Jewish Philosophy

Eyes and Vision in the Torah: Making a Tzohar
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Thursday 24th July 2014

by Menachem Salasnik, Israel Educator

When G-d instructed Noach how to build the Ark, He told him to make a tzohar (Bereishit 6:16). This is the only time this word appears in the Torah. It is clearly etymologically related to the words zohar (radiance), tzahoraim (noon) and yitzhar (olive oil for lamps).

It seems that the tzohar provided light so that those in the Ark would be able to see what they were doing. There are two opinions as to what this light source was. The first opinion is that it was a window. We see (ibid 8:6) the Ark had a window which Noach opened for the dove (although there it is referred to by its more regular term – chalon). The second opinion is that it was a precious stone which emitted its own light, a type of phosphorescent gemstone.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Lubavitch (d.1994) suggests that there was deep spiritual significance to this tzohar beyond its light-providing qualities. The people of the time had driven spirituality from their lives. Their passion was for fulfilling their physical needs; stealing and adultery were rife. Noach needed to make a window in the physical world to allow some of the spiritual light to shine through and elevate himself beyond the problems of his society. However, there is an even higher level than a ‘window’. A precious stone that represents the physical world itself emitting spiritual light - the physicality has been turned into something that creates spirituality.

An approach sometimes found in religious life around the world is that the physical world is bad and holds one back. If you want to reach the highest level of spirituality, you need to leave as much of the physical world behind you. Religious asceticism is practiced by monks of many religions, whether in regards to celibacy, food, alcohol, money or even speech.
Judaism is radically different. Walk into the home of our greatest spiritual leaders on Shabbat and you could see plenty food and drink and joyous talk around the table. It is possible to reach a level of spirituality by abstaining from the physical; yet the ultimate form of spirituality is to take that very physicality and transform it into a conduit of spirituality. If we eat in order to have energy so that we can carry out mitzvot, we have elevated the food to a spiritual level. If we work honestly and donate part of our income to charity, we make G-d a partner in our working life.

We live in a world where it can sometimes be difficult to perceive G-d’s presence. The regularity of nature, the drive for money and physical pleasure, can often leave little room for spirituality. It is worth taking time to allow spirituality to shine into our life, to meditate on concepts of purpose and meaning. Even more importantly, if we can utilise the physical world that we deal with on a daily basis and elevate it, we have the opportunity to achieve true greatness in every aspect of our lives.

Menachem Salasnik is a Low Vision and Geriatric Optometrist