In our Torah portion this week, Parashat Noah, Noah is commanded (Genesis 6:16) to tsohar ta'aseh la-teivah (make a skylight for the ark). There is a differing of opinions as to what "skylight" means. Rashi notes that some suggest it is a window, while others note that it is a precious stone or gem. We see in the Talmud (Sanhedrin108b) that the gem opinion prevails, as a window would have served no purpose since the sun and the moon provided no light during the flood. Even with that said, we see in Midrash Breishit (Genesis) Rabbah 31 that Rabbi Abba bar Hahan somehow notes it was a window, and Rabbi Levi says it was a (magical) gem.
God gives Noah the command to face darkness and oppression to make joy and light. A well-known commentary from the founder of the Hasidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, sees the command to Noah (and each of us) to bring light to the world. Our words of Torah and t'fillah (prayer) should shine like gems. The invigorating thing it posits is that it takes "our" effort to bring out the light of Torah. Like a closed book or gem in a drawer, the words cannot "shine" without our action and attention. In what might be called a Hasidic version of a post-modern reader response criticism, I leave the following for you to digest and ponder.
What I take is more than just the delight of the word play; we see that the responsibility is implicit upon us to read the Torah as a personal command and thence expand its light of mercy and wisdom into a world that is often dark and full of pain. Parashat Noah is a meditation on the catastrophes that inevitably follow human misconduct and for the responsibility of each individual to respond constructively to crisis, thereby preserving not only one's family, but also the physical and spiritual environment. On this Shabbat of Noah, my hope and prayer is that our words of Torah and t'fillah will shine like precious gems.
Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham