Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Stone or Window?

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

The story of Noah is one of children's favourites as it is a story full of animals, birds, colours and a rainbow.

We tend to picture Noah sunbathing on the deck of the ark with the elephant, the giraffe and the monkeys, but when we read the description of the ark in the Torah, we see that it is not at all the way we draw or imagine it.

There was no place to sunbathe because the ark had no deck. Actually, the ark was more like a submarine than a boat. There was one window in the ark and only through that could those inside see what was happening outside.

However, this too is a controversial point. The word Chalon (window) does not appear in the Torah portion which uses the word Tsohar which has more than one meaning. Some interpret it as an aperture, or skylight, which is a kind of window, while others interpret it as a precious stone (Rashi).

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger makes an interesting comment: What is the difference between a precious stone and a window? A window lets light in and through it we see what is happening outside. A precious stone has light within but we cannot see through it.

This difference is that between those who say that Noah the righteous man sat in the ark but his heart was with what was happening outside, and those who say that Noah cared only about himself and didn't care about what was happening outside the ark.

The ark, in the story of Noah, symbolizes security, the bubble or the ivory tower.

Everyone in his life sits in his own ivory tower. There are those who are financially secure and forget that there is poverty and hunger in the world, maybe even in their neighbor's house. There are those who have the support of family and friends who forget that there are many people in the world who suffer from unbearable loneliness.

There are many bubbles that may enclose us.

There is a famous dispute in the Gemarah (Megilah 24b) between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages as to whether a blind person is obliged to recite the blessing on the lights. How can a blind person say "forms the light and creates darkness" (Yotser Or Uvore Hoshekh) if he has never seen daylight?

Rabbi Yossi in the Talmud states that he was always puzzled by the verse "You will grope at noontime as a blind person gropes in the darkness" (Deuteronomy 28:29).

What difference does it make to a blind person whether it is day or night? He cannot see in either case! Then Rabbi Yossi himself answers through the following tale:

It happened that he himself was walking in the dark of night and came across a blind man carrying a torch.

He said to the blind man, "My son, why are you carrying a torch?".

The blind man answered: "As long as I carry the torch, people can see me coming and come to my aid so that I do not trip and fall".

The purpose of light is not only to light the way for ourselves but also to enable us to see others and their world.

The controversy regarding the word “Tsohar” is not marginal. It is about the essence of a well-ordered society.

"Go out of the ark", says G-d to Noah when the waters subside, for there is a world outside your bubble.

Only Noah will decide whether he will turn the Tsohar into Zohar (brightness, radiance) and bring light to the world, or whether he will turn the Tsohar into Sohar (a prison) and enclose himself as he was in the ark and keep the light to himself.