Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael HirschCourtesy

No detail in the Torah is arbitrary. Thus, if the menorah had six branches emerging from a central stem and if the lights on these six branches were supposed to face the central stem, a good reason for this arrangement must exist.

According to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch, the menorah represents our calling: to live a life of Torah im Derech Eretz. As we know from the structure of the week and the shemitah cycle, six represents the material world while the seventh represents G-d. Thus, the menorah’s six branches symbolize “the spiritual efforts of our minds and acts directed to the physical world” while the central stem symbolizes “the spirit of striving to the knowledge and service of G-d.”

The menorah doesn’t just contain one light. It contains “one and six.” Why? Because the “spirit of knowledge and service of G-d, which is to be cultivated in the Temple of the Torah, is no abstract, isolating, turning away from knowledge of the world and worldly efforts, but rather that it is just in such knowledge and directing one’s mind to building up the world, that it finds its full activity,” writes Rav Hirsch.

G-d, in other words, does not want us to detach ourselves from the world. He wants us to elevate it to Him. Thus, the six lights faced the central one.

But it’s not just the purpose of physicality that’s spiritual. So is its origin. The Torah repeatedly states that the menorah’s six branches “‘come forth’ from the central stem.” Why? To teach us that both pure spirituality and physical activity “stand on one base, one root – one stem bears them all.”

Thus, the menorah’s stem “is not only the common goal but also the common starting point of all the lights. They all come from the one central stem and they all strive together to the same ultimate goal…. All true knowledge and all true morality has only one base, one, root, one goal; G-d is its beginning, G-d its end.”

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) – head of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Germany for over 35 years – was a prolific writer whose ideas, passion, and brilliance helped save German Jewry from the onslaught of modernity.

Elliot Resnick, PhD,is the host of “The Elliot Resnick Show” and the editor of an upcoming work on etymological explanations in Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary on Chumash.