Behaalotcha: The light of the Temple menorah

Torah from the Rabbi of Beit Knesset Hanasi, Jerusalem, noted author and lecturer.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Judaism Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein

The menorah has been one of the symbols of the Jewish people from time immemorial. It remains so today as well, it being one of the major symbols representing the Jewish state of Israel. The original menorah was cast and fashioned from one solid, large piece of gold. According to Jewish tradition, the construction of this great artifact was so detailed and complicated that it was beyond the ken of human talent and ability. 

It was created miraculously, simply by somehow taking this great piece of gold and throwing it into a fire.  From the midst of the fire sprang forth the menorah in all of its grandeur and beauty. The menorah represented the light of Torah, of Godly wisdom and holy erudition. It represented not only light that illuminated the outside world and society but rather it spoke to Israel of an inner glow that emanated from the soul and from the physical senses of human beings.  

In the words of the great rabbis of Torah: “does the Lord require its light?”  The menorah itself was situated in the structure of the Temple in such a way that most Jews were never able to actually see it and benefit from its glow. So it was that the light, so to speak, was really not on public display and was and is an inner light that made the menorah so symbolic of the Jewish people and its beliefs. Believe it or not, Judaism is truly more concerned with the spirituality and holiness of the individual rather than on outward appearances and public displays of piety.

Human beings instinctively treasure light and abhor darkness. Darkness covers evil deeds and nefarious plots. The animals of prey prowl at night in the dark. In a world of secrets, darkness is the most accessible cover. The menorah came to dispel such darkness. It is the light that was meant to reach all of humankind and to illuminate the otherwise dark recesses that lurk within us. It is no wonder then that this light was deemed to be an eternal one, constantly lit in the Temple and renewed day in and day out. 

In our modern world, genius or the activity of ideas and innovation is often represented by cartoonists as a light bulb going on in our brain. This is because the flash of brilliance is always characterized as somehow seeing the ‘light.’ The initial creation of the universe, so to speak, is itself described as the beginning of light. The menorah carries with it this message of light, holiness and of hope and optimism.   That is why there can be no more fitting symbol for the Jewish people and for Israel than that of the menorah.  

In King Solomon’s wisdom, he constructed ten additional menorot to adorn the Holy Temple. The subtle message here is that there can never be enough light, for it nurtures our souls and guarantees our eventual success in physical and spiritual terms.