Why does God command Noah to build a “tzohar” (opening) on the ark? The tevah was meant to enclose and protect those inside so that they could survive the floods. What purpose would an opening serve? The interpretations of the “tzohar” also provide a model for how to view our homes and places of prayer today.
The word tzohar appears only once in Tanach, making it difficult to define. Rashi, citing Bereshit Rabbah, provides two explanations: 1) Some say it was a window, 2) others say it was a precious stone which provided light. Both interpretations explain how Noah and his family, who lived on the ark for an entire year, managed to have light and differentiate between day and night. Yet, there is a difference: The precious stone would not have allowed Noah to look out to the world, only to bring light inward. A window however, has a dual purpose – to let the light in and to look out and connect with the outside world. Perhaps this is why Hizkuni teaches that the tzohar was the window through which Noah later sends out the raven, to check if the waters had dried up, reconnecting with the outside.
Windows are also an important part of our prayer spaces and homes. The Talmud Berachot, based on Daniel, states that a person should only pray in a bayit with windows (and this is codified as halacha). Why? Some rishonim explain that the light, or looking to the heavens, will help enhance our kavanah in tefillah. Rav Kook provides a different reason: A person who has the most intention-filled prayers, but is disconnected from the outside world is not achieving the full purpose of tefillah. By davening in a room with a view of the outside, a person will be inspired to positively influence and do good in the world s/he inhabits.
Like Noah’s tevah, our homes and shuls are a space to protect and nurture ourselves, to build up our emunah and enhance our tefilla, like the stone shining inward. Yet, by staying inside, our lives are incomplete. Through gazing outside we are reminded of our responsibility to the outside world. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson