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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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5. THE TREE AND THE BRANCHES

The tree of the perception and realization of goodness and truth, then, is a golden tree, made of gold from its roots to its flowers, golden in its every part and at every stage of its development. It is pure and genuine in its every particle and at every level, representing utmost perfection from root to flower, all of one piece, not pieced together but designed from the outset for utmost perfection. In short, this is the tree modeled for us in the, mnoraht zahav tahor miksheh teiahseh, yirkah vkahneh gveeehhah kaphtorehhah uphrakhehhah mimehnah yihyu, with base, shaft, branches, flower cups, knobs, and blossoms, all of one piece, of golden purity and consummate perfection.

Let us now examine the individual components of the menorah. First, the fact that there are seven lamps implies that the spirit nurtured here is not restricted, so that one lamp would have been sufficient to represent it, but that this spirit encompasses a great diversity of elements. If we recall the symbolic significance of the number seven, which we already have noted in the essay on milah, we will see at once that this is not simply a random number but is meant to signify the depth of all spiritual perception and moral volition. If we consider the lamps more closely, we will note that this character of diversity is joined by the ideal of utmost harmony and unity. We can see that the lamp in the center turns its light to shine upward, or straight ahead, while the lamps with their lights on either side, to the right and to the left, shine toward the center lamp. All the lamps are, accordingly, united in the same direction. Thus, the light in the center represents the ultimate goal of all the other lights on the menorah; or, that object upon which this central light shines is the goal common to all the other lights on the menorah. These lights, in turn, are borne by six branches. However, none of these has a separate base or shaft of its own. Rather, they all stand upon one base; they all have one root, and one shaft supports them all. Indeed, a more detailed examination will show that, as specified also in Scripture, the shaft on which the center light rests and which rises straight upward from the root stock, is the menorah itself, from which starting only at midpoint the other six branches sprout forth upward in pairs on either side.

Our attention is repeatedly called to the fact that these six branches emanate from the center shaft. Thus the light in the middle is not only the ultimate goal of all the lights, which serves to unite them all, but also the starting point from which all other lights emanate. All the lights go forth from the one central shaft and all of them together strive toward the one central light. Thus we must interpret the presence of seven lights not in terms of simply seven, but in terms of one and six, as the single entity from which six lights come forth, and within which these six eventually come together again.

In our essays on milah and tsitsith we described the number six as symbolizing the physical world of creation, with the number one the seventh representing the One Being Who stands outside the physical world, yet remains linked to it. Thus the number seven stands for the One God and for the godly elements that emanate from Him. We would therefore have to interpret the one central shaft and its one central light as symbolizing the spirit of cognition and volition that aspires toward God, the spirit that strives to recognize and to serve Him.

As for the six branches with their six lights, we are to see them as symbolizing mans spiritual endeavor of cognition and volition that are directed toward the physical world. But then it is the one central shaft itself that branches out into these six lateral branches; the six lateral branches all emanate from the same central shaft and, with their six lateral lights turn in the direction of the one central light.

This teaches us that the concept of the recognition and service of God is not an abstraction, or a concept isolating us from the general knowledge and aspirations of the outside world. Rather, it is a concept that is fully activated in endeavors to understand and build the world. Thus, no motive of thought and deed is alien to God and His Service, because both source and goal are rooted in God and give basis and sanctity to thought and action. All that is truly moral and spiritual has only one base, one root, and one goal: God is its beginning, God its end, tkhilat khokhmah yirat hashem (Prov. 9:10) and reishit khokhma yirat hashem (Ps. 11:10). The fear of God is the beginning, and the crowning glory of all wisdom is the fear of God. The text clearly stresses the distinction between the one central shaft the candlestick proper and the lateral branches; - vasitah mnorat zahav vshishah kanim yotzim mitzidehhah. But the text repeatedly speaks of the lateral branches themselves, dividing them into two sections: Three branches of the candlestick out of its one side and three branches of the candlestick out of its other side. This distinction is further defined by showing that two branches each project from the same point on the candlestick above one knob; vkaphtor takhat shnei ha kanim mimehnu vgomer. In this manner the central seventh light, the light of Spirit, that is turned toward God also dominates the physical world (symbolized by the number six). By turning its light toward the physical world, it seems to support a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical, which, however, is reconciled by the harmonious reunion of all the lateral lights at their central point of origin.

