10/02/2013 06:21 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Flood and Rainbow as Teachings for Our Day

What follows arose as a poetic/prophetic outcry (even an alternative Haftarah) that has been used that way for the Shabbat in which Jews read the Noah/ Flood/ Ark/ Rainbow passage of Torah. It could be used as a reading for any gathering of any culture and community at any sacred time, calling on us to act prophetically in addressing the planetary crisis of our day.

After the text of this reading is an explanation of its origins and some notes on further reading of reinterpretive midrash applying the Flood/Rainbow story to our lives today.

Prophetic Outcry for the Rainbow Covenant

[Blessed are You, the Breath of Life, Who in every generation makes of every human throat a shofar for the breathing of Your truth.]

You, My people, burnt in fire,
still staring blinded
by the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima
and from the burning of the Amazon rain-forest;

You, My people,
Battered by the earthquakes
of a planet in convulsion;

You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That beckon you to eat and eat,
to drink and drink,
to fill and overfill
your bellies
at the tables of
the gods of wealth and power;

You, My people,
Drowning in the flood of words and images
That -- poured unceasing on your eyes and ears --
drown out My words of Torah,
My visions of the earth made whole;

Be comforted!

I have for you a mission full of joy.
I call you to a task of celebration.

I call you to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which all beings see each other fully.
All different,
All bearing One Spark.
I call you to light a flame to see more clearly
That the earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning:
A flame to see
The rainbow
in the many-colored faces
of all life.

I call you:
I, the Breath of Life,
Within you and beyond,
Among you and beyond,
That One Who breathes from redwood into grizzly,
That One Who breathes from human into swampgrass,
That One Who breathes the great pulsations of the galaxies.
In every breath you breathe Me,
In every breath I breathe you.

I call you --
In every croak of every frog I call you,
In every rustle of each leaf,
each life,
I call you,
In the wailings of the wounded earth
I call you.

I call you to a peoplehood renewed:
I call you to reweave the fabric of your folk
and so to join in healing
the weave of life upon your planet.

I call you to a journey of seven generations.

For seven generations past,
the earth has not been able to make Shabbos.
And so in your own generation
You tremble on the verge of Flood.
Your air is filled with poison.
The rain, the seas, with poison.
The earth hides arsenals of poisonous fire,
Seeds of light surcharged with fatal darkness.
The ice is melting,
The seas are rising,
The air is dark with smoke and rising heat.

And so -- I call you to carry to all peoples
the teaching that for seven generations
the earth and all her earthlings learn to rest.

I call you once again
To speak for Me,
To speak for Me because I have no voice,
To speak the Name of the One who has no Name,
To speak for all the Voiceless of the planet.

Who speaks for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle?

My Breath I blow through you into a voicing:
Speak for the redwood and the rock,
the lion and the beetle!

I call you to a task of joy:
For seven generations,
this is what I call for you to do:

To make once more the seasons of your joy
into celebrations of the seasons of the earth;
To welcome with your candles the dark of moon and sun,
To bless with careful chewing
the fruits of every tree
For when you meet to bless
the rising juice of life
in every tree trunk --
I am the Tree of Life.

To live seven days in the open, windy huts,
And call out truth to all who live beside you --
You are part of the weave and breath of life,
You cannot make walls to wall it out.

I call you to a covenant between the generations:
That when you gather for a blessing of your children
as they take on the tasks of new tomorrows,
You say to them, they say to you,
That you are all My prophet
Come to turn the hearts of parents
and of children toward each other,
Lest my earth be smashed in utter desolation.

I call you
To eat what
Food that springs from an earth you do not poison,
Oil that flows from an earth you do not drain,
Paper that comes from an earth you do not slash,
Air that comes from an earth you do not choke.

I call you to speak
to all the peoples,
all the rulers.

I call you to walk forth before all nations,
to pour out water that is free of poison
and call them all to clean and clarify the rains of winter.

I call you to beat your willows on the earth
and shout its healing to all peoples.

I call on you to call on all the peoples
to cleanse My Breath, My air,
from all the gases
that turn My earth into a furnace.

I call you to light the colors of the Rainbow,
To raise once more before all eyes
That banner of the covenant between Me,
and all the children of Noah and Naamah,
and all that lives and breathes upon the Earth --
So that
never again,
all the days of the earth, shall
sowing and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
ever cease!

I call you to love the Breath of Life --
For love is the fire
That blazes in the Rainbow.

[Blessed are You, the Breath of Life, Who in every generation makes of every human throat a shofar for the breathing of Your truth.]

Origins of the Rainbow Haftarah

In August of 1994, 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 with teenagers 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, and invite you to use it, as an alternative Haftarah or additional reading for Shabbat Noach, the Torah portion when we read the story of the Rainbow, symbolizing the healing of the Earth after the Flood -- or for any gathering of any culture and community at any sacred time.

For a reinterpretation of the story of the Flood in the light of the present crisis, please click to the essay on our Website, "Rainbow Sign: From the Story of the Flood, Learning to Heal Our Planet" at --

For a three-minute beauty-filled video by editor Lawrence Bush of Jewish Currents based on my teachings on the same Torah portion, click here.

For Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi's translation into Hebrew of this Rainbow Haftarah, please click here.

With blessings of shalom for adam and adamah, the Earth and earthy humans.