Monday, October 19, 2009

What's In A Name?

Now that Risa has graciously invited me to be a guest on her blog (please do NOT call me IsraDad) I would like to share something about our name.

In the beginning of parshat Noach G-d says to Noah "You shall make an ark...A 'tzohar' you shall make for the ark" What is the 'tzohar'? The Koren bible translates 'a window' while Hertz tranlates 'a light'. This is a modern expression of the dispute Rashi brings from Midrash Rabbah where R' Abba bar Kahana says 'it is a window' and R' Levi says 'it is a precious stone'. R' Yochanan in the Gemara says 'the holy one - blessed is he said to Noah 'set precious stones in the ark so that they will give light as if it were the afternoon (tzoharaim צהרים)

How did I adopt the name Tzohar? Almost forty years ago I was a soldier named David Fenster serving in the Jordan Valley. It was shabbat parshat Noah and I was talking with a friend about family, where we were from etc. I happened to mention my mother's maiden name was Lichtenstein.
He said, "wait a minute! I want to show you something from the parasha."
He showed me the Rashi that said: tzohar - some say a window and some say a stone emitting light.
I said "so?"
He said, "don't you get it? In Yiddish, Fenster is a window and Lichtenstein is a stone that gives off light. You are the Tzohar!!

From that time I began thinking of myself as David Tzohar. When Risa and I decided to get married we decided to take a Hebrew name. I suggested Tzohar and she agreed. (Maybe because Tzohar happens to be the acronym for TZionut HaRevisionistit - Revisionist Zionism, the political movement founded by Ze'ev Jabotinsky - and Risa was a member of Betar, the Revisionist youth movement.*) 

I think that I can suggest an interpretation of Tzohar that is a synthesis of the two meanings, a window or a stone which gives light. Modern optic technology has created a scope that amplifies ambient light at night enabling the user to see almost as if it were daytime. This technology was successfully used by the IDF for night time operations in Lebanon and Gaza. During the Flood the world was shrouded in darkness, the light of the sun and the moon could not penetrate. G-d was saying to Noah 'make a special window out of precious stones that will amplify what little light there is left in your world so that you can see enough to tell day from night"

The great Hassidic master, the Noam Elimelech (R' Elimelech of Lizhansk) said that the Tzohar is a metaphor for our lives. We must open a window to our souls and let in the light that G-d has created in His world. But, in times of darkness we must seek out that gem, that spark of holiness and divinity and use it to generate a light that comes from within.

*Although I did make the connection it was NOT a factor in the decision (Risa) 


Yehudit said...

Actually, if you take a tour of old ships, even into the 18th century, you will see a faceted crystal structure(made of glass in the later ships, I assume earlier ones used some sort of crystal or precious stone to do the same thing)set into the deck of the ship which concentrated and bounced around light below decks. Seems to have been fairly standard technology pre-electricity.

Batya said...

I hadn't realized that you were still Fenster when we met, David. I always considered you Tzohar.

David Tzohar said...

Yehudit- thank you for your interesting comment.I had no idea that something like the "tzohar existed in ships besides Noah's ark.

Batya - Thanks for responding I guess we were already on a first name basis when we first met!

Frugal Dougal said...

I'm reminded of a (Christian) couple who, when marrying, took the second name "Dust", after the phrase in Genesis 2: "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being."

Risa said...

Mr. & Mrs. Dust? Well, isn't that why the Lord gave us free will?

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