We have already noted how ruakh, the spirit, which is symbolized by the light of the menorah in the Temple, should be understood as that element which perceives, or even grants perception, as well as the element which is moved or makes movement possible. In man we have noted this duality in the form of cognition and volition. Spiritual perception and moral volition are the two phases which demonstrate the presence of the spirit. Thus we can consider the two sides of the menorah as symbolizing this duality of spiritual knowledge and moral action. They are so inseparable in their origin and in their reality that each of necessity presupposes the existence of the other. True morality, the free-willed implementation of the good, presupposes the existence of perception, of cognition. Otherwise it would be a mindless action rather than an act of free-willed morality. But merely perceiving the good presupposes the presence of moral volition because it demands that ones cognitive faculties should be directed, of ones own free will, toward the object that has been recognized as good. But then every conscious directing of a human faculty toward a desired end is in itself an activity arising from moral volition. Thus, essentially, the spirit inherent in man comprises both theoretical knowledge and practical volition. Volitional perception and perceptive volition spell out the life of the spirit. Only the abstract character of our understanding makes a distinction that labels the former as a manifestation of theoretical cognition and the latter as a demonstration of practical volition. This distinction depends on whether the goal of the endeavor is mental activity or physical action, which in turn both depend on the predominant purpose of a spiritual act. The difference lies in the result, not in the source, of the activity. At their root, both elements are in fact one, and they strive toward one another also in their objectives. Any perception of truth is of value only if it is directed toward the practical implementation of what is good; that is, if it ultimately serves to benefit the good. Also, every implementation of good must always be oriented toward the recognition of truth; only from the perception of truth can good derive its motivation and the assurance that it really represents a true, genuine value.

Each pair of the lateral branches emanates from the same point on the central shaft, and once they have reached the same level, the branches turn their lights toward one another, and thus at the same time toward the central point that is common to them both. This connecting point for the pair of lateral branches is part of the seventh, thus symbolizing the spirit that strives toward God in the Sanctuary, the spirit nourished and fostered in the Sanctuary of Gods Law. In this central point all perception and volition originate from one common root and then unite to aspire toward one common goal. For we can recognize the origin of our own spiritual life which aspires toward God only in the spirit that takes hold and refreshes and completes both mind and heart with the same pristine power and strength. Scripture defines this as yirat hashem. The fear of God, yirat hashem, constitutes the highest level of cognition which brings with it the highest form of morality. It is the spirit in which the perception of the highest truth is intertwined with the accomplishment of the consummate good.

According to Menachoth 98b the tradition regarding the position of the menorah in the Sanctuary is uncertain. We know that the menorah stood at the south side of the Sanctuary, opposite the table. What is not clear is the direction in which the branches of the candlestick extended; whether from east to west or from north to south. If it was east to west, then the central light rose straight upward, continuing the direction of the central shaft, while the lateral lights inclined from west to east on the one side and from east to west on the other. If it was north to south, then the central light was directed toward the west, toward the Holy of Holies, while the lateral lights inclined from south to north on the one side and from north to south on the other.

We might point out that the sides of the Sanctuary derived their significance from the kelim that were placed nearest to them. On the west there was the Ark of the Law with its cover and the cherubim; on the north side was the table with the showbreads; on the south side the menorah with its lights. The east was the side facing the people. Here was the entrance and here, too, one behind the other separated by the enclosure of the Sanctuary stood the two altars that invited the people to dedicate themselves joyously to the Law of God that awaited them near the western side.

The western side symbolizes the centrality of the Law and of the nearness of God attained through the observance of the Law. The north side symbolizes the material aspects of life, the south side symbolizes the spiritual aspects of life, and the east side symbolizes the nation invited to elevate itself through its dedication to God and His Law.

