A Mysterious Window by Rabbi Benny Berlin

In Parashat Noach, G-d tells Noach to build a Teiva (Ark), as well as the specifications of the structure, which includes a “Tzohar” (6:16). The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (108b) cites two views in defining this word. Rabbi Yochanan says “Tzohar Ta’aseh la’Tevah” means that Hashem told Noach to put gems in the ark that would illuminate like the sun at noon. Another view is that the word “tzohar” refers to a  “window.”

Over the years, I have heard people attach symbolism to this debate. One of the best answers I heard was from Rabbi David Silverberg. He suggested that this discussion reflects a broader question regarding Noach. The difference between indoor illumination and a window is the ability to see outside the room where one is currently situated. If one has a candle or some other form of lighting inside the room, then he or she can see only their immediate surroundings, not beyond. If, however, one’s illumination comes from a window, then they can see both inside their room and beyond through the window. Possibly, then, the debate concerning the “tzohar” in Noach’s ark relates to the question of whether Noach “shone” and provided illumination beyond himself and his immediate surroundings. According to the view that the “tzohar” was a kind of shiny stone, this form of illumination symbolically points to Noach’s isolationism, his inward focus, and neglect of the broader society. This kind of “tzohar” signifies the fact that rather than work to disseminate the light of morality and holiness throughout the world, Noach was content illuminating only himself and his immediate surroundings. This is in contrast to the view that “tzohar” refers to a window, according to which Noach was indeed committed not only to raising his spiritual standards but also to inspiring and uplifting the greater society.

The Gemara in Masekhet Berachos (34), codified in the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 90:4) says that one should preferably pray in a room with windows. Prayer should, optimally, be an experience which connects one with the world beyond his or her immediate surroundings. We should not approach prayer as an opportunity to escape from the world and focus solely on our personal relationship with God. Quite to the contrary, prayer is to connect us to both God and other people, whom we must see ourselves as representing as we stand before the Almighty. Prayer must be done with “windows,” as we emotionally bond not only with our Creator, but with creation, petitioning God to bless the world at large, to help us all, and to shine His “light” of grace and kindness upon all mankind.