Be the rainbow

I think I'm right when I say that a rainbow comes from refracted light, not reflected light. 

I once saw a triple rainbow. I was camping with my daughters, back when I was at a traveling folk singer. It was a folk festival, and we were sitting on a hillside, facing the stage at the bottom of the hill. It had rained, of course, largely because I was camping with two toddlers at a folk festival. The rain cleared, and the show on the mainstage picked up again. And there, arching over the stage, was a triple rainbow. 

I once saw a rainbow cow. I was driving through southern Wisconsin, on my way to Madison to visit a friend, and it had been raining. The rain stopped, a rainbow came out, and I saw the end of the rainbow land in a field, right in front of a black and white cow. Through the rainbow, I saw the black and white cow become a rainbow cow. 

I am no physicist, but I think I'm right when I say that a rainbow comes from refracted light, not reflected light. Reflected light bounces back at the same angle it hit. Reflected light rebounds from a surface, at the same angle it hit. It's a mirror, unchanging. Refracted light, however, changes. It bends, it's changed, it passes through a medium, it comes through with unequal angles. It's a lens, different from when it began. Rainbows come from light that hits the water drops and separates it, breaking it into those amazing colors, forming that perfect arc around us. 

(Thank you, oh great Googleh-Rebbe)

And there you have it; the two paths from which we can choose to react to light. We can take it and give it back, exactly as we received it, or we can welcome the light to pass through us, changing and revealing layers and angles and astounding colors and nuances. As we begin this year, we can ask ourselves how we will react to the light that greets us from our friends, family, community, and even Torah.

Will we be changed? Will we come to new understandings, reveling in the nuances we discover when we take that light apart, examine it, and send it back out again in its exquisite, unequal angles? Will we only bounce back what we've heard or seen, so that it doesn't have an effect or an impact on us? Will we simply mirror what we see, so that both the light and the medium remain unchanged?

There is something about rainbows that makes us remember them, especially the really jaw-dropping ones, and the exact moments we saw them. In some ways they are an illusion of evenness.  They really represent the opposite-the continual shimmering and bending, the meeting of the light wave and the medium, both changed for having encountered one another. The rainbow's beauty comes from having been affected by the light, bending it and finding the colors within.

Blessed are You, Source of Light in the Universe, who remembers the covenant, is faithful to the covenant and keeps Your promises. May we continually bend Your light to find its beauty. 

Anita Silvert is a freelance teacher and writer, living in Northbrook. You can read more of her weekly Torah musings on her blog, Jewish Gems,

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