Behaalotecha: A Light Unto the World

How does the Menorah differ from all the other vessels used in the Holy Temple?
Why did God instruct Moses to supervise the design of everything in the Tabernacle except the Menorah, which God designed personally?

Table for Five: Behaalotecha

In partnership with the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

 Edited by Salvador Litvak, the Accidental Talmudist

This was the form of the menorah: hammered work of gold, from its base to its flower it was hammered work; according to the form that the Lord had shown Moses, so did he construct the menorah.

– Num. 8:4

Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Judaic Studies Faculty, Shalhevet High School

I love heavy metal as much as the next headbanger, but this is pretty hardcore stuff. Most of the appurtenances of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, were actually made of wood and then covered with gold or copper. This is true of the Ark, altar, table, and incense altar. The laver was made entirely of copper. Only the menorah and the cover of the Ark were made of solid gold.

Today, we still recognize gold’s beauty and assign it tremendous value. Yet gold is not the most practical design material. It is soft and exceedingly heavy. For practical engineering reasons, it is little wonder that the other appurtenances, which needed to bear significant weight, would be made of sturdier and lighter materials. But why should the menorah be an exception?

The cover of the Ark, the kapporet, is instructive. The kapporet, with its golden cherubim, was also beaten of solid gold. It functioned to host the Shekhinah, God’s presence, allowing Hashem to interact with humanity on earth. The menorah, like the kapporet, held nothing material. Rather, it served to bear light itself. The menorah stood as a reminder of God’s constant presence.

How interesting that the most extravagant parts of the Mishkan, those of solid gold, were devoted to the least material aspects of divine worship. The greatest expense served the most spiritual of interests. We live in a community largely blessed with tremendous resources. To what do we devote our resources? To material comforts or the enrichment of our souls?

Dini Coopersmith, Teacher, Trip Leader and Director, reconnectiontrips.com

The menorah was different from other vessels in the Mishkan.

Apparently Moshe could not figure out how to build it and needed Hashem to show him a vision of the completed menorah. From the words “so did He construct the menorah,” some say that God Himself built it, one chunk of gold out of which all the flowers and shapes were hammered out.

Why is the menorah so difficult to create? Why is it different from the other vessels? Why make it in one unit and then hammer out all the pieces as opposed to making parts which can then be put together to build the whole? It seems there is something supernatural going on here.

Netivot Shalom says the light of the menorah represents God’s divine presence. It is Torah, wisdom, clarity and understanding. The light which was created on the first day of creation and then hidden away, was then brought out again in the light of the menorah. More than the other vessels the menorah uniquely represents the divine presence which rests within Israel.

Something which represents God and Torah cannot be fragmented, because God is Infinite, He is One. Torah is one Truth and cannot be tampered with. As Aharon shaped and elevated the wicks, adding oil to allow the light to shine brighter, we too partner with God when we study and add our own light to His Torah but in the end, we must be reminded that it is all one unit, God’s absolute Infinite wisdom.

Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, Co-Rabbi N’vay Shalom

The word ‘Menorah,’ literally means “From Her Light.” It is a feminine object that represented the first light that came into being, a spiritual light that shone throughout the universe. As part of the Divine, it would represent the feminine indwelling of G-d’s presence for all time. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, the light was diminished, separating the male and the female within the Divine, creating the exile of Shechinah from her male partner, Kadosh Bruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed be He. After Sinai, with its extraordinary chaotic and deafening sounds, the people reject G-d once again, and the Mishkan, the Travelling Sanctuary, became the necessary gift to mend this disruption and create a new home where the people could meet G-d and heal their rift.

The Menorah with its seven lamps represented each day of Creation as well as the spiritual light created at the beginning of time. One of three objects made of gold, it stood to remind the people that the flame is ever present, even in times of exile, darkness, and separation. The sculpting of the flowers was a reminder of the beautiful garden where the human once resided, yet now, journeying toward a new home, the Promised Land, wo/man would be inspired to create a new Eden, with blossoms of Divine goodness and golden light. Made of one piece of gold it stood for the perfection, grandeur, courage, wisdom, and love to motivate the people, and each one of us today, whenever a flame is lit.

Rabbi Michael Barclay, Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village

Arguably the most recognizable symbol of the Jewish people, the menorah holds teachings that are more applicable today than ever before in our lifetimes.

Bamidbar Rabbah teaches us why we even need a menorah to provide light, when it is God who lights our way. The menorah is actually a teaching for the rest of the nations to follow the light of Judaism; and in so doing, for the whole world to live more righteously.

While this may sound ethnocentric, it is a deep truth that is all too often forgotten in Jewish communities and institutions. We are to be a light for the world’s nations, not hide in their shadows. Jewish organizations must first and always support Jewish values and causes, and not get lost by dissipating our cultural values in attempts to be all-inclusive. If we do not take the example of the menorah to heart and let our light lead, then our light will, God forbid, become extinguished, and the world will suffer.

Especially in these times of growing anti-Semitism, this verse must remind Jewish leaders, congregants, and organizations of the ultimate importance for the world that we let the light of Judaism lead the world into peace. That we never lose our own light by being “inclusive” and sacrificing our own Jewish priorities in favor of other paths, values, and “inclusiveness”. As long as we stay true to our teachings of Torah, Talmud, et al; this verse reminds us that not only will the Jewish people always survive, but the world will be infused with God’s light as a result. To achieve global peace, we must first keep Judaism as our priority… for our sake and for the world’s.

Michael Borkow, TV Writer, Friends, Malcolm in the Middle, Mom

According to the Talmud, when God instructed Moses to build the Mishkan and its vessels, He told Moses what to build, with one exception: G-d showed Moses the Menorah.

Imagine someone hires you to build and furnish a house. And he wants you to make everything – from the immense wooden walls to the fine artwork on the curtains – by hand. And when he’s done describing it all, you’ve filled many notebooks and you offer to start drawing up plans. And he says that’s okay, you can build his whole house and everything in it based on just your notes. “Except for that lamp I mentioned,” he adds. “That I have to show you.”

Sure makes you wonder about that lamp.

The Netziv (19th century rabbi) teaches that the Menorah represents the Oral Torah. And what is the Oral Torah? The Written Torah is the Five Books of Moses; it’s the scroll we read from in synagogue. And did you ever notice at times it can seem boring, repetitive and irrelevant? Well, it came with instructions for interpreting it. And in the hands of the top rabbis of each generation, those instructions are used to unlock specific guidance for living spiritually-driven lives at that moment. That real-time guidance is the Oral Torah, a.k.a. Judaism.

And now we see the lesson. The trappings of a Jewish life can be described. But Judaism itself? It’s like art. There is simply no substitute for a first-hand encounter with the real thing.

With thanks to Dr. Sheila Tuller Keiter, Dini Coopersmith, Rabbi/Cantor Eva Robbins, Rabbi Michael Barclay, and Michael Borkow

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