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THE MENORAH

Components and Workmanship

S. R. Hirsch, Collected Writings, pp. 209-235

 

Contents

    INTRODUCTION

  1. THE LAMP THE LIGHT

  2. THE LIGHT - THE SPIRIT

  3. THE SPIRIT OF GOD

  4. THE CANDELABRUM

  5. THE TREE AND THE BRANCHES

  6. THE MENORAH OF ZECHARIAH

  7. THE STRUCTURE OF THE MENORAH

  8. THE SYMBOL OF GODS SPIRIT

  9. FLOWERS AND MAN FOUR STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT

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INTRODUCTION.

The third kli destined for the Sanctuary was the mnorah. The commandment pertaining to its construction specifies that it had to be mnorat zahav tahor, a menorah of pure gold, miksheh hammered out of one piece. It was to consist of yerekh, a base, and kaneh, a shaft, and it had to have gviim, flower cups; kaphtorim knobs shaped like apples; and prakhim, flowers. These ornaments were not to be soldered to the menorah but had to form one piece with it, mimenah yihyu.

According to tradition there was a single flower at the base of the shaft; the base, together with this flower, accounted for one-sixth (i.e., three tphakhim, handbreadths) of the total height of the candlestick. Above the base was a space of another two tphakhim, followed by one flower cup, one knob and one flower in the sixth tephakh at a point one third of the total height of the menorah. These ornamentations were followed by three flower cups, along with one knob and one flower in the final three tphakhim, immediately below the top of the shaft, on which rested the ner, the lamp.

The menorah was only the central shaft of the whole structure. From the shaft there came forth kanim, branches on both sides, three pairs, or altogether six branches. According to tradition these branches rose to the height of the central shaft, so that on top seven lights all burned in a straight line. The commandment states: Six branches shall go out from the sides of the menorah; three branches of the menorah from its one side and three branches from its other side, (Ex. 25:32). On each of these six branches there were three flower cups, one knob and one flower. The flower cups are described by the adjective mshukadim, which can mean either almond-shaped or almond-like. According to Yoma (52a,b) it is uncertain whether almond-like also refers to the knobs and the flowers (at least to those of the middle shaft; hilkhot beit habkhirah, perek gimmel, halakha bet. The separating accent on the word gviim would support this assumption. On the menorah proper, on the middle shaft, there were thus a total of four flower cups, two knobs and two flowers. In addition, there was one knob under each pair of branches that came forth from the sides of the menorah; kaphtor takhat shnei hakanim mimenah and a knob under two branches of one piece with it. Thus the menorah had a total of 22 flower cups, 11 knobs and nine blossoms. We learn from Menachoth 28 that all these ornamentations were indispensable so that the absence of even one element made the menorah unfit for use. The absence of one flower cup invalidates all the others; the absence of one knob invalidates all the others; the absence of one flower invalidates all the others; the absence of any flower cup, knob or flower invalidates all the other (ornamentaions).

However, the flower cups, knobs, and flowers were required only if the menorah was fashioned out of gold. If the menorah was made of another metal, the shaft and the branches could be made without these ornamentations; baah zahav baah gviim kaphtorim uphrakhim, einah baah zahav einah baah gviim kaphtorim uphrakhim. The specification that the menorah, with all its parts, had to be miksheh, made of one piece, was only applicable if the menorah was made of gold; baah zahav baah miksheh. However, it was forbidden to make the menorah from grutaot , scrap metal, or from a substance other than metal. The menorah had seven lamps, (Menachoth 88b), one on the central shaft and six on its branches. The six lamps on either side were turned toward the middle lamp; the three lamps on the right side were turned to the left and the three on the left side to the right; el mul pnei hamnorah yai ru shivat hanerot vheir el eiver panehah mlamed shehayu mitzdadin pneihem klapei ner emtzai (Menachoth 88b and 98).

If we reflect on the construction of the menorah, we note that the menorah consisted of two main components: mnorah, the candlestick itself, and kanei mnorah, the branches of the candlestick. This distinction is clearly stated in the specifications for the construction of the menorah (Ex. 25:31-36, particularly in Verse 34), and also in the passages giving the directions in which the lamps were to be turned (Exodus 25: 37 and Numbers 8:2). The branches in turn are divided into two distinct groups, according to the sides of the candlestick from which they emanate three branches on the one side and three branches on the other and according to the different directions faced by the lamps they bear, the lamps on the right side of the candlestick turned to the left and those on the left side of the candlestick to the right.

