Emanuel Synagogue

The opening stories in the book of Genesis never cease to inspire me. No matter how many times we read the creation narratives there are always other layers to explore. A few years ago a dear friend, Rabbi Aubrey Glazer edited  Dr Menachem Kallus’, translation of the Pillar of Prayer. The Pillar of Prayer is a guide to the contemplative  practices of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, and his circle of practitioners.The whole teaching, hundreds of pages, revolve around a verse that we find in this weeks parsha. “Make a tzohar for the ark and finish it upward within a cubits length’’(Genesis 6:16).

The Hebrew word tzohar is difficult to translate. Scholars are not in agreement as to the actual meaning of the word. Rashi interprets tzohar to refer to a sparkling jewel that was placed in the ark. It spread light through out the ark during the forty days or rains and darkness. In most editions of the Bible it is translated after Rashi as a light or jewel, but it can also mean window.

The Baal Shem Tov and his circle of disciples chose to translate tzohar this way. Additionally the word teva is understood as referring to an ark or ship, but in post Biblical Hebrew it can also mean word. If we translate teva as the mystics did, as word, the verse would now read, ‘Make a window (to let the light in) so that each word we utter can be filled with Divine illumination. It is for this reason that Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev  (Kedushat Levi) teaches us that we must weigh our words carefully. When we speak we should “measure each word’s height and width.” Speech is very powerful, it is one of the most important ways that we communicate with one another. We can destroy a person with lashon hara evil speech or we can help heal deep emotional wounds with a good word. Words can create worlds and inspire greatness. Words uttered from the mouths of great leaders like Winston Churchill helped inspire people to fight for justice against the greatest evil the world has seen at a time when all seemed hopeless. 

Additionally Baal Shem Tov, in translating teva as word intended to bring our attention to the importance of prayer. Tefilah, does not only mean prayer in the conventional sense but also refers to a state of introspection whereby we bring a deep awareness to our words and actions. Tefilah understood this way, has the potential to transform our interactions with other people and all creation in a way that deepens relationships with one another. It is said that Noah walked with God (Genesis 6:9). When the speech we utter is a force for healing in the world, we become that tzohar, a window for the divine light to shine in our world, we become worthy partners with the Divine source of all creation in the tikkun, repair of our world.