Flood, Ark, Rainbow

 Celebrating Shabbat Noach

We read in Torah this coming Shabbat the story of the Flood, Noah, the Ark, the Rainbow.

For centuries of Modernity, enlightened opinion about the biblical story of the Flood was that it never happened and it never can, it never will.  The destruction of all life on Earth? Preposterous!

No longer.  The ancient midrash that human beings might bring about a Flood of Fire --  given new force in a Black Southern song:

”God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign:

No mere water, the Fire next time!”

What can we learn from this preposterous story, now that it stares us in the face – thermonuclear fire and global scorching, fire of our own making? We can see it nit as factual history but as a teaching story, a parable.  Waiting for a day to come when we would need to investigate its wisdom.

One oddity in the story can point us toward a specific change: Dates. Times. .  It specifies the date when the rain began to fall as "the seventeenth day of the second month."  It names the date when the Ark’s passengers could disembark and receive the Rainbow Covenant: the "twenty‑seventh day of the second month." One lunar year plus eleven days: exactly one solar year.

A bow to the universal: If some other nations use a solar year, this happened to us all, we must take account of both ways of measuring time.

And the story specifies how long the rain lasted, the date when the waters stopped their rising, the date when dry ground first appeared, the date when the Ark landed.  They are the only dates in all of Genesis: not Abram’s leaving home, not Jacob’s Godwrestle. Connect this fascination with the specific terms of God's response in the Rainbow Covenant. God mentions precisely the timely cycles through which life renews itself:

Never again will I doom the earth ...

Never again will I destroy all life

So long as the earth endures,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Summer and winter,

Day and night,

Shall not cease.

... This is the sign that I set

For the covenant between Me and you

And every living creature with you,

For the generations forever:

I have set my bow in the clouds.

What are we to learn from this?  In the age of Modernity, the sacred cycles of time have been thwarted. We have let our desire for “productivity" destroy our sense of holy time and holy cycles.  We have become so drunk on our new ability to produce goods that we have forgotten to rest, reflect, contemplate, meditate, celebrate. 

This hyper-productive mode, in which time is only a raw material of production, has taken us to the brink of hyper‑destruction.  In a world that discards meditation and celebration as —literally —  a waste of time, the H‑bomb, deforestation, the climate crisis, are all inevitable.  The Flood and the Rainbow remind us that we must renew the cycles and our celebration of them in order to live.

Noah’s own name means “the restful one.” Only willingness to rest can save all life.

Religious communities are especially responsible to say that not only hard work and dire warnings, but also joyful rest and joyful hope are necessary if we are to heal our planet.

What else does the Rainbow teach?  The Bible specifies that the Rainbow came on Mt. Ararat. This is surprising and important.  Although the Flood was mythically universal — like water in that there was no place to pin it down —  it ends at a well-known place with a specific name.  Why there? 

Because from Ararat, the mountain peak that looms in Turkey high above the Middle East, the Fertile Crescent is a unity.  Just as the earth looks like a unity from space, so the "whole known world" looked from Ararat.  That was where the human race looked like a single family in all itsinner variation: From many colors, one “adam.”

Indeed, the Rainbow itself was a heavenly reflection of the great arc of human
settlements across the Middle East. And the Rainbow’s varied colors remind us
that we can only preserve human unity if we accept human diversity. Just as the Flood perched the Ark upon Ararat where the Crescent could appear in its unity,
so the same technology that gave us the Bomb and global scorching perched the rockets high above us, to give us our first glimpse of ourselves as one great
ball of beauty. It is our collective danger that teaches us we are connected.

The great rabbinic commentator Nachmanides wrote that God gave the Rainbow by turning upside‑down the bow of war.  "See," said God; "My bow can no longer shoot from Heaven.  It is now my sign of peace and love and hope."

And in our day, ultimate destruction is also connected with the mutilated Rainbow.  Those who have observed the awesome explosion of an H‑bomb have reported how beautiful and terrifying are the flashing myriad sparks of color that appear within the mushroom cloud.  All the colors of the rainbow ‑‑shattered. 

Similarly, in the oil slicks that spread for hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the smeary, distorted colors of the Rainbow shone as a symbol of the disaster.

So the danger of the Flood of Fire still surrounds us. Those of us who, like Noah, are no experts must begin the building of the Earth as Ark. We must turn away from metaphors of military and economic warfare. In a war, having more weapons than the enemy might bring victory. But having more H-bombs than the “enemy” brings only more disaster to everyone. Pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere in order to win a “trade war” does not bring “victory”; it brings more disaster for everyone. Suppose we see actions that cause major ecological damage –- nuclear "war" and "trade wars" – not as war at all but falling into the category of Flood?  That might change our ethical outlook in dealing with such actions.