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1. THE LAMP THE LIGHT

The meaning of the menorah in the Sanctuary would seem obvious. Light symbolizes knowledge, and the candlestick, especially by virtue of its place opposite the table in front of the Ark of the Covenant would signify that spiritual enlightenment which, together with the table, the symbol of material prosperity, would symbolize the Jewish national life that stems from Gods Law and remains consecrated to the Law forever.

However, through study of the pertinent Scriptural passages reveals a deeper meaning beyond this basic interpretation of the menorah.

True, ner and ohr, lamp and light, are not uncommon metaphors in Scripture for the source and giver of spiritual enlightenment. There is the term haeer, to give light, to denote the granting of light, enlightenment and insight. The word of God is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, (Ps. 119:105). For the Commandment is a lamp and the Teaching a light, (Prov. 6:23). The Commandment of God is clear, enlightening the eyes, (Ps.19:9). The opening of His word gives light, affording insight to the most inexperienced, (Ps. 119:130). God has called Israel in righteousness, has taken it by the hand and preserved you and destined you for a covenant of the peoples, for a light of the nations, (Isaiah 42:6). For instruction shall go forth from Me, and I will create a quiet abode for My right, so that it may shine upon the nations, (Isaiah 51:4). O House of Jacob, come and let us wakl in the light of God, (Isaiah 2:5). For behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gloom the peoples, but upon you God will shine, and his glory shall appear over you, and nations shall walk in Your light and kings in the ray of Your dawn, (Isaiah 60:2). When society perishes through murder and misery, it occurs because they rebel against the light, do not recognize the ways of God and never seek serenity in His paths, (Job 24:13).

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2. THE LIGHT - THE SPIRIT

Yet, equally beyond any doubt, and even much more frequently, Scripture uses ner and ohr, lamp and light, as metaphors for the source of growth and life, of unfolding and flowering, of undisturbed progress and happiness, joy and felicity.

Job laments: Would that I had again the months of old, the days when God protected me, when his lamp shown above my head and I walked through darkness by his light, (Job 29:2-3). God says regarding Zion: There will I cause the horn of David to grow; there have I ordered a lamp for my anointed, (Ps. 132:17). But how much longer until the lamp of the wicked burns out and calamity overcomes them, (Job 21:17). Thus we note the extinguishing of a lamp as a metaphor for the end of happiness (Job 18:5; Prov. 13:9; 20:20; 24:20). Conversely, light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright, (Ps. 97:11). The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out, (Prov. 13:9). The light of the eyes gladdens the heart, (Prov. 15:30). Light is sweet, (Eccl. 11:7). Job had looked for good, but evil came, waited for light but there came darkness, (Job 30:26); see also Isaiah 59:9; Jeremiah 13:16). For the Jews there was light and joy, gladness and honor, (Esther 8:16). God delivers from the path to the grave him who mends his ways, so that his soul may yet look into the light, that he may yet be enlightened by the light of life, (Job 33:28,30). Your dead will come alive again, My corpses shall rise awake and rejoice, O sleepers in the dust! For the dew of light is your dew, while the earth will cast down the deceased, (Isaiah 26:19).

If we summarize the symbolic significance of light in Jewish thought, we will note that to define light as representing merely enlightenment or perception would be a partial presentation of the over-all concept of light in the Biblical text. The other essential component in the symbolism of light is movement, which must be joined to perception in order to achieve the desired effect and thus also to realize more fully the idea for which light stands. Movement in this context does not carry the purely mechanical connotation of a change of physical location. It is movement in that organic connotation which characterizes all processes of organic, vital and spiritual development. Light illuminates life and also activates it; these two functions make light the metaphor of both cognition and the pulsating joy of living. For joy is essentially the feeling of awareness of blossoming life (compare sameakh = tzemmakh; shayish = tzayitz ).

The atmosphere impregnated with the ideas of Jewish symbolism in general, and the symbols of the Sanctuary in particular, contains the spiritual and moral human relationships that involve both the individual and the nation as its main focus. It leads to cognition and action, light and life, illuminating the mind and initiating movement. This powerful spark finds its beautiful symbolic meaning in the expression ruakh, spirit. ruakh grants enlightenment, insight and wisdom, and at the same time stirs man to moral volition and accomplishment.