If the menorah was placed in a north-south direction, then its central light was turned west toward the Ark of the Covenant which reposed in the Holy of Holies. The spirit granted by God and activated in His Sanctuary would have been defined more closely as the spirit striving to find God in his revealed Law and in the covenant which He established with Israel and which centers around the Law. Both of these aspects are symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant. The southern lights shining northward would then represent the nature of this spirit, the permeation of the material with the spiritual. The northern lights shining southward would symbolize the creation of that volition and accomplishment which implement the spiritual element within the material sphere. This spirit always returns, again and again, to its source at its central point to God, to His Law and to his covenant. The central light would be, at the same time, the ner maaravi, that ner tamid which was never extinguished but had to be kept burning at all times, shemimehnah madlik uvah hayah msayem, from which all the other lights are kindled and with whose tending each day ends. The permanence of this light was to testify that the Presence of God dwelt in the midst of Israel, edut hoo shehashkhinah shorah byisrael. Thus, by virtue of its physical aspect and its care, the light would be consistent in every respect with ideas we have already found embodied in the construction of the central shaft of the menorah (see Sabbath 22b).

If the menorah was placed in an east-west direction, then its central light would shine straight upward. In that case, the lateral lights from the west and east would define the spirit fostered in Gods Sanctuary and turned toward Him as one deriving from the Law of God and from the Divine Covenant which was established around it and which bears that spirit through history. This spirit is to permeate the people of Israel, which yearns for sanctification and consecration. The lights shining from east to west would symbolically offer up all of Israels volition and energy for sanctification and consecration to that spirit emanating from the Holy of Holies. Both the spirit of the Torah and the actions of Israel would then be brought together to rally about the source and the ultimate goal that both have in common, around the spirit that strives upward to God.

The Torah looks to the Jewish people for its realization, and they look to the Torah for the content of their lives and both limud umaaseh (study and action) have meaning only if both are lshem shamayim, dedicated to the attainment of one and the same objective: to strive selflessly toward God and to find a common purpose in this lofty endeavor. If the menorah were in this east-west position, the ner maaravi would not be identical with the central light. The middle one of the eastern lights that shines westward the focal point for the cultivation of the spirit - hatavah vhadlakah -- could then not be sought at the place where, according to the construction and appearance of the menorah, the origin and the objective of the spirit are located (meaning the central shaft). If the central light of the lights shining from east to west were that ner maaravi, which must be, tamid liphnei hashem, mimenah madlik umimenah msayem, then the cultivation of the spirit would be connected with Israels innate, never-ceasing, ever-striving endeavor to come closer to God and His Law. The very fact that this spark will never disappear in Israel, that Israel will forever remain Gods, forever the people of His Law, that Israel will always turn toward the Shechinah which hovers above the Law, will be proof that the Shechinah is indeed enthroned in Israels midst.

It might be difficult to establish in the basis of the extant traditional sources which of the two opinions regarding the position of the menorah is the correct one. Rambam in hilkhot beit habkhirah perek gimmel adopts the first view; i.e., that the candlestick was placed in a north-south direction. Raavad and Rashi and most other authorities, on the other hand, favor the assumption that the menorah was placed in an east-west direction. (We follow the latter opinion and position the menorah in our synagogues on Chanukkah in an east-west direction.) (See Menachoth 97b, Sabbath 22b, Rashi ibid., kesseph mishnah on Rambam, Mizrakhi on Numbers 8:2).

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6. THE MENORAH OF ZECHARIAH

The Prophet Zechariah (4:6) speaks of the significance of the menorah as a symbol of the ruakh hashem, and further comments are offered in Isaiah 11:2 with regard to a more precise definition of the ruakh hashem. The Divine spirit resting upon man is described here in its most sublime form. We at once discern two distinct dimensions of this spirit, khokhmah, eitzah, daat wisdom, counsel and knowledge on the one hand, and beenah, gvurah, yirah understanding, strength and fear of God on the other; thus, there is theory and practice, perception and accomplishment. If we examine this passage from Isaiah more closely, we will find it consistent with all that we have noted as the construction plan of the menorah, a consistency so striking that we cannot help thinking that this passage is, in fact, an expression in words of the ideas symbolized by the menorah.

vnakha alav ruakh hashem, ruakh khokhmah uveenah, ruakh eitza ugvurah, ruakh daat vyirat hashem And the spirit of God shall rest upon it; the spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of God. Here we see the spirit defined in its totality as one single entity which then unfolds into six distinct components. These form three pairs, and each of these pairs has one common bearer, for the text does not read ruakh khokhmah vruakh beenah vgomer but ruakh khokhmah uveenah vgomer. This is indeed a true replica of the mnorat hazahav which is described specifically in the text:

mnorat zahav shisha kanim yotzim mitzidehhah, shlosha mitzidah haekhad vshlosha mitzidah hasheni vkaphtor takhat shnei hakanim mimehnah vkaphtor takhat shnei hakanim mimehnah

vkaphtor takhat shnei hakanim mimehnah lsheshet hakanim hyotzim min hamnorah.

