In this week's Torah portion G-d tells Noah how to make a tzohar for the ark. The classical Biblical commentator Rashi relates that two definitions of tzohar have come down the line of Jewish oral tradition. Both definitions refer to a source of illumination. One tradition defines tzohar as a large luminous gem and another tradition defines it as a skylight.
Lurking within uncertainty of tzohar's definition, the great chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Breslov drew a wonderful spiritual lesson. In his magnum opus Lekutey Moharan he noted that the Hebrew word for Ark is taivah, which is also the Hebrew word for "word"; Namely, a "word" of prayer. Rabbi Nachman related that there are two ways to fill our "words" of prayer with light. One way is to be like a "skylight" receiving our light from an outside source of inspiration - like from someone else's holy teachings. Another way to fill our words of prayer with light is to be like a "luminous gem", to be able to internally generate our own spiritual creativity needed for prayer. This way we can either illuminate our words of prayer from an outside source, like a "skylight", or from an inner source like a "luminous gem".
There's a story told by Rabbi Nachman that once upon a time a King had asked his two trusted friends to paint the walls of his throne room. Each was given a wall facing the other and a year to get the job done. One friend got busy right away. He drew a curtain over his half and worked diligently on his part of the project. The other friend couldn't muster up the inspiration and procrastinated.
As the year was drawing to a close, the diligent friend's work was almost complete and the procrastinator realized that he had to come up with a plan, very quickly. Like his friend, he also drew a curtain over his facing wall and with just a week to go, seemed to be feverishly at work.
The appointed day arrived. The King appeared with his entourage to dedicate his new throne room. The two friends greeted the King at the door and escorted him to their work. The diligent friend opened the curtain and a splendid nature scene dazzled the eyes. Now it was the turn for the other friend to show his work. He too removed the curtain revealing a freshly mirrored wall, brightly reflecting the scene the first friend had worked on from across the room.
The King was pleased with both friends and rewarded them handsomely.
Why was the King equally impressed with the mirrored wall, which did not seem to be as creative as the painted wall?
Perhaps, an answer can be found in the difference between whether the Ark was illuminated by a gem or a window. The gem represents an active inner dynamic generating new light, while a window is merely a passive channel allowing in light that already exists on the outside. While it's easy to see the value of being a gem, there is a unique value to being a window. The light of a gem, like the King on a chessboard, cannot reach everywhere too easily. This luminous source needs a means of conveying it's light into new territory. If all it encounters are other "gems" then it will never be able to extend it's light into distant areas. Therefore, the King was celebrating both sides of a single dynamic - the friend who can generate new creativity and the friend who can successfully convey that creativity into a new area. Both are needed.
Rabbi Hillel Paritcher commented in his commentary to Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch's "Kuntres Hitpa'alut" that it should not make a difference to a person how he received a new Torah teaching, whether it was generated in his own mind or conveyed to him by someone else. In either situation, whether he's a "gem" or a "window" for the idea, the same G-d arranged that the idea should reach him.
Truthfully, life is not black and white. Most people in certain situations play the role of "gem" and in others the role of "window/mirror". Sometimes, it's a dynamic back and forth. It's a balance. The main thing is to celebrate both as G-d given.
An Afterthought :
Truthfully as I was in the process of writing this piece, more ideas flowed into my mind. However, there just was not enough time to put it in. However the gist of it, is that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe drew a parallel between Noah's Ark and the Holy Temple. Basically, he said that the Ark was the Temple of it's day. This is why the Ark had a space warp making room for all the animals species. This is also why reproductive behavior was forbidden (just as it would be in the Holy Temple). So it's possible that the issue of whether Noah illuminated his Ark with a precious gem or a skylight might be the difference of whether the Ark contained the sanctity of the First Temple or the Second Temple. The first had the Tablets, a luminous gem. The second did not have the Tablets on site and needed to act as a skylight - drawing holiness from beyond.