“Sunshine, lollipops, but no rainbows.” That’s what the Talmud implies, when it tells us that throughout the entire life of the great rabbinic sage Shimon bar Yochai (whose yahrzeit coincides with Lag B’Omer and will therefore be observed this Sunday), no rainbow ever appeared in the sky. Rather than see such a rainbow less sky as a punishment, the Talmud sees it in a completely different light. If the appearance of a rainbow is to serve as a reminder to HaShem that He promised (Noah) that never again will the earth be destroyed by water, then the absence of such a reminder strongly suggests that HaShem was not being brought to the brink, by the unacceptable behavior of mankind.
And the reason why HaShem did not have to resort to such a reminder, so that He refrained from destroying the world through water, was not because mankind’s behavior suddenly improved immeasurably, but rather it was because of the mere existence of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Because of his mere existence, the world suddenly became resplendent with sunshine and lollipops.
Rainbows however are not just to remind HaShem. Rainbows are to reminde mankind as well, so much so, that upon seeing a rainbow, the following bracha or blessing is to be recited:
“Baruch….who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant and keeps His promise.” Yet, such a blessing is pretty much a double edged sword, or perhaps better stated a double edged rainbow. At the risk of sounding cynical, as much as the rainbow is a Divine promise, the rainbow is also challenge directed at mankind. Despite its spectrum of colors, the rainbow poses the following, stark black and white question: “Granted that I (HaShem) will never again destroy the world through water, but will you (mankind) destroy the world in any number of different ways?”
As beautiful as they appear to be, rainbows are a natural phenomenon. While I have never claimed to be a scientist, even I know that a rainbow is nothing more than sunlight being reflected and refracted through droplets of water in the air, serving as prisms. Yet, the colors produced by those prisms are simply breathtaking! When HaShem gave his word to Noah, that never again will water be used as a destructive force against all mankind, HaShem was in effect also asking Noah, along with rest of mankind, if left up to them, water will be used as a constructive force? While HaShem was not in any way expecting any man made rainbow, HaShem was nevertheless wishing and hoping that water be used by mankind to beautify the world, enhance society and make this earth phenomenal.
Even though Judaism makes no connection whatsoever between rainbows and dreams, society still very much anticipates that ever elusive pot of gold. You don’t have to be Irish to fantasize over that celestial vat filled with reward at the end of that multicolored arc in the sky. Yet, HaShem’s message to Noah was anything but fantasy. “This rainbow bears witness that I will never again destroy this world through water,” promises HaShem. “But will you, mankind, also promise to build this world in ways that will even outshine the rainbow”?
No rainbow appeared in the sky throughout the life of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Perhaps the day will come when no rainbow, however beautiful, will ever appear because of us. After all, why would it be necessary for HaShem to adorn the heavens, when through determination, diligence and peaceful cooperation, mankind will have adorned the earth?