The passage in Isaiah continues: vherikho byirat hashem and he shall be enlivened by the fear of God. According to all etymological analogies herikho can only mean to permeate a man with a spirit, to fill him with a spirit, or to spiritualize him. Thus, the Divine spirit coming to rest upon the shoot from the stock of Yishai is described in terms of the sevenfold fullness of its many aspects, and one of these seven aspects is singled out as the root of, and medium for, all this spiritualization. Similarly, in the case of the seven lights of the menorah, there was one light from which all the other lights were kindled and which was tended at the end of each day : mimehnah madlik uvah msayem. To make the analogy complete, the bearer of this seven-rayed Divine spirit comes forth as a shoot growing from one root; it is upon this bearer that the one Divine spirit rests with its six parts. Thus, if we portray the passage in Isaiah graphically, we should have a diagram of the menorah in terms of its symbolism as follows:

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7. THE STRUCTURE OF THE MENORAH

Thus far we have considered only those features of the menorah which are mandatory even in cases where the menorah cannot be made from gold but through the pressing needs of the time must be made from some other metal. We should stress here once again that the menorah must never be made from min hagrutaot, scrap metal. This specification may well convey the message that the inclinations of man, which are to be bearers of the Divine spirit, must be those original unadulterated gifts with which man was endowed at the time of his creation, but not elements acquired from other sources, artificially grafted onto his personality. At the same time, however, it symbolizes the truth that any man, not only the unusually gifted, is qualified to strive for such a spiritual development. Even as the menorah need not be made from gold, the most precious of all metals but, in the absence of gold, might also be made from other metals, so, too, it could be constructed piece by piece not necessarily miksheh, hammered from one piece. The spiritual development set forth by the menorah is by no means confined to intellectual prowess and philosophical speculation, but should provide the conditions for moral perfection. We will find this idea expressed in the provision that every man is qualified by his natural gifts to become a bearer of light symbolized by the menorah. Thus, every one must strive to reach this state. Any man, at his own individual level and with the faculties bestowed upon him, is capable of attaining that supreme objective of moral perfection commensurate with his own level and with the aid of his own faculties. In this manner, every man can reach the summit of his own spiritual and moral calling. Every individual can obtain his own share of the ruakh hashem, of ruakh khokhmah uveenah eitza ugvurah daat vyirat hashem, in direct proportion to his individual efforts.

What is true for the individual applies equally to the entire Jewish community. The possibility to aspire toward the spirit of God is not restricted to a golden age such as that of a David or a Solomon. Rather, independently of external circumstances, favorable or adverse, even in days of brass and iron, Israel remains bound to its Divinely-ordained spiritual destiny and is expected to strive toward the height of that vocation. Of course, it is true that the spiritual and moral goal symbolized by the menorah is the highest level of spiritual and moral perfection given to man and requires the service of the finest qualities in man. The very noblest there is in man must be dedicated to the Most High. But wherever this spiritual and moral development takes place under conditions symbolized by the purest gold and with the aid of the noblest human talents, this development is not only miksheh, fashioned all in one piece of material shaped by masterly craftsmanship from beginning to end, but becomes evident also in its many unique and meaningful details.

Only if the menorah was made from gold, then its base, shaft and branches had to have gviim kaphtorim uphrakhim, flower cups, knobs and blossoms. The position and number of these ornamentations were precisely specified and, as mentioned earlier, were so essential that not a single one could be missing makvin zeh et zeh.

Of these three ornamentations the symbolic significance of the prakhim flowers is the most obvious. pehrakh is the term commonly used for flower or blossom, and proakh the term commonly used for flowering or blossoming. Hence, wherever prakhim occur as symbolic ornamentations, we should not depart from the image conveyed by flowers and flowering. Indeed, they will remain our point of reference when we establish the significance of the other ornamentations associated with them; in the present context, these are mainly the gviim flower cups and kaphtorim the knobs.

