"You shall make a skylight for the ark, and to a cubit you shall finish it to the top, and the entrance of the ark you shall place in its side; you shall make it with bottom [compartments], second story [compartments], and third story [compartments]."

-- Bereshis 6:16

Classic Questions

What was the "light" that Noach made for the ark? (v. 16)

Rashi: According to one opinion, it was a window. According to another opinion, it was a precious stone which shone, providing them with light.

Mizrachi: According to Rashi (comment to 8:22, below) the heavenly bodies did not shine throughout the period of the flood, and the difference between day and night was not recognizable. So what point was there in having a window in the ark if there was no light in any case? (8:22)

Sifsei Chachamim: One could answer Mizrachi's question as follows. When Rashi writes, "the difference between day and night was not recognizable," he does not mean that there was no light at all. Rather, there was a small amount of light, which made having a window worthwhile, but the boundary between day and night became blurred.

Nachalas Ya'akov: Alternatively, one could argue that the cessation of natural light only occurred according to the opinion that Noach took a precious stone into the ark. According to the opinion that he made a window, there was day and night during the flood.

Chizkuni: The word צהר could also be rendered as "oil" (a derivative of the word יצהר), meaning that Noach illuminated the ark with oil lamps.

How was the Ark Illuminated? (v. 16)

The Rebbe's Teachings

Mizrachi questions the point of placing a window in the ark if there was no light during the flood in any case.

Sifsei Chachamim answers that there was some light, but that the distinction between night and day became blurred.

However, this solution is difficult to accept because it is not clearly indicated in Rashi's words. Rashi writes: "The verse implies that [day and night] ceased all the days of the flood and that the heavenly bodies did not function" (8:22). How can one accept Sifsei Chachamim's argument that the heavenly bodies functioned partially when Rashi writes unambiguously that "the heavenly bodies did not function"?

Nachalas Ya'akov answers that the cessation of the heavenly bodies corresponds to the opinion that Noach took a precious stone into the ark. According to the opinion that he made a window, there was day and night during the flood.

However, this too is difficult to accept, since Rashi's statement that the heavenly bodies stopped functioning is based on an explicit verse: when G‑d promises—after the flood—that "so long as the earth exists... day and night will not cease" (8:22), Scripture itself testifies that day and night did cease during the flood. So at the literal level of Torah interpretation, to which Rashi confines himself, there can be no dispute about this matter.

Thus, we are left with Mizrachi's question: What was the point of making a window if it was dark in any case?

How Would One Source of Light Suffice?

A further problem with Rashi's comment here is that it appears to make no practical sense. We are speaking here of a substantial structure, 300 cubits (approx. 450 ft.) long and three stories high, divided into numerous separate compartments (see Rashi on 6:14, above). How could one window or one precious stone possibly provide sufficient light?

Admittedly, Rashi was forced to write that there was only one window (or stone) since the verse uses the singular "light" (r©v«m). But surely Rashi could have opted for the interpretation of Chizkuni, that r©v«m means oil, which still allows for the possibility that many oil lamps were used?

The Explanation

In verses 14-16, when G‑d tells Noach how to make the ark, not every detail is included. For example, later we find that "Noach removed the covering of the ark" (8:13), and yet G‑d never told Noach explicitly to make a covering. Obviously, G‑d left it to Noach to figure out for himself those details which were an obvious necessity.

Similarly, in the case of light: G‑d did not have to tell Noach to bring a source of light into the ark, for light is a basic necessity whose need is self-understood.

Thus, on reading our verse, Rashi was troubled: Why was Noach told to "make a light for the ark"? Surely that was an obvious thing to do?

Rashi concluded that Noach would certainly have brought candles and oil lamps into the ark in any case, without being instructed to do so explicitly by G‑d. Our verse, therefore, must be speaking of an addittonal source of light, besides the basic source of light which Noach and his family used for living purposes.

The most simple explanation is that Noach made a window. Without an explicit command from G‑d, it was unlikely that Noach would have made a window (or windows) on his own accord, since:

  1. He had to carry candles in any case for use at night, so he might as well have used them in the day too.

  2. A window might have compromised the safety of the ark.

However, G‑d told him to make a window to provide extra light. Therefore, even though during the forty days of rain there was no light (since the heavenly bodies stopped functioning), the window was still of value as it provided light during the following period when the waters were subsiding. And since Noach had another light source, he was able to use that during the forty days when no light came through the window.

Nevertheless, Rashi was not completely satisfied with this explanation, since:

  1. The light would only have reached a small portion of the ark.

  2. During the forty days when there was no natural light, the window was useless. This appears to be incompatible with the verse which states, "You should make a light for the ark," since it turns out that most of the ark did not benefit from this light in any case, and the part that did benefit only did so after the rains had ceased.

Therefore Rashi offers a second interpretation, that the supplementary light source was a precious stone, for this:

  1. Could have been moved around the whole of the ark.

  2. Could have been used the entire period of the ark's occupation, even during the forty days of darkness.

However, in the final analysis, this solution is the inferior of the two, since the verse states, "You should make a light for the ark," and one does not "make" a precious stone. Rather, the correct expression would have been, "You should bring a precious stone into the ark." So while this interpretation is logically more acceptable, it is less scripturally compatible, and Rashi records it last.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 10, p. 19ff.)