Finally, the biggest lesson of all: The need for profound change. The story of the Flood recounts that even God must change at a time of great crisis. The story begins when God, seeing that the human imagination was drawn toward evil, determined to destroy all life,  except for one human family led by Noah, and one pair of every species.  God rained death on every being except those who took refuge with Noah on the Ark. 

One solar year later, the waters subsided so that these refugees could emerge.  And then God, though explicitly asserting once again that the human imagination is drawn toward evil, took an almost opposite tack: God promised that the cycles of life must never be destroyed again, insisted that new rules of behavior must govern human action in the future, and gave the Rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

Reinterpreting our older wisdom is the method by which we must learn today.  It is not enough to reject the old traditions; nor is it enough to accept them.  We must hear them, learn from them, wrestle with them, wring from them their quintessential truth, cast aside old husks of former meaning that are no longer fully truthful ‑‑ and we must live by our new understanding of their ancient wisdom. In my newest book, Dancing in God's Earthquake: The Coming Transformation of Religion, I have tried to do that.)

When Jews have been at our best in living life, this has been their most life-giving method — the midrashic method, the Godwrestling method. But in a time when the Flood threatens and the Rainbow beckons, this process needs to become a path that everyone, not only Jews, can walk. So here is a crucial learning that the Jewish people can offer, from its own corner of the hologram, to all of earth and all its earthlings:

You can learn from your own wisdom and transform it, without abandoning your own identity. We have done it when in a moment of great crisis we invented Rabbinic Judaism. In the story of the Flood, God does it; each human community can do it. Indeed, we must — if we are all to share in the planet’s flowering, not its doom.

Why is this important? Because most human communities would rather die than abandon their identities. They will choose to live and change only if they understand how to do this by renewing their identities.

Our sacred stories need to be renewed, understood anew, transformed. And so must be the more mundane pathways of our lives: our foods, our energy sources, our jobs, our businesses, our governments, our international and transnational relations.

Becoming Elijah: Shabbat HaGadol (Tomorrow) & Passover

In the Jewish community, we are about – tonight and tomorrow -- to enter the Sabbath before Passover. Traditionally, we are invited to read  the last passage of the last of the classical Hebrew Prophets, Malachi. The passage includes the prophecy of a day that will burn like a furnace, with the promise of a healing from a sun of justice and its wings, and with the insistence that we must turn the hearts of youth and elders to each other lest Earth be utterly destroyed. The passage assigns this task of reconciliation to the Prophet Elijah.
This passage speaks directly to our generation – endangered by a Flood of Fire imposed on us by modern Carbon Pharaohs --  and it speaks to the Passover Seder in which, traditionally,  we open a door to welcome Elijah into the Seder. It offers an old/new way of welcoming him, which fits well with the whole effort of the Seder to bring the wisdom of the Exodus into the minds and hearts of the young.
Some in the communities and organizations that are struggling to prevent Climate Chaos are Jewish; some are not. I offer the two ceremonies below for all who wish to draw on these ancient wisdoms to strengthen us to face the modern Carbon Pharaohs who are bringing on us a Flood of Fire.

So I suggest that as we open the door to Elijah, we say something like these words:

“Elijah, we welcome you to enter not only among us but also within each one of us. We ourselves will act now to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, lest the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  become a Hurricane that smites the Earth with utter destruction.  We ourselves will act now to draw on the energy that comes from the sun and its beating wings that engender wind, to heal us from the danger of a scorched and burning world. We ourselves will turn our hearts to the young people of the world who are demanding that we act.”

And I offer this Kavvanah (focusing of intention) before the lighting of the Shabbat candles this evening, for the festival candles as we enter Pesach next Saturday night, and for any sacred occasion in any tradition that includes the lighting of candles and that cares for healing God’s Creation from the Climate Crisis. This kavvanah draws on the passage from Malachi and on the traditional rabbinic midrash that the Rainbow promise to send no Flood of water did not preclude a Flood of Fire. As the Black song says in a very similar midrash  “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign – No more water; the Fire next time!”

Please feel free to share this letter as you like.
Shalom, salaam, paz, peace -- Arthur

Between the Fires:
A Prayer for Kindling Candles of Commitment

We are the generation that stands 
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us
Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for those of you who revere My Name,
Yes! My Name, Yahhhh, the Interbreath of Life!
For them a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings/rays . . .
“Here! Before the coming
of the great and awesome day
of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,
I will send you the Prophet Elijah
to turn the hearts of parents to their children
and the hearts of children to their parents,
lest I come and smite the earth with utter destruction."
                      (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

Here! we ourselves are coming
Before that great and terrible day
of  smiting Earth —
For we ourselves shall turn the hearts
Of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
One Spark.
We kindle these candle-fires to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in the many-colored faces of all life
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.
{Say the appropriate blessing and Light candles of commitment]

Rainbow Haftarah with Trop by Hazzan Jack Kessler

For the story of the channeling of the “Rainbow Haftarah” see


For the English text by Rabbi  Arthur Waskow and its translation into Hebrew by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, see

For the Haftarah in the original English set to Haftarah trop by Hazzan Jack Kessler, click on the attached file above.

