In three sentences flat, G‑d tells Noah how He’d like to see the ark designed. Here are His instructions:

  • Make it from gopher wood1
  • Make compartments within ark
  • Caulk it with tar
  • It should be 300 cubits (450 feet) long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high
  • Make a tzohar for the ark
  • There should be a slanted roof on the top of the ark and narrow at the top to one cubit
  • The door should be at the side
  • There should be three floors on the ark2

All of the instructions are pretty much understandable, except for “make a tzohar.” What is that? The word is so unusual that this is the first and last time it’s used in the Torah. What exactly was Noah supposed to make for the ark?

This is a classic question in our basic understanding of the Torah’s “storyline,” the kind of question that Rashi will always answer for us. Rashi understands the word tzohar to mean “light,”3 therefore bringing4 two meanings to the word:

  1. a window
  2. a precious stone, which gave them light

Why does Rashi give us two answers to the same question? It’s not his style to schmooze with us. It’s not even his type to show us multiple ways of understanding the Torah.5 Rashi gives us exactly what we need to know for the basic meaning of the Torah—the missing piece to the puzzle—and he’s very concise.

Here’s why Rashi brings multiple answers toHe can’t find one perfect answer. Instead, he offers two “imperfect” ones the same question: He can’t find one perfect answer. Instead, he offers two “imperfect” answers. What does this mean? Let’s look at Rashi’s two answers to the question: What is a tzohar?

The first answer is that tzohar is a window. Tzohar literally means “light,” so when G‑d says “make a tzohar.” He is saying “make a window that will bring in light.” Sounds perfect, no? But since Rashi brings an alternative answer, he must feel that there is a logical flaw, a weakness in his first answer. Here’s the flaw: G‑d wanted the ark to have three floors, and for each floor to have compartments. One window (G‑d said a tzohar, not multiple ones) wouldn’t do much good providing light for the ark at all! But wait, that’s all assuming it was even light outside during the flood. We have reason to assume that it was dark during the entire 40-day duration.

After the flood was over G‑d, committed to never again curse the earth because of man, never to smite all living things and not to cause day and night to stop functioning.6 Apparently because that's exactly what he did during the 40 days of the flood7: he stopped the cycle of day and night to function and it was dark for 40 days straight. What good would a window be at providing light if it was dark outside?

Truth be told, there still was a purpose for the window. Noah was in the ark for a total of one year and 17 days, of which 40 days it rained. During the months where he was waiting for the water to subside, Noah could have used the skylight. While it may not have been his only source of light,8 it would have streamed sunlight into the area beneath the window while they were waiting patiently for the opportunity to stand on the earth again and look up at the sun.

Because the function of the ark was primarily for the 40 dark days of rain, why would G‑d say make a window for the ark? And that’s why Rashi offers another answer.

G‑d said: “Make a tzohar, a precious stone that gives light for the ark.” I don’t know if this type of stone exists today, but we do have the labradorite stone with labradorescence coming from inside, causing it to light up and glow.9 We also have fluorescent mineral rocks that emit a glorious rainbow of colors when illuminated by UV light. Let’s assume that Noah’s precious stone was neither of today’s radiant stones,10 but a stone that self-generated light.

This explanation makes sense because Noah could have used this extra light during the 40 days of the flood, regardless of the darkness outside. He could have even brought it from room to room. So the problem with Rashi’s first answer (the window) is resolved.

If the second answer (the illuminated stone) works so well, why didn’t Rashi bring that answer alone? Or at least write it first? Because there is an obvious weakness in this second answer, too. You may have even noticed it. “Make a precious stone?” You can’t make the stone. If G‑d was talking about the stone, he should have said: “Bring a tzohar—a precious stone—onto the ark.” The incompatibility between the words of the verse and the explanation (that tzohar is a precious stone) relegates this answer to second place.

So Rashi brings both options. Or maybe G‑d wanted both—a window and radiant stone—and that’s why He uses this unusual word that has a double meaning.

Which would also be very significant when we look at the Torah not only as a book of history, but as a manual for life, where every story is the story of my life and every nuance in the Torah is loaded with infinite guidance for me. Here’s why the two meanings of “make a tzohar” are important.

Can you relate to that ark floating aimlessly in the vast stormy sea? Rain is pounding on the wooden walls as the boat shifts from side to side, waiting for it to all be over. The myriad of responsibilities and stress in my life, the pain and the fear is a storm that constantly threatens my equilibrium and sanity. And I’m the ark, trying to stay focused—to stay calm, to stay happy, with everything coming at me.

Or think of the ark as the quest to live aThink of the ark as a quest to to live a meaningful life meaningful life, and the heavy storm is the bombardment of materialism that seems to be the focus of our universe. Who can maintain their focus on their soul when they need to make a living—to look good, to eat, to travel, to keep up with what everyone else is doing? Even if you try, you’re like a lone ship sailing in turbulent and distracting waters.

G‑d says, don’t forget to make a tzohar. The word is intentionally elusive so that there’s two instructions tucked into the one word. First, make a window. Don’t shut out the outside world; open yourself up to experience the good in life. Even the most challenging or random experiences are orchestrated by G‑d. Instead of ignoring the parts of life that challenge my faith, I can open up a window and look for the hand of G‑d in every experience. What’s the lesson I’m meant to learn? Where is the Divine providence in the chaos of my life?

The same holds true for the storm of anxiety that other people create for us. Some people are difficult, and we’d love to shut them out and continue sailing despite them. But is there a window of compassion and understanding that I haven’t opened? Can I see past my gut-instinct judgmentalism and allow myself to experience some of their light?

For some of us, the journey is all about opening up the window and taking in the light. We absorb inspiration from Divine Providence, and we absorb other people’s light. But that’s not enough to maximize my ark’s journey. There’s something else that’s a lot harder, and it’s about being a stone that generates its own light. It’s about believing that I have something valuable to share—that I have my own unique light to shine in whatever floor of the ark I walk. It’s about showing up. Sometimes, every fiber of my psyche shouts: “You have nothing special to give! You’re not an inspiration! No one is interested in what you bring to the table. You’re a stone.”

So G‑d tells Noah: “Make a precious stone, which gives light.” For your ark to be complete, you can’t stop at absorbing light from others. Go ahead and shine your own light.11