I know we are all still struggling with the reality of war in Israel and threatening anti-semitism around the world. These are not easy times. I am grateful for any and all reinforcements of hope and optimism – stories of Israeli resilience, the solidarity of non-Jewish friends, the outpouring of money and supplies for Israeli troops – every little bit of kindness and support matters.
The teachings of our Torah tradition can also be a source of hope and inspiration. Recently, in Parshat Noah, we read about the specifications for Noah’s ark. The Torah details the exact dimensions and materials for this building project.
Surprisingly, the plans call for only one window. Contrary to the familiar childhood illustrations showing the ark with windows along the entire side, like a cruise ship, the Torah itself calls for only one window.
צֹהַר תַּעֲשֶׂה לַתֵּבָה
Tzohar ta’aseh la-teivah
Not suprisingly, the Rabbis of our tradition debate what exactly is meant by this word Tzohar.
R’ Aba bar Kahana said: [Tzohar] is a window. R’ Levi said: An opalescent gem.
R’ Pinchas said in the name of R’ Levi: The entire twelve months Noah was in the ark, he did not need the light of the sun in the day or the moon at night. Rather, he had the gem, and he relied on it. When it dimmed, he knew it was day, and when it brightened, he knew it was night. (Genesis Rabbah 31:11)
I had never thought of a gemstone as the window in Noah’s ark. Where would Noah have acquired such a gem? Why would he have swapped a gem for a window? Which keeps out water more securely – a gem or a window? Many practical questions arise.
Rabbi Zohar Atkins brings the words of Rebbe Nachman to teach a spiritual lesson.
The window has no light of its own, but through it light enters. When there is no light, it does not illuminate. But a glowing gemstone, even when there is no light outside, gives light of its own.
This teaching resonates with me and offers me a bit of hope. Sometimes, we need a window – to let air and light and outside influences into our lives. And other times, we need to find light from within.
Perhaps Noah understood that sealing himself off from the outside world would block the physical light. That was a necessary step to keep his family safe. But how would they survive without light? How would they manage without outside contact?
Noah, perhaps prophetically, saw that looking directly through a window at the evil and destruction in the outside world would open his family to additional trauma. The gemstone, instead, could provide them light while also keeping them protected.
Some of the most horrific reports from the massacres in Israel describe rescuers escorting the few survivors out of bunkers and commanding them forcefully not to look. Don’t look left, don’t look right, don’t look down … it’s almost an impossible navigation through the death and destruction.
This teaching about the power of a gemstone reminds us that sometimes, we need to close ourselves off from the evil outside and find our own source of inner light.
Israel, in the wake of this unprecedented attack, is surely following this model. Tens of thousand of meals are being packed and delivered, housing is being arranged, medical needs attended to and so much more – almost all by volunteers.
There is always a light within the Jewish people to care for others. Now is our time to be gemstones to each other. Some will fight and others will feed. Whatever role we can take, may we do so with the faith that our light, together with others, will ultimately outshine the darkness of our world.
Rabbi Amy Rader