This Thanksgiving: FLOOD THE E.P.A. with Thanks to the Holy One for Mother Earth and Sacred Calls to Heal Her

On Thanksgiving, many Americans of many cultures and traditions join in celebrating the abundance of the Earth that feeds and nurtures us all.

Yet we have just in the last few months suffered from Hyper-Hurricanes and dreadful wildfires that are flooding our communities — and all of Earth — with Floods of Fire and of Water.  They  have been caused or worsened by global scorching — by the climate crisis brought on by burning fossil fuels. 


"God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign:

No More Water; The Fire Next Time!"



Petitions are not enough!

Let’s send a FLOOD of Sacred texts, objects, pictures and environmental books to Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency --  which he is swiftly turning into the Earth Poisoning Agency.

The story of Noah, which Jews will be reading in the Torah-reading cycle this next Shabbat, October 20-21, tells the story of an utterly disastrous planetary Flood brought on by corrupt human behavior, in which only the spiritual depth and creative ingenuity of a few people save enough species in the web of life to begin anew. 

The Flood parable stands as a warning to our own generation. Indeed, ancient Jewish commentary (Midrash Rabbah on Genesis, 49:9) and a Southern Black spiritual warn us that we might bring a Flood of Fire on ourselves:  “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign: No more Water, the Fire next time!”

And in fact we are now suffering from both Floods of Water and of Fire, brought on by burning fossil fuels, happening faster that we can offer support for the victims. A climate crisis is already afflicting us, right now. Just in the United States, three Hyper-Hurricanes in one month, and unprecedented wildfires in parched California

hurricane palm trees

And in the very midst of these unnatural disasters, the person in charge of the EPA has decided to destroy the CLEAN POWER PLAN, one of the most important steps the U.S. has taken to reduce carbon emissions, the main contributor to climate change.

Mr. Pruitt professes to be a person of faith.  And the communities of faith in America are potential sources of healing that are beginning to awaken to this danger and to the need to make our entire planet an Ark against disaster.

So we are calling on all people of faith and of ethical commitment to heal our Mother Earth to send the EPA and its director Flood-related passages from the Bible or Quran, from prayer books,  from other sacred texts and objects, or photos of the recent devastations and of the Rainbow.  These could go along with your own personal message and prayer that he will leave in place and even strengthen  the Clean Power Plan —

Indeed, pray and urge that he look beyond ending CO2 emissions to removing CO2 from the atmosphere —looking  toward the restoration of a climate as healthy for our children and grandchildren as it was for our parents and grandparents   — thus turning the hearts of the generations toward each other "lest the Earth be utterly destroyed" (Malachi 3: 23-24)..

Why actual texts and objects? These make a stronger statement and will be harder to ignore or throw away. (But if you are indeed worried about possible violations of the sanctity of a sacred book, that is a good reason to send a passage instead, with your note. You could even send a print-out of this letter.)

We are trying to reach Mr. Pruitt and the American  people in a language that many of us understand. We envision a DELUGE, preferably from every state and perhaps other countries.

We encourage you to make copies of this Call and distribute them. We encourage rabbis and Jewish congregations to announce the beginning of this campaign this Shabbat as one action to carry forward our reading of the Flood story  --  our own effort to build an Ark and lift the Rainbow of protection for all Earth. For other religious communities, we encourage spreading the word as soon as possible.

For secular folks, we encourage you to send your favorite environmental book, or a bound copy of your research, or a framed picture of a place or species you hold dear that would be or already is being affected by climate change, or a framed picture of the devastation.

How to deliver them? We will gather these mailings at a church in Washington DC near the EPA and then choose an  appropriate time when an assemblage of the faithful can gather in a vigil to deliver them by hand to the EPA at 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, only a few blocks from the White House.  

Please send your sacred texts and objects, photos of the Floods, letters, even just a copy of this Call, to: 

The Shalom Center, c/o New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1313 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005

If you are also interested in taking part in a possible nonviolent, prayerful in-person vigil at the EPA in the near future, please email:  with your name, affiliation, address, and phone number. 

Blessings of shalom, salaam, peace for Earth and all its human communities --

  • Rabbi Katy Allen (Jewish Climate Action Network, Boston)

    Rabbi Elliot Dorff (American Jewish University of Los Angeles)

    Dr. Mirele Goldsmith (Jewish Climate Action Network,  NYC)

    Rabbi David Ingber (Congregation Romemu)

    Rabbi Raachel Jurovics (President, Ohalah Rabbinical Association) 
    Rabbi Mordechai Liebling (Reconstructionist Rabbinical College) 
    Ruth Messinger (Board, Hazon)
    Rabbi David Shneyer (Congregation Am Kolel)

    Rabbi Arthur Waskow  (The Shalom Center)

    Rabbi Rain Zohav (Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington)

    [Signers are signing as individuals only; affiliations are mentioned for identification only.]

