Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
A rainbow seen over Jerusalem.

Question: Now that we have begun again the new cycle of the Torah reading, I read in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch that one is to say a blessing upon seeing a rainbow but it is forbidden to gaze upon it excessively. Is this not such a beautiful phenomenon? Why should there be any prohibition connected with it?

Zelig Aronson
Via Email



Answer: Yours is indeed, a good question. Let us turn to the Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 229:1), upon whom the Kitzur bases this halacha. “One who sees the rainbow recites [the blessing] ‘Blessed are You Hashem our G-d, King of the universe who remembers the covenant and is faithful to His covenant and keeps His word.’ And it is forbidden to gaze upon it [the rainbow] further.”

Ba’er Heitev (ad loc sk2, citing Shelah) explains that one who gazes excessively, his eyes will dim and become weak. Mishna Berurah (ad loc sk1) adds, “And it is not worthwhile to tell his fellow that there is a rainbow because of telling lashon hara.” (We assume the meaning of telling lashon hara in this case refers to pointing out some iniquity in Hashem’s world.)

The Rambam codifies this halacha (Hilchos Berachot 10:16) but makes no mention of the cited prohibition. Yet the codified halacha is based upon the Gemara Berachot 59a where the Gemara states: “Said R’ Alecsandri in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua B. Levi, ‘One who sees a rainbow in the cloud should fall upon his face as the verse states (Ezekiel 1:28) “As the appearance of the rainbow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the glory of the L-rd. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face.”

Rashi (ad loc) codifies that upon seeing the rainbow one is to fall upon his face. Why? Because he has seen the Glory of Hashem. Meaning, it is almost as if he has seen Hashem.

Similarly, when the Kohanim bless the congregation, one is not allowed to gaze upon them, as they are uttering Hashem’s tripartite blessing. There, too, one would be gazing upon the Glory of Hashem.

The Torah in parshat Noach (9: 8-17) states that Hashem after the flood made a covenant with Noach and all creation that He would never again bring forth a flood to destroy all of living creation. And He set forth the rainbow as a sign that whenever He will gaze upon the rainbow, He will remember His covenant so that he not destroy all of creation.

Interesting to note is that a rainbow is seen in its full glory is when one sees it across the sky overhead, but sometimes the rainbow will be seen in a puddle or any other gathering of water. In such a case it might be difficult not to gaze at it.

Now the question, if Hashem chose not to ever destroy the world again, then what need does He have for a reminder? Hashem remembers all; to even think that He is in need of a reminder borders on apostasy.

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.