Seeing the Beauty Through the Pane

We are all familiar with the phrase, “Seeing the glass half empty vs. half full.” Its origins have been traced to the Los Angeles Times in 1933. Yet, a careful reading of Parshat Noach shows that the concept is recorded thousands of years earlier. When G-d commands Noach to construct the Ark, a unique feature is added at the top:

Genesis 6:16

צֹ֣הַר ׀ תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֣ה לַתֵּבָ֗ה וְאֶל־אַמָּה֙ תְּכַלֶּ֣נָּה מִלְמַ֔עְלָה וּפֶ֥תַח הַתֵּבָ֖ה בְּצִדָּ֣הּ תָּשִׂ֑ים תַּחְתִּיִּ֛ם שְׁנִיִּ֥ם וּשְׁלִשִׁ֖ים תַּֽעֲשֶֽׂהָ׃

Make an opening for daylight in the ark and terminate it within a cubit of the top.

A unique word – Tzohar, translated as an opening, was to be constructed close to the top of the Ark. The sages of the Talmud provided a further description of this opening:

Breisht Rabbah 31:11

רַבִּי אַבָּא בַּר כַּהֲנָא אָמַר, חַלּוֹן. רַבִּי לֵוִי אָמַר, מַרְגָּלִיּוֹת.

Rabbi Abba said it was a window and Rabbi Levi said it was a jewel.

The difference between a window and a jewel is whether or not light from the outside is needed to provide illumination inside. A window, or the light, is self-sustaining irrelevant to anything outside, like the jewel.

This rabbinical dispute provides a great insight about how to view our lives as we journey through the years we are gifted via our own personal arcs. Namely, there are times in life we can glean light and inspiration from our external surroundings. This can be through our interactions with people, nature, or even the weather. Then, there are times when we need to self-illuminate from our internal soul light. This can arrive through our thoughts, decisions, hopes, and accomplishments. There is always a light available – it is up to us to access that light.

Just as our bodies require care and nutrition to maintain good health and functioning, so too our souls need to be fed and fortified with spiritual light. This can be accomplished through study, prayer, and acts of kindness.

For the first forty days of the biblical storm there was no natural light for any of the travelers on the Ark. However, the Talmud relates that Noach extended kindness 24/7 by feeding all of the animals aboard all day and night. His kindness provided strength and light that was reflected in the jewel above.

Life does not always shine light through the window panes, but life does always provide us the opportunity to illuminate the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence