Rainbows Are a Sign of Strength
Last night I drove to Norwalk to participate in a vigil for the 49 people who were killed in Orlando this past Sunday. I had heard about the vigil earlier in the week and immediately knew that I wanted to be a part of it. My desire to attend- and to help in whatever way I could- came from my who I am as a rabbi and who I am as a person. As a rabbi, I wanted to attend as a representative of this congregation- making sure that our local community knows that TBC mourns those who were killed and stands for the ongoing pursuit of equality and safety for all people. And, as a person, I wanted to attend because I’m frightened and maddened by the violence and hate that exist in our world. My heart has been hurting, and I knew that being a part of Thursday’s vigil would feel positive and comforting and would help me to be stronger.
For the vigil, clergy were asked to wear symbols of their profession so that it would be easy to see that there were representatives from many faiths who had come to support the LGBTQIQ community, to pray for those who are healing from psychological and physical wounds, and to mourn those who were killed. I chose to wear my rainbow tallis which I’m wearing again tonight. When we arrived, each of us was given a rainbow flag and a candle. At one point in the service, the clergy were asked to come up to the front and to stand together as prayers were offered by a number of religious leaders. I stood next to Reverend Shannon White, Reverend Anne Coffman, and Dr. Kareem Adeeb, all of whom I’ve spent a lot of time with at various events tied to the Wilton Interfaith Clergy Association. As I stood next to my colleagues from all different faiths and faced the crowd of people who had come together, I was struck by the beauty of all of the rainbows that I could see. Rainbow flags were held by people of different ethnicities, gender identities, and ages. I saw couples holding onto one another, parents standing next to their children, and community members and friends leaning on one another for support. I was so proud to be able to stand with religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and other traditions as we declared that religion should not be a source of hate, and that in our eyes, religion and faith are tools that can lead us toward unity.
In the Jewish tradition, the connection between rainbows and faith goes all the way back to Genesis. In Chapter 9, we read, “God further said, ‘This is the sign that I set for the covenant between Me and you, and every living creature with you, for all ages to come. I have set My bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.” At this point in the biblical story, God had just flooded the world to wipe away the evil that had polluted it. After the waters receded, Noah and his family tentatively emerge from the ark, and then God makes this speech. The “bow in the clouds”- the rainbow- was meant to reassure people of the current and all future generations that God is committed to them. The Torah goes on to say that God promises Noah, “When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures.” The Jewish tradition embraces the relationship between rainbows and God’s love and, in fact, develops a commandment that requires us to respond to rainbows with a blessing that thanks God for remembering our covenant.
As I looked at the hundreds of people who came together last night, each of them holding one of the rainbow flags that we also have on our bimah tonight, I thought about that blessing, and I felt the deep connection between rainbows, faith, and strength.
Rainbows only appear when there is light in this world. True, the light must not be so intense that it clears away all complexity, but without some light, there are no rainbows. Human diversity is a beautiful spectrum of light. Each of us has within us colors and radiance without which the world would be poorer, less beautiful, less awe-inspiring. Rainbows, and the diversity that they represent, can sometimes appear to be fragile, but for people of the Jewish tradition, we know that this appearance is misleading. Rainbows and human diversity are powerful signs of God’s presence in this world. The appearance of a rainbow is meant to give us hope for a brighter and richer future.
As we continue to mourn for those who were killed in Orlando, we should also begin to work to safeguard the light that allows these rainbows to appear. Diversity- of color, of identity, of sexuality- all diversity- should remind us that God is present in our lives. Rainbows are a sign of God’s commitment to us, and it is our responsibility to honor them as such.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, who remembers, is faithful to, and fulfills Your covenant with and promise to creation.