Joseph, who was gifted with a higher level of perception, is described as a man in whom the spirit of God was found (Gen. 41:38). Bezalel was filled with the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of God (Ex. 28:3; 31:3; 35:31). The spirit of God came upon Balaam (Num. 24:2). Moses was commanded to install Joshua as his successor because Joshua was a man in whom the spirit dwells, (Num. 27:18). Joshua was full of the spirit of wisdom, (Deut. 34:9). The spirit that was upon Moses came upon the chosen elders of Israel and Moses expressed the wish: Would that all of Gods people were prophets, that God would instill His spirit upon them (Num. 11:29).

The spirit of God spoke through David, and His word was on Davids tongue (II Samuel 23:2). The spirit of God rests upon Israel and the words of God are in its mouth (Isaiah 59:21). God will pour out His spirit upon our children (Isaiah 44:3) and ultimately upon all flesh (Joel 3:1). Who could fathom the spirit of God? (Isaiah 40:13). The prophet becomes a fool, the man of the spirit a madman, (Hosea 9:7). My spirit began to search, (Ps. 77:7). It is the spirit in man and the breath of God that understands, (the experiences accumulated over the years) (Job 32:8), and it is the spirit that answers Job out of his understanding (Job 20:3).

In other Biblical passages, however, spirit does not signify perception or cognition but the moral element which moves the human will to action, either good or evil. Because there was another spirit in Caleb and he has followed me fully, (Num. 14:24). Everyone whom his heart lifted up came, and everyone whose spirit moved him offered his homage to God, (Ex. 35:21). God caused the spirit of Sichon to be hard and his heart to be bold in order to deliver him into the hand of Israel (Deut. 2:30). God sent an evil spirit between Abimelekh and the lords of Shechem, (Judges 9:23). Then the spirit of God came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, (Judges 11:29). The spirit of God began to move Samson, (Judges 13:25). The spirit of God clothed Gideon, (Judges 6:34) and Amasai ( I Chron. 12:18). God put a spirit into the king of Assyria to make him return to his own land, (II Kings 19:7). God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia to permit Israel to return from exile, (Ezra 1:1). The spirit of harlotry led Israel astray, (Hosea 4:12 and 5:4). God will remove the spirit of impurity from the earth, (Zechariah 13:2). David implores God to renew within him the steadfast, free-willed spirit (Ps.51:12,14). God promises to put a new spirit into Israel (Ezekiel 11:19; 18:31; 36:26; 37:14).

Even in many passages where the word spirit is used to connote that aspect of our inner lives which we call emotion, it simply describes the manner in which we express our attitude toward the outside world, our sympathy for, or antipathy to, an object, a condition, or an act, and therefore designates that factor which prompts our decisions for good or evil. The wives of Esau were a grief to the spirit of Isaac and Rebeccah, (Gen.26:35). Hannah was of sorrowful spirit, (I Samuel 1:15). God is near to those that are of a contrite spirit, (Ps. 34:19). The offerings of God are a broken spirit, (Ps. 51:19). See also the references to the haughty spirit, (Prov.16:8), the broken spirit, (Prov. 16:19; 18:14) and the lowly spirit, (Prov. 29:23). Thus, we feel justified in interpreting the light in the Sanctuary as a symbolic representation of the spirit in two distinct aspects theory and practice, perception and volition, enlightenment and motivation for action.

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3. THE SPIRIT OF GOD

The meaning of the Word of God itself is quite clear in the well known message addressed to Zerubabel at the time of the return to Zion from Babylon. Zecharah, the Prophet, was the messenger of God to Zerubabel. The leader of the nation, Zerubabel, was about to lay the cornerstone for a new Jewish national life upon the ruins of the state that had perished. In this task he was to encounter large obstacles at every turn. The Prophet was shown in a vision the menorah with its seven lamps. When he asked the angel who had brought him this message from God to explain this vision, the angel replied: Zechariah, do you not know what these lamps signified? Upon Zechariahs answer, No, my lord, the angel said to him: This is the Word of God to be brought to Zerubabel: Not by armed might, nor by force, but with My Spirit, says hashem tzvaot (Zechariah 4:6). We are shown here that this spirit, meaning the spirit of God, is indeed the concept represented by the menorah that bears the seven lamps. And this symbolic connotation should be so obvious, so clear to everyone, that the question with which the angel counters Zechariahs inquiry: Do you not know what these are? sounds almost like a reprimand of the prophet for requiring an explicit interpretation of this symbolic vision. Let us note here also that, if the attention of Zerubabel is called to the spirit of God as the element with and through which he will accomplish his mission, spirit here, too, denotes not merely the means for attaining perception but also the motivation for action. For the word was addressed only to Zerubabel as the leader of his people, not as their teacher. He was not to teach his followers the will of God but to recognize it himself and to carry it out. He had been charged with the mission of laying the cornerstone for an edifice toward which the abundance of Divine Providence was directed.

