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Light in the Darkness – Parshat Noach

We like to see ourselves as practical people. We sometimes go askew but in general we do things that have a purpose. Moreover, if we are engaged in purposeless activity, unless it is recreational, we are frustrated and upset.

In the building of the ark in this week’s parsha, Parshat Noach, we understand clearly the need for three floors, a certain height and width for the ark and even for a door. Yet there is an additional commandment to place a window or some light source in the ark.2 Why does God concern himself with a seemingly trivial matter? Whether the ark had a window or not should have not made a difference for the building of this life-saving craft. Would the ark not have floated if there were no window, no source of light? It doesn’t seem that it should have troubled God in the commanding of building the ark. Yet it did.

Having light is necessary for our functioning as humans. We can manage without it overnight, or for 3 days as in the 9th plague. But we couldn’t do without it for 40 days and nights. In fact, light deprivation is considered a form of torture and physical and psychological stress.  There have been studies showing that we need light for our physical survival. I would argue that we need light also for our emotional and spiritual health. There are people whom illness or genetics have deprived them of experiencing light and they are challenged to provide for themselves their own way of seeing the world.

There is a phrase ‘to be blind to something’ meaning that one is in denial. One doesn’t need to be physically blind in order not to see.  In the pain and darkness that we sometimes experience in life, we are not always able to see – not due to a lack of light but rather to a lack of will or emotional strength to even notice the light.

Yet in the darkness we need light, light which helps us discern. This light shows us the cause of pain and darkness. The pain may be very real, as when losing a loved one.  Jewish law even recognizes that pain and the need to relate to it. We cannot live a full life without being able to experience this pain to the fullest. Yet this very same light also shows us what we have, who we are, what our strengths are. One sees what is missing. One can also see what one has.3

Paradoxically, we need the ‘light’ to see the darkness. In the ark, we needed to ‘see’ the darkness with the light. In the darkness of an ark, one must have light to be able to see – to see the world and its challenges and gifts, its pain and its joy. In our times, we sometimes need to find that light.It may not be easy. There may be a lot of backsliding. That is natural.

When we can truly ‘see’ that darkness we are also able to truly appreciate the light.

  1. Some of the ideas here were inspired by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetsky.
  2. There are at least 3 opinions as to what the Hebrew word ‘Tzohar‘ means. They all agree though that it was some form of light for the ark. The Chizkuni brings 3 opinions.
  3. Viktor Frankl relates that when he was in the concentration camps he was able to focus on things other than the immediate pain and suffering all around him ie. his wife, the sunset, a bird and how he was able to focus on things other than the death and destruction that surrounded him.
  4. The past two weeks has seen a steep rise in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens leaving fatalities and wounded.

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