‘…I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my Covenant between Me and you and every living creature among all flesh, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh….’
— Genesis/Breishit 9:13-15 (JPS translation*)
When the flood receded, the rainbow flew above the Caucasus. Looking down, it saw its reflection in a mountain lake, sparkling amid the serene turquoise depths. Beautiful illusion, it said, I represent the enduring mercy of the Holy One, who, perceiving that the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth, nonetheless promises never again to curse the ground for his sake. Beautiful illusion, replied the swimming reflection, I represent the enduring mercy of humankind, who, perceiving that the heart of the Holy One loves destruction, nonetheless promises never to curse the cosmos for his sake.
–Alicia Suskin Ostriker, The Nakedness of the Fathers, p.45
The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions* is a collection of midrash — writings between the lines of biblical text — presented as a unique weave of essay and poetry, personal reflection and bible commentary. While Ostriker does highlight women and the many ways feminine perspectives are missing from the biblical text, this volume is not about (simply) “giving voice to women.” When Ostriker’s women speak, they have something to say that profoundly alters the reader’s perspective on the text.
“Job, or a Meditation on Justice,” is not (simply) an attempt to hear more from Job’s wife — who in the biblical text utters the single line: “You still keep your integrity! Blaspheme God and die!” (Job 2:9). In Ostriker’s reading, Job’s wife offers an intense theodicy that can forever change how one reads Job and the prophets.
…the rainbow does not appear until after the rain has ceased, and if its function is to remind God that the rain must not be allowed to continue a long time as it did in the days of Noah, the rainbow would come too late. In order to understand the purport of the passage, we must compare this verse and the succeeding statement (I will remember….I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant, etc.) with what we are told in Num. xv 39, in connection with another sign, the sign of the fringes: that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them. There the thought is certainly not that immediately upon seeing the fringes a man will perform all the precepts of the Torah, but that since he will constantly look on the fringes, he will always remember the commandments and do them whenever the opportunity arises. Similarly here…
from U. Cassuto,* p.139
Cassuto takes pains to explain that repetition such as “bow” — which appears three times in quick succession, always linked with “cloud” — might suggest a paragraph which “appears to suffer from pleonasm [use of more words than necessary; I looked it up]” but should, instead, be understood
as part of a “harmonious structure.” He also compares Sumerian and Akkadian legends and other ancient literature.
*For complete citations and further details, please see Source Materials
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.