Moreover, the Word of God itself has described for us elsewhere in Scripture the nature and the content of that spirit which God calls His spirit. vnakhah alav and there shall rest upon him, we read in Isaiah 11:2 concerning the shoot which is expected to grow from the stock of Yishai, ruakh hashem, and the term proceeds at once to explain the spirit of God as, ruakh khokhmah uveenah, ruakh eitzah ugvurah, ruakh daat vyirat hashem, the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and of strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God. Thus we should consider it certain beyond any doubt that the spirit which God regards as His spirit and which, as Zechariah teaches us, is symbolized by the candlestick with its lamps, is not a spirit of mere theoretical knowledge and perception, but one that bestirs both perception and practical action.

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4. THE CANDELABRUM

If the light borne by the menorah symbolizes the spirit of understanding and action granted by God to man, what is the relationship of the candlestick to the light that it bears?

If we reflect on the physical features of the candlestick, then its flower-shaft base, its shaft and its branches with their almond-shaped flower cups, knobs and blossoms recall to us a tree growing in a straight, upward direction from its root stock to become the bearer of light.

The menorah was the only object in the Sanctuary that was made entirely of metal, namely, of gold. Thus, by virtue of the substance from which it ought to be made, the candlestick was intended to symbolize firmness, constancy and permanence, its appearance representing a process of unfolding and development.

Thus, by its physical appearance, the menorah represents the complete antithesis of the concepts symbolized by the table. The substance from which the table is made is predominantly wood, which although. Like the menorah, the shulkhan (wood) represents a process of continuous development, it derives, however, its limits, support, stability and permanence solely from its shape and its accessories. Thus it represents the material aspects of life which, by their very nature, are subject to constant change: germination and growth, blossoming and ripening, and eventually, death and decay. It is in the Divine Sanctuary, through the spirit and the order of Gods Law, that the concepts symbolized by the table attain purpose and direction, stability and permanence, and a place in eternity. The menorah, by contrast, is made of gold throughout. Thus, by its very substance, it symbolizes precisely that element of constancy and timelessness which, as is implied by the form of the menorah, must be made to blossom and to develop in the Sanctuary of God through the spirit of Gods Law.

The only firm, immutable and eternal element in man is the Divine spark within him, of which he becomes aware through his perception of truth and his desire to do good. These elements of cognition and volition in man, along with the aim of his actions goodness and truth are eternal and unchangeable, not subject to modification nor alteration. It might seem that the godliness of the immature man is infinitely richer than that which still lay dormant while he was young. The element of godliness that was latent in the child is no less pure and Divine than that which achieves full maturation in the adult. It is only the outward appearance that determines the measure of the difference in degree. Likewise, the simplest truths and the most common acts of goodness are just as true and just as good as the most sublime truths and the highest, most profound manifestations of good. Whatever is genuinely true and good is simply true and good. There can be no more and no less truth.

In the developmental stages of the physical world higher forms often grow only at the expense of a lower form. Lower forms die off so that higher, more developed forms may emerge. Each higher, more developed form may be a negation of the lower, less developed form that preceded it. But this does not apply to the spiritual realm of goodness and truth. Goodness and truth never lose any of their validity and justification. Whatever is good and true at one time remains good and true forever. All higher manifestations of goodness and truth represent not a negation but only a fuller realization of all the goodness and truth that have gone before. The old man, no matter how mature, cannot dispense with the virtues of his childhood; indeed, the most mature manifestations of his virtues are but the realization of his childhood virtues, now exercised under circumstances broader and more sophisticated than the narrower world of childhood. The most complex system of sublime, momentous truths cannot dispense with the simple, elementary truths that served as its starting point. It is precisely this solid, inviolable treasure of elementary truths that provide the roots for the most advanced truths. In the final analysis these higher forms of truth cannot be anything else but the contents explained and clarified of that which, though still undeveloped and veiled from the conscious mind, had already been inherent in the original, elementary truths.

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