Creators
will, we are vanquishing the self-centeredness which so dominates
the nature of the material world. We are vanquishing the I
am of the physical, thereby transforming its very essence:
instead of being the world that most obscures the reality
of G-d, it now becomes a home for Himan
environment that expresses and reveals how truly all-pervading
His reality is.
Thus, the physical aspects of our existence are the primary
vehicle for the fulfillment of our lifes purpose. The
spiritual in ourselves and in creation was created only in
order to assist us in the realization of this goalto
inspire and direct us in our interactions with the physical.
So one who shuns involvement with the material world and pursues
only spiritual and transcendent endeavors is abandoning his
primary mission in life.
The same applies to the spiritual and material areas of time.
The festivals of Tishreias all special dates and events
of the Jewish calendarare for the sake of the Cheshvan
days of our lives. These spiritual days exist in order to
supply us with fortitude and direction so that we may make
proper and optimal use of the ordinary days of the yearthe
days in which we interact with the physical reality, each
in his own occupation and field of endeavor.
The Trek to the Euphrates
There does seem, however, to be one breach in the ordinariness
of Cheshvan: On the seventh day of Cheshvan, says
the Talmud, fifteen days after the conclusion of the
festival [of Sukkot], one begins to pray for rain. This is
to allow the very last Jew to reach the Euphrates River.
(To this day, Jews living in the Land of Israel add the prayer
for rain to their daily prayers beginning on the 7th of Cheshvan.)
But upon closer examination, the specialty of
this day only further underscores the preeminence of the ordinary
in the Jews life.
For the duration of the festival of Sukkot, the Jew left
his field and field-related concerns behind and came to the
Holy Temple in Jerusalem, where the miraculous was the norm
and the divine presence was openly perceived. But then began
his journey back homehome to his homestead, home to
his mission and purpose. For some it was a journey of several
hours, for others, of several days, and for the last
Jew farming his land on the most distant frontier of
Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, it was a fifteen-day
journey to the Euphrates. On the 7th of Cheshvan, when every
last Jew was home on his own land, the entire community of
Israel began to pray for rain, beseeching G-d to bless their
efforts to work the earth and the earthiness of the world
into an abode for His presence.
On a deeper level, the last Jew is the most distant
Jew in the spiritual sensethe one whose occupation is
the most material of all. Yet all Jews, including those whose
missions in life have placed them but a stones throw
from Jerusalem, cannot pray for rain until the lowliest
of pilgrims has reached home. For without this last Jew, their
work is incomplete; it is he, more than any other, who represents
what life is all about.
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Cheshvan 8, 5745 (November
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
 Genesis 5:27, 31; 9:29.
 Noahs son, Shem, lived 600
years; Shems son, Arpachshad, 438; Terach, Abrahams
father and a 9th-generation descendent of Noah, lived 205
years; Abraham himself, 175; Abrahams great-grandson,
Levi, 137; Levis great-grandson, Moses, 120 years
(ibid. 11:10-13, 32; 25:7; Exodus 6:15; Deuteronomy 34:7).
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. XV, pp. 51-54.
 Exodus 23:17, as per Talmud, Sanhedrin
 Midrash Tanchuma, Nasso 16; Tanya, ch. 36.
 In other lands, the request
for rain is included in our prayers beginning on the 60th
day after the autumnal equinox.
 Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXV, pp.