The symbolic significance of gaviah is also quite clear. The term denotes chalice, or flower cup. The use of this term in Jeremiah 35:5 (and I set before the house of Rehabites cups full of wine, and goblets) seems to indicate that gaviah refers not to the drinking cup but to a larger vessel in which the wine was brought to the table and from which it was then poured into kossot goblets. We are told that gviim mleiim yayin and kossot were offered together. This explanation would be consistent with the connotations of the roots koss and gehvah. koss derives from its relationship to kesses the connotation of apportioning, of counting out something to someone. koss therefore denotes a vessel in which the individual who drinks from it is served a measure or portion specifically intended for him. Accordingly, it is used as a metaphor denoting mans destiny apportioned to him by God. The related roots of givah, gehvah, gehvakh, gavohah, gavo refer to an accumulation of matter. Hence, gaviah would be that receptacle in which the entire amount of liquid available for drinking is received, accumulated and held together.

koss is the vessel into which the portion intended for the individual is poured from the gaviah. Thus, the basic connotation of gaviah would be the antithesis of pehrakh. For while gaviah connotes an accumulation of matter, pehrakh, in all its related roots and derivatives, and the Rabbinic and Chaldean parakh, to fly has the connotation of becoming free, unbridled.

For the term kaphtor, however, we find little linguistic analogy in Scripture other than Amos 9:1 and Zeph. 2:14. We must therefore rely on tradition, as taught in Menachoth 28b, according to which the kaphtorim were shaped kmin tapukhei hakartiim, like Cretan apples. Hence these ornamentations that protruded on the shaft and on the branches of the candlestick were forms whose shape suggested a fruit.

If we review these ornamentations in their context and in the order in which they are consistently mentioned in Scripture, gaviah, kaphtor and pehrakh, they appear to be the components of one single system. The obvious connotation of pehrakh, flower, blossom, as well as the explanation of kaphtorim as fruit-like shapes, which would fit into this context, indicates to us that we must turn to botany in our study of this system. The term mshukadim, almond-like, or almond-shaped, which Scripture adds as a more detailed characteristic of these ornamentations will also prove most significant in the total picture.

The structure of a plant as an organic system corresponds to the shapes we are now studying.

Normally a flower consists of three basic parts: (1) an outer covering, usually consisting of green leaves, the calyx or flower cup; (2) a capsule that contains the seed and collects pollen (the fertilizing agent) through the pistil (which eventually becomes the fruit), and (3) surrounding the filaments, a corolla, which is the blossoming flower.

These parts correspond precisely to the three shapes on our menorah: the flower cup, the knob, and the flower. We must therefore interpret these structures as symbols as a blossoming that bears fruit. We will then also understand why these ornamentations were indispensable parts of the menorah, particularly when the latter was made miksheh zahav standing before us in consummate purity, made of gold and fashioned all of one piece. This symbol was necessary precisely to show that this whole light-bearing tree, though made of one piece and representing perfection in all its parts, should signify not a rigid form of existence but a life of eternal, fruitful blossoming.

Now that we have flower cups, pistils (seed-bearing pods) and the corolla-flower, could the filaments and the pollen, that element which gives life to the whole be lacking? We learn from Menachoth 28b that the flower cups, the pistils and the corolla-flower occupied the three upper tphakhim of the height of the shaft. The shaft terminated in the pehrakh, the flower in which rested the vessel with the wick that bore the light. Mishnah Kelim XI,7 tells us that pehrakh came to be the term used for the depression on a lamp that held the actual light. If, therefore, the menorah culminated in flower cups, pistils and corolla-flower, and if the light that burned on the wick protruded from the corolla, then the burning wick on the menorah corresponded to the filament which bears the fertilizing pollen. It is the light itself, the spirit, the spirit of God, the fructifying element which, coming into existence upon the tree of light, brings life to the seed which came into being upon that tree. The seed required stimulation and development. The spirit brings it to maturity as a ripe fruit.

We thus have the flower cup, the seed-bearing pod, the corolla-flower and the light, the fertilizing element on the filament. The flower-cup, the seed-bearing pod and the corolla-flower surely represent specific concepts even as the filaments with their pollen obviously correspond to the fertilizing, life-giving element of the light and the spirit.

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