In Judaism, the phenomenon of seeing a rainbow is considered a special, amazing event, thus ensuing the need to recite a blessing upon seeing one. Rainbows are regarded highly as they serve as a reminder to the covenant that God made with Noah after destroying all living creatures with the flood.
“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.’” (Genesis 9:12-15)
The rainbow serves as a sign of the Lord’s eternal covenant with his people, symbolizing that He will never again destroy all life in a great flood. From this perspective, a rainbow is seen in a positive light, as it shows how God remembers and keeps His promises to His people.
Other Jewish thought on this matter, however, views the sign of the rainbow negatively. It considers it as a remembrance of God’s anger towards humanity as well as death and destruction. Due to this, some Jews perceive rainbows as a glorious occurrence but rather an unfortunate one, which is why some claim that this particular blessing should be said in silence, and that one should not inform his friend when he sees one, as it is similar to spreading bad news.
Another tradition associated with this blessing is to only glance at the rainbow very briefly. This comes from the belief that the colors of a rainbow exemplify the Lord’s divine glory, and therefore it should not be stared at directly. The ideology surrounding this blessing stems from the Talmud, Chagigah 16a, where the following was interpreted by Rabbi Yehuda:
“Whoever looks at the following three things, his eyes will grow dim: One who looks at a rainbow, at a Nasi, and at the priests. At a rainbow, as it is written: ‘As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about, this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.’”
The Talmud took this principle from a verse in Ezekiel 1:28 that states:
“Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.”
Rainbows serve as a beautiful sign of God’s faithfulness to His creation throughout the generations. Reciting the blessing upon seeing a rainbow is a unique way to remember and thank the Lord for His eternal glory. Below is the traditional Jewish blessing in both Hebrew and English:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעולָם זוכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתו וְקַיָּם בְּמַאֲמָרו.
Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, zocher habrit v’ne’eman biv’reetoh v’kayam b’ma’amarav.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.