Reb Arthur's 2d Bar Mitzvah: Save the Date!

Arthur Waslow at 13, with his younger brother Howard

Dear Members and Friends  of The Shalom Center,   Reb Arthur turns 83 in October. According to Jewish tradition, one achieves a full life at 70. So an Eastern European custom grew up that life “starts over” at 70. At 83 it's time to become once more a Bat or Bar Mitzvah!   I’m thrilled to announce that at the Mincha late-afternoon service on Saturday October 29, Arthur will be called to the Torah at Congregation Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia. This time, for Reb Arthur, it will be a far more meaningful transition than it was the first time around. (He says the first time it was a boilerplate event. He was taught to chant—by rote, not really by "heart" —but not to think. And for sure not to question.)    As a grown-up, he will have the chance to lift up his thoughts and questions about Judaism, about other spiritual and religious paths, and about what they could mean to the world we live in.  The Torah portion that afternoon will be about the Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow -- a story of eco-disaster and action to heal the future.  The photo above is Arthur at 13, with his younger brother Howard. In the photo below you can also see a remarkably appropriate photo of Reb Arthur nowadays, aboard "Noah's Ark" at the People's Climate March. (The Ark evoked our covenant to save all species from the ravages of climate chaos.)  The celebration afterwards on October 29, following Havdalah as Shabbat ends, will include a buffet supper, story-telling,, music, and dancing. It will be a fundraiser for The Shalom Center (no other presents, please!) We hope you can join us. Details will follow this spring.   Please feel free to forward this letter to any of your friends who would enjoy this celebration. And do mark the day into your calendar! With blessings of joy and perseverance, Arlene Goldbard, President of The Shalom Center

New Haftarah for the Rainbow Covenant: Hebrew & English text

For the original English text of the Rainbow Haftarah and its Hebrew translation by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, click on the title above and then on "Hafarah.pdf" to see the attached PDF file. Origins of the Rainbow Haftarah

In August of 1993, I was the Resident Torah Teacher at Elat Chayyim retreat center. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi was the prayer leader of every Shabbat morning service, and had asked me to read in English the Prophetic readings every week.

During the week of August 8, I was invited to speak to speak with teen-agers at a nearby Jewish summer camp about Jewish approaches to the growing ecological dangers facing our planet. I did, and then came back to Elat Chayyim, feeling I had failed. Feeling distraught that I had not connected with the teens -- the next generation of the Jewish people -- even though they seemed to me the most important audience for what I had to say.

The next night, I slept uneasy. When I awoke, I felt unrolling in me a scroll of passionate words that seemed to me not in any ordinary way my own. I wrote them down. Then I went to Reb Zalman to say I felt and thought as if I had been channeled a Haftarah for the days of Consolation that follow after the grief of Tisha B’Av, mourning the destruction of the Temple.

I asked whether he would permit me to deliver it as the haftarah for the coming Shabbat. He agreed, and I did so on 27 Av 5753/ August 14, 1993. When I read it that Shabbat, I felt myself again not the “author” but a channel for the message. One of the participants in the service said he had accidentally brushed against me as I was reading, and felt a shock like static electricity.

A few weeks later, Reb Zalman translated the Haftarah into Hebrew. Though the words came to me for one of the Shabbats of Consolation, I have often used it since as the Haftarah for Shabbat Noach, the Torah portion when we read the story of the Rainbow, symbolizing the healing of the Earth after the Flood.

The tower of "Babble"

Most of Parashat Noach is about Noah, the Flood, the Ark the Rainbow. But there is also a bried gem  of a story,”The Tower of Babble.”

Keep in mind that some at least of these early stories are rooted in the culture and life-experience of the Abrahamic clan. Who were Avram/ Sarai who became Abraham and Sarah?  Frontier-folk on the edges of the Babylonian Empire who chose to leave even the semi-settled frontier lands and go off to where “civilized” folk would think, “Here Be Dragons.”

The Flood, the Ark, and the Rainbow: Celebrating Rainbow Day & Shabbat Noach

[From Godwrestling -- Round 2 by Rabbi Arthur Waskow (Jewish Lights, 1996), chapter 17]

The story of the Flood recounts that violence, corruption, ruin were rampant on the earth.  God, seeing that the human imagination was drawn toward evil, determined to destroy all life,  except for one human family led by Noah, and one pair of every species.  God rained death on every being except those who took refuge with Noah on the Ark. 


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